How Do You Cope With The Suicide Of A Loved One?
By Suktara Ghosh
There’s little that tears people apart than the suicide of a loved one. One can reason with and accept illness, or even perhaps an accident. But it’s extremely difficult to come to terms with a situation where a loved one has taken his or her own life. With the grief comes an enormous amount of guilt, and the violence that’s usually associated with such a death is not easy to cope with.
So how can you support someone who has lost a loved one through suicide? Even as they go through the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — he or she needs special help to deal with the trauma.
It all boils down to that wise old words about being a good listener. As someone trying to reach out to the grief-stricken individual, it’s vital that you gauge the mourner’s emotions correctly. Only then would it be possible for you to offer meaningful support.
Three things are crucial: a) How long ago has the event happened — there are stages of grief, and a person may move through numbness, despair, anger, and many other emotions. The key is to respond sensitively to the primary emotion of that person. b) It is also important to remember that emotions will change over time, will wax and wane. So listen carefully for what the person’s current state is. c) Keep in mind WHO that person has lost. For example, losing a parent to suicide is very different from losing a spouse, which is again different from losing a child. In each case, the person will be overwhelmed with different thoughts.
- Dr Anuradha Sovani, Professor & Head, Department of Psychology, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai
It’s vital that you offer support without encroaching on their space — and right — to grieve.
After you ensure that the grieving person isn’t a danger unto himself, you need to give him space. Do not try to rush things or expect a miraculous turn of emotions. It can take an individual anywhere between four and 11 months to come to terms with the event primarily. Patience is the key here.
-Dr Rohan Jahagirdar, Consultant Psychiatrist
Each person reacts differently to trauma and the primary emotion can be across a wide range — from devastation to guilt to anger. It’s important that you do not impose your own emotions on the griever or advise him / her according to how you think they should react.
Respect the person’s emotions. Some people would cry loudly, some would go numb, somebody else might have angry outbursts. It’s very important to not push people into reacting the way you think they should react. We say that crying after such an incident is very important to vent grief. But that’s not true. Let the person be and allow them the time and space to deal with the sorrow in their way.
- Dr Rohan Jahagirdar
Offer Sustained Support
As is customary after any death, a lot of people drop in to offer condolences and support to the mourning family immediately after the event. But after the first few days, the mourner is left completely alone. And dealing with an incident like this is emotionally debilitating at best.
If you want to offer support, please offer sustained support. Please be there for the person who has lost their near and dear ones, even if it feels awkward, even if they try to push you away. Sense when they want company and when they want to be alone. One does not have to talk all the time, just offer your supportive presence.
Dr Anuradha Sovani
Share The Chores
An important part of the sustained support is relieving the grieving individual as far as possible from their daily chores. If there’s another child to take care of for instance, relieve the parents of their duties at least for a few days, advises Jahagirdar.
Unlike what’s commonly believed, drowning in work doesn’t necessarily help cope with this kind of grief. It’s important to let it run its own course.
Don’t Hit Rewind
It’s the worst thing we do in the name of offering condolence. Especially in the Indian society, a stream of people drop in to visit the grieving family and almost everyone — I repeat — almost everyone asks how things had come to such a pass? Do you ever stop to think what tremendous backlash this one question has, especially in cases of violent death?
Every time you ask this, you are making the person relive the trauma. Do not do that. Do not discuss the topic at all — you are just rubbing it in.
-Dr Rohan Jahagirdar
And where families and friends fail, grief groups can sometimes do wonders. There are several such groups in India which help people share stories and support each other through their mourning and depression, including that caused by the suicide of a loved one.
Trust me, they need all the help they can get.