A friend or colleague loses a loved one to suicide. What can you possibly say to tell them how much you feel for them? It will all sound inadequate and false. Or will it?
Suicide was once a whispered about death, an act “committed” by someone – as if they had full power to prevent their own demise. We now know that when a person dies by suicide, he or she is not able to make a rational decision to seek help – their mental condition prevents them from doing so. We also know that suicide is likely to touch many of us, as evidenced by the growing rates across all age groups and walks of life in our country.
Here Are Some Truths
- People die by suicide, they don’t commit suicide.
- Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t leave a note explaining their actions.
- The grief felt after someone dies by suicide is like no other grief.
What you say and do after someone dies this way can never change the fact that person is gone. It can, however, help the grieving parent, sibling, child, friend or colleague more than you can imagine.
When you first hear the news, take a deep breath and appreciate the chance to be a good friend, a caring neighbor or an understanding boss. Don’t avoid getting in touch with the surviving family or friend. Chances are they are awash in complex feelings of disbelief, sadness, guilt, grief, devastation and even shame.
A friend offering genuine condolences at such a time is a gift. Yes, it can feel awkward and uncomfortable and for many of us, feeling uncomfortable can lead to inaction and rationalization that perhaps we should wait to get in touch.
Not so. Here’s the best way to help the survivors: Don’t treat the loss any differently than if the person died by another means.
Make contact as soon as you can if you are close to the bereaved and simply say you are sorry to hear the news. Avoid the inaccurate words “committed suicide.” Instead, simply say “I’m sorry for your loss,” or “I’m so sorry to hear (loved one) died” – the same as you would for any other kind of death. Say the same thing as you do when someone dies a natural death, by accident or from disease or a chronic condition. Treat the person’s passing like you would any other death and you’ll help those close to the person immensely. Share good memories and say how you will miss them. If they impacted your life in a positive way, share this too.
Be there to listen, be supportive and be your best kind, caring self.
For more information about suicide, its impact and how to help someone, check out our other suicide-related resources:
- listen to our Head Forward podcast episode – Preventing Suicide – The Right Questions to Ask
- watch our It’s Your Life, Keep Talking video about Suicide Survivor Loss
- read this blog post about thoughts of suicide
Here are some other excellent resources: