What to Say to a Family After Suicide
The death of a loved one is a catastrophic loss, but when a loved one has taken his or her own life, that loss presents a unique set of grief challenges for those left behind. The “complicated grief” of suicide can leave family and friends feeling weakened and even incapacitated for long periods of time.
Some are never able to come to terms with that loved one’s death. The greatest barrier to healing for survivors is guilt. The enemy’s favorite weapon is imposing guilt on mankind, and those who have lost a loved one to suicide are easy targets. Survivors can have anger which is difficult to channel as they do not want to put the blame on their loved one and often tend to blame themselves which complicates their grieving.
Survivors Often Feel Shunned
It can be uncomfortable or even awkward to find the words to say to those left behind, particularly after a loved one dies by suicide. Not addressing the situation at all or avoiding mention of the person who has died can leave those who grieve feeling shunned and isolated. Unfortunately, there are no perfect words of comfort as every situation is unique. But here are a few things we can say and do to express our love and care for others.
Hug, Pause and Listen
If you truly don’t know what to say, you can give a hug and then say, “I am so sorry for your loss.” You can say, “I don’t know what to say,” or “I don’t have the right words,” “but I want you to know how much I care for you.” At this point, pause and listen. Most often a willing listener is what survivors need most. That means putting the phone away, making eye contact with the person and really listening. The greatest comfort we can offer is that of listening with our mind and heart.
If we have suffered a similar loss, we may be anxious to share our understanding of the situation. But we need not offer advice unless we are asked for it. When that time comes, we can be supportive in sharing our ideas by framing it with, “What I found that helped me was….” or, “I was able to get through by…”
Name the Person Who Died
As we engage in face-to-face conversation or even in written correspondence, remember to mention the name of the person who has died. We acknowledge and honor the dead person by doing so. Avoid the urge to use ‘reassuring’ phrases such as, “I know how you feel,” “Time heals all,” “He or she is at peace,” “things happen,” “heaven needed another angel,” or “You are so strong.”
We have all used them at some time, but now need to understand that while phrases such as these are well meant they may not be what newly bereaved individuals are ready to hear. Also, to say that the person who died by suicide “was not in his or her right mind at the time,” or that they were selfish or cowardly can be untrue and offensive to his or her survivors.
Helpful words to say or write are, “I am so sorry for your pain,” “I was so sad to hear about [name]’s death,” “I can’t imagine how heartbroken you must be,” “My heart aches for you,” or “My heart goes out to you.” Share a fond memory of the deceased if possible or comment on a positive aspect of the person. If you are writing a card you might close with, “Remembering [name] with you today,” “Wishing you hope and peace at this sad time,” or “Praying you will find the hope and comfort of the Lord in the midst of your pain.”
Reach Out to Survivors
If we offer to help survivors, be specific and practical and follow up with visits, calls, cards or notes. Bringing a meal, helping with childcare, shopping or doing household chores can be such a help. Also, if possible, remember the “year of firsts” ahead. The first birthday, first anniversary, Christmas, Easter, Father’s or Mother’s Day etc. without that family member or friend is always difficult. A simple card, call or text saying, “Remembering [name] with you today, or “Your pain is not forgotten on this day,” means so much to those who are grieving on those special days.
If you think it will help, consider adding a Bible verse such as,
Jesus understands your pain. Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
Your tears are precious to Christ. Psalm 56:8 Lord, You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle and recorded each one in your book.
You are not alone in your grief. I am here for you. Ecclesiastes 4:12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Your kindness will go a long way in giving comfort and hope.
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