What is grief?
Grief is a natural, normal and personal response to loss. It is the emotional hurt that you feel when someone you love or care for deeply is taken away. Grief affects you as a whole person—mentally, physically, socially, and even spiritually.
Emotional reactions to grief may include confusion, anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness, numbness, shame, and despair. Physical reactions may include sleeping problems, changes in appetite, physical problems, or illness. You may experience changes in how you relate to your family, friends, and others.
Grieving is a highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, the nature of your current loss, and how you dealt with any previous losses. It is important to remember that no two people grieve the same way and that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. Grieving is a process. It takes time. While it may not feel like it now, the grief does eventually lessen as you adjust to loss.
There is no set timetable for grieving. So, try to be okay dealing with this loss at your own pace, even if it differs from your friends or family. Some people feel better in weeks or months, for others it may take longer. Grief is not always visible. The grieving process is longer and more intense when there has been a sudden, unexpected death. This is what happens when you grieve someone lost to suicide. Grieving hurts but it is what you have to go through to come to terms with the death of someone close to you.
Why do things seem out of control?
You have suffered a severe emotional shock. Suicide is the worst traumatic loss. It is sudden. It is unexpected. As a friend you may feel betrayed, angry, out of control, disoriented, and hurt. You may feel that the one you lost has let you down by leaving you behind to mourn. You may feel anger that he or she never gave you the chance to help. You may feel guilt because you feel that you should have or could have done something. You may feel responsible because of something that you said or did.
You need to know and remember that most suicides are the result of many things over time, often including mental illness, not just one event. Some people find it very hard to ask for help. Suicidal individuals often believe that they are a great burden to others. This may cause them to not say anything to those they most care for. This was not your fault.
Suicide overwhelms anyone who it affects. It is not “painless.” Suicide loss is incomprehensible to anyone who has not lived it and they may not be able to understand your loss. What you are feeling will pass in time. How long this takes depends on you, your resilience, and the support that you give and receive.
How a young person may feel about the death of a friend to suicide
Young people in their teens can be significantly affected by the suicide of a friend, a classmate, or a sibling. These are all peers and their death drives home the scary reality that anyone can die despite being young. Some young people almost feel immune to death or believe that it only happens to old people. A young person’s suicide changes that. Sometimes the person lost to suicide will be a parent. Even the natural death of a parent disrupts a young person’s sense of stability, safety, and security.
When it is a suicide, the impact is even more devastating and distressing. Teens who lose a parent to suicide may feel especially abandoned and alone, and different from their friends. You may worry excessively about something happening to your living parent or other family members. The suicide of anybody close to you or of someone that you identify with may make you feel vulnerable and threatened.
Lastly, part of being a teen is becoming more independent and self-reliant. A teen may pull away from their family or adults when they experience a suicide and look for help from other young people. While some friend will be able to share your loss some may not and be of little support as they may not understand what you are going through if they have not experienced this kind of loss themselves. Choosing the right people to share your feelings with is important; it could be family, friends or a teacher.
Recovery from the death of someone you know
Recovery is how you get back your wellbeing and quality of life after someone close to you had died. Recovery means, “to get back,” or “to restore.” Recovery is not “getting over it”. Any death, but particularly a suicide will always change those that it affects. However, you can recover that sense of things being normal that you felt before your loss. You can get to a different normal, a “new normal.” That is what recovery is all about. Recovery from a suicide loss is a process of learning to deal with each day’s challenges. It means getting to a place where you are living with your grief rather than only grieving.
Recovery is the goal of your journey through this suicide grief. This active process may be challenging at times, but don’t give up. As we have already said, there isn’t a standard grieving process. It is different for each of us. However, there seem to be some phases that we each experience. These do not necessarily unfold in order but it is easier to discuss them that way.
We all seem to face an initial period after someone dies when nothing literally fits. The extent of our sadness and emotion is often unimaginable. It can be a time of panic, blame, denial, confusion and anger. It may be followed by a phase when you feel that you are breaking down emotionally. You feel apart from those who do not share your loss and do not understand what you are going through. You feel a loss of control over your life and a sense of powerlessness. These phases may last some time, no one is the same in the way they respond.
Gradually, over time you will rebound emotionally. Your grief eases and becomes manageable. You will seem to have more energy and some interests that you stopped doing may come back. Daily life will not seem such a struggle. This is a kind of pre-recovery stage. You are moving in the right direction. Life is not the same as it was before your loss, but you can function better and you feel ‘normal’ once again.
How can I help myself get through my recovery?
Try to speak to someone about your feelings. Share your emotions with people you trust. Don’t feel you have to be silent and cope. The more you allow yourself to openly grieve and share that experience with others, the stronger you will begin to feel. It will be hard to stand against the emotional forces overtaking you but try to resolve any feelings of anger and to move away from any sense of guilt. Suicide is something that happens to someone. It is not caused by somebody and it is nobody’s fault.
Find ways to deal with your array of feelings. For example:
At some point you will develop different feelings about your loss that you can live with. This may make you feel uncomfortable. Don’t feel guilty because you feel better. Remember that your friend or loved one would want you to feel happiness and joy again. You need to get to a “new normal” and return to wellness. You are not leaving your loved one or friend behind and you will never forget them. You are outgrowing the more hurtful aspects of their death.
Kooth is a free, safe, anonymous and non-stigmatised way for young people to receive counselling, advice and support on-line: www.kooth.com
Young Minds is the national charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. Parents Helpline: 0808 802 5544