How To Deal With The Suicide Of A Family Member
- Dealing with the suicide of a family member.
- Grieving the loss of a loved one.
Ask the Author: Question & Response
When I was 3 my dad died. I am now 16. I don’t remember my dad but growing up I always had my uncle there (my dad’s brother) and he was like a father figure to me. We were so close he meant everything to me. But last year in May, he committed suicide and he never said goodbye to me or even sent me a text. I just want to know why he did this and never said bye to me. It makes me think bad things and I just need to know why he did this and what was he thinking to leave me alone when he knows how much I loved him and how much he meant to me. Please give me some answers.
– Rachel, Birmingham, United Kingdom
I had a cousin Carlos who took his life by overdosing on pills. Although we were roughly the same age, we had always lived in different parts of the world. I had only met him about 10 times in 35 years but when we were together we always got along great. He was a wonderful being, but part of his depression stemmed from not being accepted by some of his family members for being gay. And being gay in the Latino culture is not easy. He was a brilliant guy, very successful, had a loving relationship, but in the end he just made a decision he could not take back. There was about a 2 year period when we lived in the same city, but we only saw each other a couple of times. I asked myself for a long time what, if anything, more I could have done, what else could I have said that might have assisted him to see that no matter what some thought of him, that he was okay. It’s easy to blame oneself for the person’s suicide, thinking that if one just hadn’t said that or done this then the person wouldn’t have died.
1. Educate yourself. This will be at the core of my recommendations. Educate yourself on how to most intelligently, productively and proactively deal with your grief. Understand that not only do grieving individuals feel loss, but they may also be experiencing guilt.
Use the internet to educate yourself. Search for tips on helping suicide survivors. Innumerable websites have numerous tips. Copy and paste the tips that seem like you would appreciate your family and friends to know, then print out what you have copied and gift it to your friends and family. This will help them better understand the most helpful ways to interact with you during your grieving and healing process. Understand that your friends and family love you. If they frustrate you it is unintentional; they simply lack the knowledge of how to best assist someone in the grieving process. By you taking the lead on this, you will help educate them and heal yourself at the same time. Be patient with yourself – and with others. Not everyone understands what you’re going through. Similarly, other family members and loved ones need to process grief at their own pace. Your patience with them will be appreciated and is a loving gesture.
2. In no way did you have anything to do with the choice he made. We, in no way, had anything to do with the choices they made. They made the choices they made because of the state of mind they were in, not because of what one individual person did or did not do, what one person said or did not say. And so what I choose now to work on as part of my personal healing is to help provide peace of mind to individuals. Also, I choose to educate myself on depression, addiction, mental illness, and how people choose to perceive life and their circumstances. I choose to do this, in part, to honor the memory of my cousin, so that if any other individual I meet or know is dealing with these mental issues, I can better guide them toward decisions that may assist them in their healing.
3. “Why” is always an important question to try to answer. Give yourself permission to find the answers until you are satisfied. If you can only obtain partial answers, and that is all that will be forthcoming, be satisfied with that so you can move on. Ask those who knew him best to be open and honest with you about what he was going through and feeling. Learn to listen nonjudgmentally. This is not a time to be blaming people. This is a time for his family and friends to heal, to best understand what happened so it does not happen to anyone else. Although I ask you to listen nonjudgmentally, know that all your intense emotions are perfectly normal reactions to grief. You need time to heal. Don’t expect this to happen in a prescribed period of time. It’s different for everyone. Expect that there will be setbacks. You may not perceive every day as a step forward. Understanding this will help you get through these times.
To assist you in starting to answer “why,” I will mention that approximately two thirds of those who commit suicide do not leave a note. Try to understand the act of not leaving a note from his point of view. A suicidal person usually has a view of reality that differs from the norm. People in this frame of mind can often seem very calm and rational, in part because they probably feel some level of peace once they have made up their minds. In their way of thinking, many suicidal people might think that their families would be better off without them anyway, and very often don’t have the reason and rationality to write notes or appreciate that those left behind may need to understand “why.” Understand that leaving a letter is a rational thing to do. Yet your uncle, although he might have been hiding it well, was in an unclear mental state and thus took the actions he took.
