Doing and Saying Just the Right Things
When A Person Takes His or Her Own Life
In our culture, suicide is particularly difficult for friends and family. Police are involved. An autopsy is required by law. In some cases, family and friends are suspected of foul play. Survivors often feel incredibly guilty that they didn’t do enough to prevent the tragedy. Here are some things you can do to offer support to friends and family when a suicide occurs.
When you learn that a person has taken his or her own life…
- Don’t push for details. Let survivors talk about their loved one. Focus on the survivor’s needs and be a good listener.
- Refer to the deceased by name.
- If there was a note, ask the police for a copy. Survivors need this to help heal.
- Make sure the deceased’s personal effects are returned to the family after the autopsy.
- Encourage the family to plan a wake, funeral and burial (even if cremated), if you are in an appropriate position to do so. A suicide doesn’t mean friends and family aren’t grieving.
- Send flowers with a note (see suggestions for notes below) or offer a donation to an organization.
- Help survivors deal with returning to the place of the suicide.
- Focus on the deceased’s life — not his/her death.
- Ask to help make arrangements or do chores.
During the services…
- Include siblings of all ages in the activities. Let them ask questions. Answer honestly.
- Don’t feel guilty about saying or doing something that causes a loved one to cry or crying yourself. Crying is healthy.
After the services…
- Remember birthdays and anniversaries of the death.
- Keep in touch with the bereaved. Many times friends and family shy away from the awkwardness suicide poses. Be there for them when they are ready.
- Those close to the deceased, especially children and those who discover the body, need special attention. It’s wise to help them find appropriate therapy or a support group.
- Don’t suggest what you would do or how you would feel. You are not the issue.
- Don’t shy away from being involved. Your support is valued, but don’t take control of the situation. Loved ones need control to help them work through grief.
- Don’t bring up other people’s losses. Let friends and family focus on their loss.
- Don’t pressure the family to clean out the deceased’s belongings. They need to do this in their own time.
What to say…
Use your own words to convey messages like these:
“It’s too bad he/she died. I will always remember him/her.”
“It’s so tragic. What you’re going through must be very difficult.”
“I’m saddened by your loss. We care and love you deeply.”
“Didn’t you notice something was wrong?”
“How did he/she do it?”
“He/She was always a little emotional.”
“Didn’t his/her mother commit suicide too?”
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
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