Losing my youngest brother to suicide eight years ago changed my life forever. I know things now that I could never have known if I hadn’t experienced this terrible loss.
Here's what I think you need to know.
1. You’ll never know why, and nothing good comes from speculating.
One of the most frustrating things about losing a loved one to suicide is the unanswered questions. Even whenever a note has been left behind, that note will never answer completely answer the question of why. The note might give you some idea to what they were thinking, but you can’t assume they are they are sharing what they were truly thinking in their note. Their last thoughts were likely so untethered that they themselves might not know why they are making this bad decision.
When famous people end their life, there is a temptation to try to answer why. It isn’t helpful to the family grieving or to your own mental health to try to pin an answer to something like fame or true happiness.
2. You need to examine your motivations for wanting answers.
Everyone wants details. The story is sensationalized. Why do we want to know?
Would you have listened to a podcast interview with Kate Spade last week? Would you have watched another rerun of Anthony Bourdain before this?
The details of their life go from mildly interesting to must-know the instant the news breaks of their death.
My suspicion is that you want to know details because you think you can isolate yourself from this kind of loss. You want to make sure you or your loved ones aren’t headed down a path that could end in suicide. The truth is you cannot isolate yourself from suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
This fear is why people love to blame famous people’s suicides on fame. When you aren’t famous, you don’t have fame as a danger in your life.
Do you want to know because you genuinely care about the family affected? Do you want to know out of morbid curiosity? Do you want to know to reassure yourself that you are safe from this type of threat?
3. You have no idea what the family is going through.
After living through the loss of my brother, I now know that it was impossible to imagine or explain the depth of emotions to someone else that comes when you have lost a loved one to suicide. I had experienced a near-fatal suicide attempt of another loved one previously, and it in no way compared or prepared me for the blow of actually losing my brother. The sudden loss is so beyond heartbreaking. I can try to describe some of the feelings that are unique to suicide loss, but even knowing these facts will not help you to imagine the loss.
Suicide comes with a rejection that isn’t present in other deaths. When a loved one dies from cancer or an accident, you can know that they did not decide they wanted to never see you again.
Suicide comes with anger. With other deaths you can be angry at a disease, circumstance, or murderer. In suicide, your loved one is their own murderer. I was incredibly angry with my brother for years. I had to navigate grief and forgiveness at the same time.
Suicide comes with uncertainty. Not only do you have to come to acceptance of your loved one's death, you also have to come to a place of acceptance of not having answers.
Suicide comes with guilt. No matter how your relationship was with your lost loved one before their death, you will inevitably feel as though the loss is your fault. It is not your fault. It will take years to accept that the blame for the loss cannot be laid at your feet.
4. Loss because of suicide can take a long time to grieve.
Because of the added stress, feelings to process, and stigma, grieving suicide can take much longer than typical periods of grief (as if typical exists.) The closer that a person was to the lost loved one can make the amount of time to grieve longer as well. Do not expect someone to be done grieving a suicide loss in a year, two years, or even five years. It would be better to see the grieving as a process that never ends during their lifetime.
5. Losing a loved one to suicide makes you 65% more likely to commit suicide.
This fact may contribute to the feelings many people have that make them want to isolate from suicide loss or reassure themselves that they are not at risk. You need to be aware of the statistic so you can be proactive. If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, you will need to take your mental health very seriously for the rest of your life. Keeping your mental health in a good place is extremely important.
If you have a friend, family member, or church member who has lost a loved one to suicide, it is important that you remain proactive in showing love and care towards them. Remember that it takes years to grieve this loss, and you will need to show support throughout the whole grieving process. You don’t have to have the right words, just show up for them and remind them that you care about them and their grief. Check in often, and make sure they are caring for themselves.
6. Guns make suicide-attempts effective.
Wherever you land on political arguments about guns doesn’t matter when it comes to this issue. The fact is that firearms account for more than half of the suicides each year. 85% of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death. Every other method has a higher survival rate. For example, drug overdose attempts are only 3% fatal.
If you or a loved one is at higher risk of committing suicide, please remove guns from your home. My brother killed himself with a gun that our family wasn’t even aware he had.
Be aware of these facts, and I would advise you to lean towards safety.
7. Celebrity suicides bring up feelings of loss for survivors of suicide.
I remember exactly where I was when I found out about Robin Williams’s suicide. I will remember where I was when I read about Kate and Anthony as well. It isn’t because I’m a huge fan of their work. It is because feelings resurface. It is impossible to not think of my brother. Those feelings linked to his death rise to the surface. Guilt, anger, uncertainty, and rejection have to be processed again. I’ve gotten good at calming these feelings over the years, but I still have to go through the thoughts: It is not my fault. I forgive him. I will never know why. He loved me.