Grieving the Loss of a Parent to Suicide

Losing a parent is one of the hardest things anyone can go through.  Sometimes you can prepare yourself for the inevitable such as old age, declining health, or a long-lasting illness.  Sometimes a parent can pass suddenly, leaving their child with so many unanswered questions.  Parental suicide is something no one can prepare for.  They’re going to feel a myriad of emotions such as anger, guilt, rejection, regret, etc.  But how do they deal with these emotions?

Suggest taking time to themselves.  Before someone can process anyone else’s feelings, they need to process their own.  The grieving process is different for everyone and not everyone grieves the same way.  They may feel angry at others or themselves, or guilty that no one saw the signs that something was wrong.  This can lead to complicated grief, a type of grief that doesn’t ease up over time.  It can cause long lasting anxiety disorders or major depression that affects everyday life.  It can even lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  By allowing them to express their emotions and let out their feelings, it can help ease the pain.  Holding on to such intense emotions can lead to deep depressive episodes that can be hard to get out of.

Reaching out to loved ones.  Reaching out just to talk to someone can help them work through some of their intense emotions and may give them some clarity that they wouldn’t have come up with by themselves.  Suggesting that the patient reach out may push them in the right direction since they could be feeling like they are a burden and don’t want to bother anyone.  Recommend they go at their own pace and discuss topics that they are comfortable sharing.

Remembering their parent as who they were.  Suicide definitely sheds a new light on the patient’s perspective of who their parent was, but it doesn’t have to.  Suggest they remember the good times, things they did together, achievements that they had, listening to their favorite songs, watching their favorite movies.  Perhaps suggest that they carry on their traditions with other people.  They have known their parent their whole life and a lot of these small things can define who they are and suppressing those feelings could deepen their feeling of sadness.

Talking to a therapist.  Trying to go through the grieving process on your own can be very difficult.  It may be beneficial to recommend talking to a professional to help work through this trauma.  Opening up about their feelings is the best way to help understand how they’re coping.  A therapist may have insights and helpful tips to assist the patient in unravelling the tangled web of emotions in their head.  Group therapy or bereavement groups are also a good tool to use, even if they’re just there to listen.  Sometimes being around others who have been through similar situations can make them feel less isolated in their time of grieving.

Logging off of social media.  Social media can be a good thing and a bad thing at the same time.  Mental health is less stigmatized as it was before, but plenty of people have their own opinions on suicide that could complicate their grieving process further.  Hurtful comments can push the patient further away and deter them from reaching out, causing them to develop unhealthy coping skills.  Recommend that they cut down on screen time and take a step back from social media for however long they need and return when they are ready.

Prepare for ups and downs.  Surviving a loved one who passed suddenly can be very traumatizing.  The patient will have intense highs and lows for the first few months, or possibly longer.  The grief truly never does go away completely, but the intense changes in their mood will start to subside after time with the proper coping skills.  The patient can then start to regain a much more manageable day-to-day and work on healing.

Remind them not to blame themselves.  This is the most important thing you can do.  In this time of confusion and hurt, it’s hard for the patient not to think “If only I had done something different”.  In reality, their parent could have been suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness or was harboring feelings or addictions that they didn’t let anybody know about.  Suggesting daily words of affirmation or meditation can help the patient rationalize their feelings and remind them that there was nothing they could have done.

In summary, recommending letting themselves mourn is the best piece of advice you can give.  For example: “Let yourself cry, let yourself be angry, let yourself accept that they are not in pain anymore.  Remember your parent and celebrate their life as you knew it.” are all good examples of healthy coping skills.  Remind them that seeking out help and talking to a therapist is a completely normal and healthy thing and will help them process all of their complex emotions.

The loss of a loved one, especially a parent, to suicide is a complex and often misunderstood experience that those left behind often struggle to come to terms with. Become a member of The American Academy of Bereavement today to find discover resources to help guide those dealing with their grief.

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