4. Take care of yourself. The mind and the physical body are connected. Stay active. The better the body feels, the more this feeling will assist the mind in the healing process. Try to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods and exercise. Stay away from artificially trying to numb the pain with alcohol and drugs. Contact friends that make you laugh. Laughter is very healing. Be willing to laugh with others and at yourself. It will help you progress. Laughing does not mean you’re forgetting, it only means you’re healing.
5. Feel whatever it is you believe you need to feel. Shock, anger, guilt, disbelief and sadness are all common emotions that people feel after such a loss. Your feelings may seem frightening and overwhelming but they are normal responses to loss. Don’t judge them or yourself. Accepting them as part of the grieving process will assist you in healing. Don’t judge yourself for feeling angry or feeling sad, depressed, etc. Just be open to what it is you are feeling about him, about the situation. You may not think you will survive, but you will. Take it one day at a time, one moment or one emotion at a time. This way, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed.
6. Grieve. Everyone grieves differently. Take whatever time it is you perceive you need to grieve. There is no such thing as a “normal” timetable for grieving. It may be weeks, months or years. Take the time you need, but also understand that your uncle, when he thinks of you thinking of him and your time together, would not want you to remember him through tears of sadness but through tears of joy. He would not want you to stop your life for him. He would want you to go on, and live the very best life you could in memory of him. Never judge others for how they choose to grieve the individual who has died. As you would not want others to judge your process, they in turn deserve the same respect.
7. Don’t hide from what you are feeling. Look in the mirror – look deep into your eyes and find the courage within to deal with this issue in a mature, healthy and adult fashion. Yes, you’re being asked to grow up quicker than you would have liked, but you have it in you to do this. You have it in you to be open and honest with your feelings and emotions. Trying to hide or ignore your pain will only make it worse and prolong the grieving process. Being courageous does not mean not crying. Being courageous means dealing with your emotions in a healthy manner. Crying in no way means you’re weak. Crying simply means that you are being honest with your feelings. Yet understand that crying is not the only way people grieve, people can be experiencing equal internal pain and yet not cry – again grieving is a very individual experience.
8. Get your friends and family involved in your recovery process. Now is the time to lean on those who care, love and support you. Often people want to help but don’t know how. Share with them how they can help you. Stay connected with your family and friends. The last thing you want to do is isolate yourself. Even if you express a need to be left alone, invite them to stay in touch, to lead the way in inviting you to go out with them. Stay balanced, if you decide that you need a day for yourself, fine, but keep balanced. If you’ve been inside for a couple of days force yourself to go out, even if it’s just for a walk. Share with your friends how you are feeling. Thank them for including you in their lives. Also share with them that you will do your best to have a good time but you may leave early, cry or whatever. Tell your friends that it is okay to use the name of the person who has died. Hearing the name can be comforting and it confirms that they have not forgotten this important person who was so much a part of your life.
9. Find a support group. An important factor in healing is having the support of other people. Sharing your loss makes the burden of loss easier to carry. Find a support group, a nonjudgmental environment that is created as a place where it is safe to share and grieve. As you listen to others struggle with their grief, you see that you are not alone. In a group, survivors can connect with other people who share the commonality of the experience. In such a setting, people are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like. Talk to a therapist. It is okay – and recommended – to get individual professional help to deal with your grief.
10. Draw comfort from your faith. Lean on your faith to help get you through this crisis. If you aren’t affiliated with any specific religious group, do meditation and bring forth your own higher power to help you heal. This is also a good time to research what other religions, faiths and spiritual practices say about suicide and the afterlife. Use the information that resonates with your heart and soul, and simply place aside the information that does not resonate with your heart and soul. It’s okay to be angry with God, but understand this, one of God’s greatest gifts to us is free will, the right to choose our own way. This was your uncle’s decision, not God’s.
