Suicide Threats Spark Anticipatory Grief


A friend of mine has a suicidal daughter and worries about her constantly. The daughter attempted suicide once, and has threatened it many times. “When I wake up in the morning, I wonder if this will be the day she succeeds,” the mother explained. She has nightmares about her daughter and feels totally helpless.

If your loved one is suicidal you may have similar feelings. You may be so worried that you are unaware of your anticipatory grief—a feeling of loss before a dreaded event or death occurs. All you know is that life is different, dark, and bleak. Without any warning you may start crying, an upsetting experience. Focusing your thoughts is hard because your mind keeps wandering. Like a leaking faucet, sadness seeps into your days.

Rabbi Earl Grollman, in his book, Suicide, notes that suicide attempts may not seem serious. Although family members may dismiss these attempts as attention-getting behavior, Grollman thinks every threat should be taken seriously. “There is no more dramatic and poignant cry for help,” he explains.

Grollman goes on to say that people who attempt suicide are depressed, mentally ill, grieving, gay, have debilitating illness, are alcoholics, addicted to drugs, facing life transitions, have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or feel abandoned. “There is no single causational factor,” he notes. Unfortunately, many family members feel manipulated by ongoing suicide threats, and you may be one of them.

How can you cope with the anticipatory grief of suicide attempts?  Here are some suggestions.

Call time out. Rebecca Woolis, author of When Someone You Love has a Mental Illness, thinks it’s important for family members to pace themselves and take breaks. “The presence of family and friends can be more harmful to the relationships than it is helpful to the person,” she writes, especially if your loved one abuses drugs and/or alcohol. Keeping a “loving distance” can be helpful, according to Woolis.

Know the symptoms of anticipatory grief. Dr. Lois Krahn, my co-author. and I list the symptoms in our book, Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief. The list includes emotional numbness, nervous/restless behavior, mood swings, forgetfulness, changes in your health, hyperactivity (to escape feelings of sadness), poor sleep, fatigue and exhaustion, and feeling isolated and alone. If you have several of these symptoms it may be time to seek help.

Learn how to control negative thinking. When a negative thought comes to mind, try to balance it with a positive one. Dr. Heidi Hosley and Dr. Gloria Horsley, authors of Teen Grief Relief, call this “thought stopping.” Recalling happy experiences may help you do this. “Select a pleasant thought and hold it in your mind as you touch your thumb and index finger together to make a circle or link,” they write. This simple exercise can give you an emotional boost.

Read books and articles about suicide. Knowledge is power and learning more about suicide can be calming and powerful at the same time. More important, knowledge helps you see the big picture, frame your responses, and plan for the future. “I know I’ve done all I can,” one mother shared, “and that is reassuring.”

Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson, BS, MA has been an independent journalist for more than 35+ years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the MN Coalition for Death Education and Support. Hodgson writes for and has earned top status. A prolific author, she is the author of hundreds of articles and 31 books. All of her writing comes from experience and heer recent books focus on grief recovery: * Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss * The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul * 101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey: Words of Comfort, Words of Hope * Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life * Writing to Recover Journal (with 100 writing prompts) * Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, Lois Krahn, MD, co-author In 2007, after her daughter's death and former son-in-law's death, she became a GRG, grandparent raising grandchildren. Her latest book, Help! I'm Raising My Grandkids: Grandparents Adapting to Life's Surprise, came from this experience. In addition to writing books, Hodgson is a columnist for "Caregiving in America" magazine and Assistant Editor of ADEC Connects, the electronic newsletter of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. A popular speaker, Hodgson has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer's, hospice, and grief conferences. She has appeared on more than 160 talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations/programs, including CNN. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors and other directories. She lives in Rochester, MN with her husband and twin grandchildren. Please visit for more information about this busy author and grandmother. Books by Harriet Hodgson The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon, 101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey: Words of Comfort, Words of Hope, available from Amazon, Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon, Writing to Recover Journal, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon. Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, Lois Krahn, MD, Co-Author, available from Amazon,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *