Bereaved by suicide — can you help?
Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission.
Today is the 10th anniversary of my brother Adrian’s death from suicide. He was 35 and you can read about him in some of my previous blogs (Happy Birthday, Housing — it’s personal and Remembering Adrian).
Being bereaved by suicide is not easy, as more people than you might imagine know. On Saturday, my father and I laid flowers and a card by the tree where Adrian’s ashes are buried. I wrote on behalf of the whole family “you are always in our thoughts”. And it’s true. There are many occasions when I catch myself just wondering about him.
But knowing someone bereaved by suicide is also not easy. A little while ago someone I met through work rang me to ask what had helped me and my family when my brother died. He was asking because the brother of a close friend had just died from suicide and he wanted to do the right thing.
I was sorry about what happened but I am glad he felt able to ring me — just one more reason why speaking and writing about suicide is so important. He didn’t know anyone else who had gone through a similar experience but had read my blogs so hoped I could help.
We spoke and I offered some off the top of my head tips which I hope did help but it got me thinking that knowing someone bereaved by suicide is usually uncharted territory for people. What do you do? What do they want? What helps? What doesn’t?
Mindful that every situation is different and individual reactions will be unique to that person and their circumstances, here are my thoughts.
Don’t avoid it
First, please don’t avoid it. As we know, people generally find death difficult to talk about and suicide even more so. But being bereaved by suicide can be a very lonely place to be and if your friends and acquaintances avoid it, that sense of isolation can become even more acute. I know how comforted I was by the support from family, friends and work colleagues.
Second, offer practical help but don’t be offended if the answer is no. This is definitely something that will be a personal choice for the bereaved family. For me, the practical assistance offered by friends from crucial details (one of my best friends provided the photo of Adrian we used for the funeral service card) to big projects (my other best friend helped us to sort out the mess Adrian’s finances had got into) was invaluable. Thank you both so much.
Third, if you can (and as long as the family has not said no) please go to the funeral if you are close to the bereaved person. You may feel awkward about it but you have no idea how much it will mean to the family that you are there for them at that moment. Again, my two best friends were there — they had met Adrian but did not know him well. That they travelled from London and shared in our grief is something I (and my family) will never forget and will always appreciate.
It’s a long haul
Fourth, recognise that the effects of being bereaved by suicide will be long-lasting (I don’t think it is something that you ever truly “get over”) so don’t be surprised if birthdays, anniversaries or stories in the media about suicide generate a reaction or sadness. The first tip applies here too, don’t avoid it. The stigma of suicide will remain if we leave it in the shadows — talking helps.
And last, but not least, look after yourself and recognise that supporting someone bereaved by suicide may take a toll on you too. While you are being kind to others, be kind to yourself too.
None of this is rocket science, nor do I lay claim to any great wisdom — these are just common sense tips from my own experience. But I hope sharing them is a way to honour Adrian’s memory and maybe help someone else.
Originally published at www.cqc.org.uk.