11. Plan ahead. Plan ahead for “grief triggers.” Anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can all hit you upside the head if you are not prepared. Understand that it is completely normal for these events to trigger painful memories. Talk to others participating in the event on ways you can also honor the person you loved.
12. Your uncle is not his suicide. Your uncle is not a frozen moment in time. Your uncle was a caring human being who took care of you and loved you for 13 years after his own brother passed away. Those 13 years say a lot more about him than one bad moment. He loved you and you loved him. His action was simply a response to some thoughts that were disturbing him. His action had nothing to do with you.
13. Journal. Be precise, write down how this event made you feel. Write down all your feelings and emotions toward your uncle’s action, and leave space so that day by day, month by month, you are able to write down what actions you took that helped you release these toxic feelings. Write down what you did, what you read, what helpful hints you got from what you read and researched. Write down exercises, both physical and mental that assisted you in getting to a more peaceful and joyful place. The internet is full of helpful advice – research it, write down points that make sense to you, and do your best to implement them in your daily experience.
14. Learn to use introspection. Now that your uncle/father figure is at peace, ask yourself, “How would he want me to live the rest of my life?” Take a long, honest look at this question. “My uncle is now in a great mental state. If he were with me now, how would he want me to live this life?” Take anyone you truly love and ask yourself, what is it that I want for that person? Do I want that person to be happy, to be joyful and at peace? Do I want this person to grow into a kind and generous being? Of course you do, and so too would your uncle want this for you. And you help him live on by sharing that love he shared with you – with others.
15. Your uncle’s soul, his energy and love for you lives on. Read what you can on the afterlife, past life literature and near death experiences. Teach and reinforce in yourself that the physical body is not truly who you are, that you are much more than your physical self, that you have a soul, that you are a soul, an endless and eternal being of light. The more you understand this of yourself, the more you will understand this of your uncle, the more peace you will receive in regards to the pre-convinced idea that dying is the end. No, your uncle lives on; his love for you lives on as much as your love for him lives on.
16. Research and learn about the dream state, lucid dreaming, meditation, etc. Just because the world has taught you that when you’re dead you can no longer communicate with the living, does not mean that the world, in general, knows what it is talking about. Honestly, if this world was right in its thinking most of the time, wouldn’t the world be in a better state? There are no barriers between you and God or between you and your deceased relatives. You are on this planet, and that’s where you should focus your time and energy. But for your own internal peace of mind, learn about lucid dreaming, and how you may take control of your dream state. For once you do, you will be able to have more conscious and semi-conscious moments with your family members that have passed on. And they will smile; you will hug again; they will tell you that they are all right, and that they want you to be happy and find and express joy in your life. It does take a bit of dedication to learn to control this state, and in the end it’s something that you will end up using a few times or more a year, but the experience will reinforce in you that all is well with your uncle and with all those that have passed on. And knowing and having the experience will bring about a more peaceful state. It will reinforce in you that there is no true end to this journey, just different transitions from one state to another. For birth was not your beginning and neither will death be your end.
17. There is no such thing as Hell for those who commit suicide. What you may currently believe about what happens to people who commit suicide probably comes from some religious doctrine. Allow me to share with you that any doctrine that sells fear, torture and damnation does not come from a loving God. For do you honesty think that an all knowing, all loving God would punish a being who shared so much of his love with you over those 13 years, throw that all away just because that man had a momentary lapse in judgment? Would a loving God not embrace your uncle as he returns home after having taken care of one of His children for 13 years? Would “thank you” and a loving embrace not be your first response to someone who has taken care of your child for 13 years? How much gratitude would you show to someone who took care of your child for 13 years? Do you not think that God is at least as kind as you? Gratitude, that my dear friend, is God’s response to your uncle’s return home. And I ask you, how proud will your own biological dad be of his own brother? How much gratitude will your biological father show toward your uncle? Do you not see that they now stand together, smile, and pray for your well being and happiness?
