But I didn’t say goodbye! That’s all I could think about when I learned that my dad killed himself.  Friends said that he “was no longer in pain,” and that he loved me. But I didn’t say goodbye and those words weighed heavy on my grieving heart.

Approximately 4.5 million Americans became bereaved by suicide in the last 25 years with 199,800 bereaved added in 2006 (AAS, 2009). Sadly, I became a part of that statistic in 1986 when my father killed himself while I was in the hospital awaiting the birth of my triplets. I personally found that attending a support group with others bereaved by suicide helped me and in 1995, I created and facilitated a group, SOLAS, Sharing Our Loss After Suicide. My goal was to give others bereaved by suicide a place to feel safe and accepted as I focused on their strength, growth and resiliency. The idea of the word SOLAS came from my goal of wanting to bring solace to the bereaved.

Individuals bereaved by suicide view professional help as beneficial and value one-to-one contact with others bereaved by suicide (McMenamy, Jordan, & Mitchell, 2008). Therefore, a group can become a safe place to tell one’s story with those who have experienced similar losses. Attendance in bereavement groups offers a forum to exchange emotions in a non-judgmental setting (McCreight, 2008) and the relationships formed can last a lifetime.

In a review of those bereaved by suicide compared with survivors of other deaths, no significant differences between those bereaved after a suicide and other bereaved groups were found regarding general mental health, depression, PTSD, anxiety, and suicidal behavior (Sveen, & Walby, 2008). However, those bereaved by suicide reported higher levels of rejection, shame, stigma, need to conceal cause, and blaming than survivors of other deaths. Other common grief reactions are guilt and responsibility, searching for an explanation, anxiety, preoccupation with the suicide, and relief. Individuals bereaved by suicide report high levels of distress, depression, guilt, anxiety, and trauma and may find it difficult talking with others about suicide (McMenamy, Jordan & Mitchell, 2008).

Grief reactions after a suicide can be intensely felt. As I was holding my newborn triplets and experiencing the joy in their birth, I realized that my dad would never get to meet them and that influenced my grief reactions. Suicide has been explained as a “death like no other” (Redfield-Jamison, 2006) and the bereaved may have elevated risk for developing complicated mourning (Jordan, et al 2004).  Talking with professionals and support group members can help. Many bereaved after suicide put their confidence and trust into those bereaved by suicide believing that only they can fully understand their particular needs and difficulties (Feigelman & Feigelman, 2006).

A bereavement group is not for everyone. However, if you want to share your pain and talk about your experience, attend a group and see if it is right for you. The group becomes a place where your grief is normalized.

If you are a bereaved parent, you may have an increased likelihood of guilt, remorse, and self-blame if your child had a psychiatric illness, if you had a troubled relationship with your child, and if your child had made previous attempts (Feigelman, Jordan, & Gorman, 2008-2009). A group can give you an opportunity to talk about your child. You can also learn ways to help your grieving children. Dyregrov (2009) studied the need for psychological assistance to cope with suicide among bereaved children. Children reported they found support by speaking with psychologists (52%), teachers (35%), public health nurses (35%), and clergymen (29%).

Sometimes we can feel very much alone in our grief and it takes effort to reach out to others who understand what we are going through. Henri Nouwen says it best, “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” My hope is that you find those who want to listen to you as you share your pain and heal your heart.

Here are a few resources:

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Barbara Rubel

Barbara Rubel, BS, MA, BCETS, DAAETS, is a nationally recognized author and keynote speaker and trainer on increasing self-awareness of skills and strengths that improve the ability to handle job burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and vicarious trauma. Barbara’s programs motivate professionals to build personal resilience. Barbara is the author of the book, But I Didn’t Say Goodbye and the 30-hour continuing education course book for Nurses, Loss, Grief, and Bereavement: Helping individuals cope (4th ed.). She is a contributing writer in Thin Threads: Grief and renewal; Open to Hope’s Fresh Grief; Coaching for results: Expert advice from 25 Top international coaches; and Keys to a Good Life: Wisdom to unlock your power within. Barbara was featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Fatal Mistakes: families shattered by suicide, narrated by Mariette Hartley. She also developed the Palette of Grief® Program: Understanding Reactions after a Traumatic Death Barbara’s background includes working as a hospice bereavement coordinator and serving as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, where she taught undergraduate and masters-level courses in Death, Life and Health; Children and Death; Health Crisis Intervention; and Health Counseling. She currently is a consultant with the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime and co-wrote their training curriculum, Compassion Fatigue/Vicarious Trauma. Barbara received a BS in Psychology and MA in Community Health, with a concentration in thanatology, from Brooklyn College. She is a board-certified expert in traumatic stress and diplomat with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

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