A suicide creates an immediate and gaping hole in the hearts and lives of survivors. Aftershock may reverberate long after the funeral is over. While friends and mourners return to their everyday lives, those closest to the deceased often struggle with painful emotions for a long time.
For many survivors, personal relationships become severely strained. For some, it becomes a struggle to leave the house and go out into the world. At times, it may be no easier to stay home with one’s family.
Survivors frequently suffer additional pain when they seek support from family, friends, neighbors, or community organizations and these individuals are unable to deal sensitively with what has happened. Whether intentional or unintentional, this lack of support has a profound impact on survivors who are already raw with grief and guilt. To make matters worse, some survivors report feeling "blamed" by those from whom they sought support.
Secondary wounding can occur in a number of ways:
Denial and Disbelief: When survivors relate information about the suicide or subsequent events to others and they are not fully understood or believed. For example, they are sometimes told “that couldn’t have really happened that way -- you were just confused.”
Discounting and Minimizing: When the pain of survivors is dismissed and they are made to feel that there is something wrong with them. Some survivors are made to feel It’s time to get over it. Comments might include: “How could you be surprised? You knew he was depressed!” and “At least you still have other children.”
Blaming Survivors: When people communicate overtly or covertly: “Well, maybe if you hadn’t … “You should have never … “That’s what you get for ….”
Treating survivors, their family, and their loved one as defective or dysfunctional:
These are all ways of making survivors feel they do not have a right to their pain. It is a way of saying there is something wrong for letting the pain get control.
Because survivors are already so raw with grief, they have little resilience. The pain, disappointment and anger which is generated at these times becomes entangled in the original pain and can live on for years.
The grief from suicide is painful and the healing journey is long. Survivors suffer terribly and have a right to mourn in their own time and in their own way.. The torturous pain will not last forever. Life will never be the same, but healing does and will occur.
The survivor has the right:
to know the truth about the suicide, to see the body of the deceased, and to organize the funeral with respect to one's own ideas and rituals.
to consider suicide as the result of several interrelated causes that produced unbearable pain for the deceased: suicide is not a free choice.
to live wholly, with joy and sorrow, free of stigma or judgment.
to have his or her privacy respected as well as that of the deceased.
to find support from relatives, friends, colleagues ... and from professional helpers who have knowledge and insight in the dynamics of bereavement, potential risk factors, and in the administrative consequences.
to be contacted by the clinician / caregivers (if any) who treated the deceased person.
to not be considered as a suicide candidate or as a patient.
to place one's experience in the service of other survivors, caregivers and anyone who seeks to better understand suicide and suicide bereavement.
to never be as before" there is a life before the suicide and a life afterwards.
Written by the Flemish Working Group on Suicide Survivors