What suicide loss survivors need most

When you’ve lost someone to suicide, one of the hurdles in recovery is the people who sympathize but don’t know what to say or do. Worse are those who don’t say anything for fear that mentioning your loved one’s name will hurt you. (Pro tip: Not saying their name hurts more.)

To find out what suicide loss survivors needed after their loved one died (and what they still need in the days, weeks, months and years to follow), the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention asked its community to share one way to support someone who’s lost a loved one to suicide.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Don’t be afraid to speak the name of the person who died. This needs to be bolded and repeated. I hate when people tiptoe around talking about my brother to me. Without talking to people about my loss, I could not have recovered. I felt so isolated after losing him, and even though it hurt and made me cry every time I talked about him (and that still happens, even a year and a half later) it was also an outlet for me to express my love and my loss.”

2. “Look at me with love and empathy, but try to hide the fear/pity if you can.”

3. “Don’t judge the actions of the person who [died by] suicide. After my attempt I was not so quick to judge others.”

4. “Don’t ask how they did it. What difference does it make?”

5. “The best we can do is to understand these people did not truly want to die. They merely wanted their pain to end and saw no other recourse. It is by no means an act of cowardice. It is not our place to understand why they made their decision. We will never truly understand their angst. We must always remember them by how they lived, not how they died.”

6. “Don’t push. If someone says they are OK, don’t badger them. Some people don’t like to share their feelings, and people handle grief differently. Tell them you are there for them. Make them smile. But don’t badger someone about their feelings or thoughts.”

7. “People should also refrain from using cliches like ‘it was God’s will’ or ‘he’s in a better place.’ If you don’t know what to say, a hug will do.”

8. “Our neighbors got us a rose bush. Never said a word. Just planted it in our garden. Now two years later we have something to look forward to when it blooms. We call them Katie Roses.”

9. “Let me talk about it as much as I need to. Don’t get tired of my tears or frustrated that I’m still heartbroken. Please.”

10. “Just please acknowledge that it happened. All you have to say is I’m so sorry, that’s all. I see my brothers friends who don’t say a word to me about his suicide and it’s like my brother never existed because they are too uncomfortable to say anything… It hurts.”

11. “Best thing my girlfriend did for me was to show up at my house and hold me and let me cry… she then made sure I could breathe again. Not a word. Arms wrapped around me while we both just let the tears flow. Her love was evident in her actions… and I didn’t have to go seek it out.”

12. “People were too scared or didn’t know what to say to me after. I lost my husband to suicide. All I needed was people to just be there — they don’t have to say anything. But just being there for me was everything I needed. Never be scared to talk to someone who has lost to suicide.”

13. “Never say it’s the easy way out.”

14. “Mow the lawn, get paper plates and plastic silverware, toilet paper, grocery shop and clean the house.”

15. “Let me talk about it. So many people are uncomfortable talking about suicide.”

16. “Reach out in the year following at milestone dates, events, holidays to acknowledge that life is different without their loved one.”

17. “Allow the person to speak about the loss without judgment. Nothing hurts more than not being able to openly express your grief from such a tragic and devastating loss than eye rolls, unwarranted questions and stigmatized commentary.”

18. “The hardest part was [figuring out what to do with] all of his belongings. The guys helped with the furniture, but I had all of my son’s clothes and personal belongings to deal with. It was so difficult.”

19. “Don’t forget about them. In a week, a month, a year or longer… they are still in pain even though your life continues. Occasionally reach out to them and let them know they are still on your mind. It matters. And it helps to know others haven’t forgotten your loved one.”

If you are having thoughts of suicide, text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.


Published by Tim Rowden

The Grief Project is dedicated to sharing the stories of suicide loss survivors as well as information and research on suicide, mental health, advocacy and prevention. I’m a suicide loss survivor, husband, father, writer and journalist, with 33 years experience as a reporter and editor. I believe sharing our stories can help help others who are struggling, whether they are loss survivors or struggling with depression or other mental health issues. We honor them and honor our loved ones by sharing our stories.

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