18. Look to, and work toward balance in your life. Be okay with whatever it is you are feeling and experiencing, but also be proactive and wise about your time. It is okay to cry. It is okay to sulk, feel guilty, feel sorry for yourself, etc, etc. But every day, work toward also having positive, kind and loving actions and emotions. Take this event and learn from it. Learn about the power of your mind, and how what you decide to focus on is what you end up experiencing. Currently, you may be reacting to thoughts or feelings that seem to pop up in your mind. Instead, take responsibility for your thoughts. Take back control of your own mind. Instead of crying, tell yourself, “I already did that today. Now I’m going to just sit by myself and pray for my uncle.” Pray that he is well and with his brother. Send him love and support. Tell him that you forgive his actions and that you only want the best for him. Instead of once again judging him for having left you, instead say to yourself, “Okay, I already did that today. Now I’m going to spend some time thinking of the beautiful times and thank him with all my heart for the wonderful 13 years we had together.” Now if there are tears, let them be tears of joy and appreciation. Instead of questioning God again why He would allow your uncle to make the decision he made, instead thank God that you had a father figure for all those years, and honestly acknowledge to yourself how lucky and blessed you are that you had him for so long when there are millions of young girls who will never have that gift that you were given, and never know the love of a father figure.
19. Learn to become a kinder, gentler human being. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I believe it was Plato who said that. Become more conscious of your fellow traveler and his or her internal struggles. No one knows the pain you are carrying – and equally, you do not know the pain others are carrying. Here you are, walking down the street with this sadness and pain in your heart, and because of this you may be quicker to react with anger or judgment toward someone because of the emotions you are dealing with, because you are already dealing with so much. Now the stranger may think you’re a bad person, a brat, a jerk or whatever – yet the stranger has no true understanding of what is causing you to react in such a manner. For if he did, he would not judge you so harshly. Yet isn’t this what we do to each other on one level or another on a regular basis? We judge people for their behavior. We speak negatively of them because of some action, and yet we truly have no idea what they are internally dealing with that makes them act and react the way they do. Just maybe, if we understood their own personal struggles, we would be a kinder, gentler and less judgmental people. Just maybe our compassion for those with inner pain would grow, and maybe this would make us act and react differently to their actions and reactions. Then maybe our increased compassion would decrease their pain, and in turn make this planet a more peaceful and joyful place for all. All this simply because you understood that compassion, not condemnation is the proper response to your fellow traveler.
Conclusion: Before and at the time of your uncle’s passing, you did the best you could with the information you had. But now I offer you a challenge to educate yourself, to deal openly with grief, to learn from your experience and to someday offer your knowledge and experience to others. I challenge you to act with compassion when the world calls for condemnation, to forgive when the world demands judgment, and to offer kindness and love to those having a bad day. Learn about suicide. Learn about suicide prevention. Learn and maybe one day when you’re much better informed and knowledgeable, you can tell if someone is having the symptoms of depression, if someone is having suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Being knowledgeable will help you assist them in finding other more healing solutions, and in doing so, you will heal too.
My friend, you are not alone, for your uncle has not left you. Everything he taught you, you still carry within. Everything you shared together, still affects the way you see and participate in life. The love that he was able to give to you, you will one day share and gift to others. One day, you will be an even greater mother because of the way he loved and laughed with you. His advice is now part of your life, and with every decision you make you also share a part of him with this world.
There are many people, including many children, who will pass through what you are passing through now. Imagine for just a moment that you are able to ease their pain in any way possible. Imagine, if for a moment, you are able to bring a smile to their faces, a moment of understanding to their minds, a clarification to their confusion, to be a light of hope in their time of darkness and despair. If you are one day able to do this for another person or child, would that not bring some type of meaning to your own journey? Would that not bring some sense of peace and calm to your own past turmoil? Some sense of an answer to your own deepest questions? I know it will for you, because by just answering this question, even if it was 5 years ago, I do feel a part of me healing, and with healing comes an inner acceptance and peace that all will be alright. If you were able to accomplish this, would your dad and uncle not have great smiles of pride on their faces? And when the time comes when you all join again, will you not walk toward them with your arms wide open and your head held high?
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