Maria D Cimini PhD

Prevention Preferred

Healing From the Loss of a Friend to Suicide

Navigate your personal journey of healing.

Posted Jul 01, 2018

Source: GoranH/Pixabay

During the past several weeks, there has been a great deal of attention in the news media to the tragic deaths by suicide of fashion designer Kate Spade and journalist Anthony Bourdain. Sometimes when we learn of such tragic news, it may remind us of the losses of our friends or loved ones who may have died by suicide in the past, making our own journey of healing and hope all the more challenging. After media attention to these tragic losses dies down, it may feel as if we have been left to deal with our own feelings alone, and we may wonder if anyone really understands us or if what we are experiencing is normal.

While there is no easy way to grieve, it is often helpful to know that attention to suicides in the news media may, at times, trigger thoughts of the losses of our own friends or loved ones and may result in our re-experiencing the grief and other feelings we encountered immediately subsequent to the loss once again; such reactions may last for several hours, days, weeks, or months. During these times, it is helpful to understand that such feelings and memories are normal and to know where to find information and resources for support during these stressful times.

Grief Is a Process

No two people respond to loss in the same way. Some may experience physical symptoms such as headaches or changes in appetite and/or sleeping patterns, while others may experience emotions such as anger, depression, or other feelings. Some reactions which individuals experience during the grieving process may include: 

Shock                              Disbelief                                 Sadness

Guilt                                 Denial                                     Pain

Despair                           Anger                                      Hopelessness

Stress                              Anxiety                                   Grief

Confusion                       Numbness                              Abandonment

Loneliness                      Rejection                                Self-blame

The shock and grief that consumes us after we lose someone to suicide can be overwhelming. It can feel like we have fallen into a deep hole and will never be able to get out. These are natural feelings which will likely change as we move through the grieving process and allow the time we need to heal from our loss. 

Some Difficult Questions

Will I ever get over this, and if so, how long will it take?

While there is no erasing the loss of a friend or loved one to suicide, over time and with focused attention to the work of grieving, we come to the point in our lives where it feels that the time is right to enjoy life and to move forward with our own interests, plans, and relationships. For many, the entire first year, including the first anniversary of the loss, is difficult, while others grieve for shorter or longer periods of time.

Is it disrespectful to my friend or loved one to laugh or enjoy my life?

For some, there may be a period during which it may not “feel” okay to enjoy your life. This is only natural. But over time, your capacity to enjoy the pleasures of ordinary life will, and should, re-emerge. This in no way trivializes your loss or disrespects the friend or loved one you have lost.

Taking Care of Yourself

This week of increased media attention on suicide is also a reminder that all of us need to take care of our own mental health and the well-being of those around us. If you are struggling, take the time you need for self-care and help seeking, and be sure to reach out to someone you trust or connect with someone you are concerned about. Ask those in your life how they are doing. Listen intently, and seek professional help if needed.

Helping Yourself

  • Recognize and acknowledge your feelings and reactions.

  • Take care of yourself emotionally and physically.

  • Talk to others about what you are feeling or experiencing, which may include making an appointment with a counselor or mental health professional.

  • Spend time with others.

  • Balance out emotions related to loss by living the other aspects of your life fully.

  • Distract yourself as needed.

  • Honor the anniversary of the loss of a friend or loved one with a meaningful ritual or tradition.

  • Express your emotions through writing, art, poetry, cooking, or any other way which gives voice to your feelings.

  • Create a self-care toolbox. Make a list of things that relax you and keep it in a convenient place during this time. Mindfully use one or two every day as a way to keep grounded. Some ideas may include walking, taking a hot bath/shower, reading a fiction book, watching a funny movie, and playing a board game.

Supporting Others

  • Know the power of your presence and empathy.

  • Acknowledge the loss of your friend or loved one in some way.

  • Listen to others' thoughts and feelings.

  • Encourage others to seek professional help if needed.

And Remember . . . You Are Not Alone

There are many resources available to provide support to those affected by suicide. Do not hesitate to reach out for support as you move forward in your journey of personal healing.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or text "Talk" to 741741.
  • Crisis Text Line — Text START to 741741
  • TREVOR Project — 866-488-7386
  • Trans Lifeline — 877-565-8860