At No Fallen Heroes we have dedicated ourselves to the prevention of veteran suicide. One aspect of suicide is the reaction to the suicide of a loved one. A veteran has ended his or her life but their friends and family live on and live with the loss. Grieving can be difficult in such circumstances because there is often no easy way to reconcile what happened. Understanding the grief that one feels after losing a loved one to suicide can help us work though our sense of loss and other emotions that may seem overwhelming.
Understanding Grief After the Suicide of a Friend or Loved One
After someone you know and love has taken their own life the first reaction can be shock, which is followed by grief, trying to make sense of what happened and putting the pieces together. Many feel like they have fallen into a hole from which they cannot climb out. Although everyone experiences grief in a unique way. Some people have physical symptoms like inability to sleep, loss of appetite, or headaches. Others feel shocked, numb, detached, or dazed. Often the mind sort of shuts down to protect from being totally overwhelmed. Here are the common responses to the suicide of a loved one or close friend.
Suicide and Denial
Sometimes the reaction to suicide is to deny that it was suicide. He or she would “never do that.” Sometimes the reaction is to deny that it affects you. “I am OK.” These reactions are most common when there is little specific information available. As details emerge it becomes easier to put things in perspective and accept what happened. Then it becomes easier to move on to feelings of loss and sadness. Unfortunately, other reactions like guilt or anger may emerge before moving on to acceptance.
Feeling Guilty When Someone Commits Suicide
Close friends and family often feel guilty when a loved one takes their own life. They believe they “should have done something.” They ruminate about details of their relationship to the departed, questioning every interaction or lack of interactions. When there have been unresolved issues between a person and the departed, this can accentuate the regret and grief that one feels. Guilt continues even when there was often to way that the grieving person could have successfully intervened to prevent the suicide.
Anger as a Reaction to Suicide
For some people the first and strongest reaction to suicide is a sense that the person abandoned them. This can be especially strong in close family but also in friends or even associates who relied on the person. This sense of abandonment serves as a justification for being angry at the departed. Although this reaction is common it is also complex and confusing. We miss the person, still love them, and are angry at them. Working through these confusing feelings is important to get to a sense of acceptance of one’s loss. The truth of the matter is that if anger is part of one’s reaction it is important not to deny this but to work through it and put the anger in perspective before moving on.
Sadness At Loss Due to Suicide
It is normal to feel sad at the loss of a friend or loved one. Sometimes the degree of sadness is so profound that it is more than a sense of loss and becomes a sense of uselessness or hopelessness. When this is the case normal memories of the departed can trigger renewed bouts of disabling sadness to the point that frustration, self-pity, bitterness, and hopelessness become dominating features in one’s life. It is only by accepting one’s loss that the degree of sadness from suicide of a friend or family member can be reduced and become manageable.
Accepting the Loss of Someone by Suicide
The ultimate goal in dealing with a loss by suicide is to accept what happened and why. There comes a decision to keep on living while missing the person you loved, trusted, and depended on. This is not the act of forgetting but the act of learning how to live again with loss. One of the ways at No Fallen Heroes that we cope with the loss of our comrades in arms is by dedicating ourselves to the prevention, reduction, and eventual elimination of veteran suicide.