Perhaps the word unique is too restrictive in a discussion of universal phenomena such as death or grief, but according to new national guidelines* for responding to suicide, considering such a perspective …
… opens the door to asking not only “What makes grief after suicide different?” but also “How does the distinctive nature of suicide itself affect the bereavement experience of survivors?”
Responding to Grief, Trauma, and Distress After a Suicide: U.S. National Guidelines suggests that death by suicide can raise questions about the deceased’s volition and whether the death was preventable as well as about the role of stigma and of trauma in the death. The emotional reactions of loss survivors to a particular suicide, the argument goes, can be shaped by how each person experiences the death along the continua of it being willfull or not, preventable or not, stigmatized or not, and traumatic or not.
This idea is one of several fresh perspectives offered in the guidelines, which were created by the Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention to advance a vision for reinventing postvention in America and creating …
… a world where communities and organizations provide everyone who is exposed to a suicide access to effective services and support immediately — and for as long as necessary — to decrease their risk of suicide, to strengthen their mental health, and to help them cope with grief.
The section of the guidelines covering the nature of suicide bereavement also comprehensively reviews aspects of grief that often are accentuated by a loss to suicide: shock, disbelief, asking why, shame, blame, guilt, abandonment, rejection, anger, fear, relief, increased risk of suicide. Of course, these themes can be present in grief after any manner of death. As Jack Jordan and John McIntosh point out in their seminal book on the topic, suicide bereavement is most different from grief after a natural death; somewhat different from grief after a sudden, unexpected death; and most similar to grief after a traumatic or violent death.
*Introductory material from the guidelines (Table of Contents, Executive Summary, Acknowledgements, Preface) is available at bit.ly/excerptsosl, and the complete document is available at bit.ly/respondingsuicide.