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For Those Left Behind

Surviving a suicide loss

We are sorry to hear about the death of your friend or family member. The pain experienced in the days and weeks following a loss can seem overwhelming. It is important to know you are not alone. We hope the words and resources found on this page can provide some assistance and guidance in the days ahead.

When an individual takes his or her own life, the people they leave behind are often referred to as survivors of suicide. Survivors may be friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors or anyone else impacted by a suicide death. Every situation is different.

This page is dedicated to providing resources for survivors of a suicide loss. Sometimes there is a belief that 'survivor' means someone who has attempted suicide and survived. There are many other resources available for 'attempt survivors' found through organizations such as National Alliance on Mental Illness (1-800-950-NAMI or www.nami.org) or Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (1-800-826-3632 or www.dbsalliance.org).

Impossible as it might seem right now, you will survive this.


Survivor Grief

Although research suggests that bereavement after suicide is similiar to that of any other type of unexpected death, most survivors will say: suicide is different. Many struggle with the same feelings as those who experienced a "conventional" death such as yearning, sadness and loss. However, there are distinct issues that only another survivor can understand: guilt, confusion and a powerful sense of turmoil. Combined with the secrecy that often surrounds suicide, the emotional burden on a survivor is enormous. It is important to recognize that grieving is a very individual process and we all grieve in different ways and at different times. A few key points to remember:

  • Don't blame anyone (including yourself) for the individual's death. The fact is the only person who truly bears responsibility for a suicide is the victim.
  • The grieving process takes months and years (not days or weeks).
  • Severe grief can often lead to depression. Check with your primary care provider if you find your grief so severe that it is limiting your ability to function.
  • If you are having thoughts of harming or killing yourself, tell someone and get help. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Generally speaking, the first year will be the toughest, but certain times may always be difficult. Anticipate that birthdays and holdays and the anniversary of your loss will be times when you could benefit from extra support.

There are many internet-based resources for grief:

www.afsp.org offers a wealth of information on coping as well as locating a support group

The following is excerpted from AFSP's Surviving Suicide Loss: A Resource and Healing guide:

"What do I do now?

  • Some survivors struggle with what to tell other people. Although you should make whatever decision feels right for you, most survivors have found it best to simply acknowldge that their loved one died by suicide.
  • You may find it helps to reach out to friends and family. Beacause some people may not know what to say, you may need to take the initiative to talk about suicide, share your feelings and ask for their help.
  • Even though it may seem difficult, maintaining contact with other people is especially important during the stress-filled months after a loved one's suicide."

www.griefnet.org has over 50 email-based support groups for adults and children

www.suicidegrief.com is a volunteer run public message board


    Supporting a survivor

    It can be difficult to know what to say to someone who has experienced a suicide loss. Do not let this stop you from expressing you care and offering to help. What many survivors recall in the days and weeks after their loss, is that no one said anything to them because of this uncertainty. This only contributes to their feelings of isolation and loss.

    • Dont be afraid to say their loved one's name. Dont worry if this makes them sad.  Again, saying nothing hurts more.
    • Be there for them, but do not smother.
    • Write a story about a memory you have of their loved one, perhaps one they have never heard told and when they are ready, give it to them to read.
    • You may have to be your brother/sister's keeper. Watch for someone who is struggling and needs additional help. Make sure they get it.
    • Take any threat of suicide seriously.

    Child Survivors of Suicide

    Suicide presents special challenges for for both adult survivors and the children in their care. Children's reaction to death tend to be based on their developmental stage and their life experiences. You can protect children best by offering comfort, reassurance and honest answers to their questions.

    When do I tell my child? Tell them as soon as you have the news and are in a place you feel comfortable.

    What do I tell my child? Tell the truth about the suicidal nature of the death from the beginning. Use language they can understand. Repeat your explanation if necessary and check to make sure they have understood what you said.

    An example is "She had a serious illness in her brain. It is called depression."

    Let them express their feelings. If they cannot keep listening to you, this is normal. Children may need to have this conversation in "doses". Tell them you are always available if they want to talk later.

    Is there anything in particular that will be comforting? The greatest gift you can give your child is the assurance of your love and support. Listen openly and provide comfort through physical affection. Children may need lights left on to sleep, or even you to stay with them in their room at night until they fall asleep. Depending on their age a favorite toy or blanket can be comforting.

    www.dougy.org This Center for Families and Children, based on the West Coast, offers resources and expert advice in children's grief.


    Local Resources for Grief

    www.compassionatefriends.org Support after the loss of a child. Meet monthly in Horseheads NY.

    www.woundedhealers.com Bereavement support group meets monthly in Horseheads NY. Also offers individual counseling.

    www.griefcenterofthesoutherntier.org Contact Sandi at 936-9077 for current schedule and availability of groups.

    Smile Through the Storms meets the 1st Wednesday of the month at 5:30 pm at EOP-650 Baldwin St.  in Elmira NY

    Steuben County Suicide Loss Peer Support Group - every 1st and 3rd Wednesday , 6 pm Adison NY contact: Jessica Frawley 324-2483 

    Ithaca Crisis and Suicide Prevention:  After Suicide Support Group 

    Monthly, first & third Tuesdays, 5:30 pm SPCS Conference Room, 124 E. Court Street, Ithaca NY

    The After Suicide Support Group of Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service has been helping survivors find their way since 1982. Group members, being suicide survivors, understand the special needs of those who have suffered a loved one’s suicide, whether the suicide was recent or long ago.

    To attend, call the Director of After-Trauma Services at 607-272-1505.