Expected Reaction After Suicide
Below are some of the more or less predictable adolescent reactions to a suicide and suggested responses.
· Shock and Denial. At first there may be remarkably little response. The reality of the death has yet to be absorbed. “You are kidding, right?” “This is just a joke-it can’t be true.” Suggested Response: Acknowledge the shock, anticipate the reaction to come, show a willingness to talk when the youth are ready.
· Anger and Protection. Generally speaking, “black and white” thinking sets in. Youth want someone to blame for this and may openly express/ direct anger at the deceased’s parents/teachers/boy/girlfriend. “Why did you let this happen?” “It is all your fault that this happened!” Suggested Response: Listen and then listen some more. Gently explain that it is natural to want to find a reason for things we don’t understand. Suggest that suicide is a very complicated human behavior and that there are always multiple reasons. Explain that blaming another individual may be very harmful to them.
· Guilt. Youth close to the deceased may blame themselves. “If only I had called him back last night;” “I should have known…I should not have teased him….” Suggested Response: Remind the youth that only the person who kills him/herself is responsible for having made that decision. Be clear that you don’t believe it is his/her fault.
· Anger at the Deceased. This is surprisingly common, among close friends as well as those who were not close to the deceased. “How could she do something so stupid?” Suggested Response: Allowing and acknowledging some expression of anger is helpful. Explain that this is a normal stage of grieving. Acknowledgment of anger often lessens its intensity.
· Anxiety. Youth sometimes start to worry about themselves and/or other friends. “If she could get upset enough to kill herself, maybe the same thing will happen to me (or one of my friends).” Suggested Response: Help the youth see the differences between themselves and the dead person. Remind them that help is always available. Discuss other options and resources. Practice problem solving.
· Loneliness. Those closest to the deceased may find it almost impossible to return to a normal routine, and may even resent those who appear to be having fun. They may feel empty, lost, totally disconnected. They may become obsessed with keeping the memory of their friend alive. Suggested Response: Encourage them to help each other move forward in positive ways. Notice anyone who seems to be isolating from others and reach out to them, offering resources to help with the grieving process.
· Hope and Relief. Once the reality of the death has been accepted, and the acute pain of the loss subsides, youth find that life resumes a large degree of normalcy and they come to understand that over time, they feel much better. They can remember their friend without the extreme pain. Suggested Response: Simply remain open to listening to their feelings, especially on anniversaries and transition times (graduations etc.). Recognize the importance of both mourning and remembering.
Expected reactions after suicide
INITIAL SHOCK – THIS ISN’T HAPPENING!
Shock is a first reaction to death. You may feel numb for a while, perhaps unable to follow a normal daily routine. This shock can be healthy, protecting you from the initial pain of the loss, and it may help you get through funeral arrangements and services. It may last a few days or go on for several weeks. It is important to be with other people and to return to your normal routine.
After the initial shock you may feel angry, guilty, and of course, sad. These feelings may overwhelm you immediately, or they may surface in the weeks, months ahead. These feelings, and the helplessness that comes with them, will pass. Try to understand and accept the things you feel. It is OK, it is healthy, and it is all part of the healing and coping process.
ANGER – WHY AM I SO ANGRY?
As a relative or loved one coping with a suicide death, you may experience anger, often directed at the deceased – “How could he do this to me?” You may find yourself angry with God for “allowing this to happen”. The anger may be self-directed – “What could I have done?” or “Why wasn’t I there?”
Don’t try to deny or hide this anger. It is a natural consequence of the hurt and rejection you feel. If you deny your anger, it will eventually come out in other, possibly more destructive ways and it will prolong the healing process. Your anger with the deceased is normal when the manner of death is suicide. The deceased has thrown your emotions into turmoil, and caused pain for you and for others you care about. Talking about it with others who have experienced it is very valuable. Consider attending a Survivors of Suicide Group.
GUILT – IF ONLY I’D DONE SOMETHING MORE
Perhaps the most intense anger you experience will be the way you feel about yourself. This anger is closely linked with feelings of guilt; Why didn’t I …?.If only… I should have… etc. You’ll think of a lot of others. Your feeling of guilt can be intense. As you are trying to cope with your guilt feelings, try not to criticize yourself too harshly for your behavior toward the victim while he was alive.
This choice was beyond your understanding and you feel you could have prevented it if only.. If you feel your actions at a particular time could have prevented the suicide, you may be assuming too much. A person determined to complete suicide is likely to accomplish it.
RELIEF – I’M ALMOST GLAD IT’S OVER
If you were closely involved with the deceased, perhaps his pain and suffering had become an emotional drain for you. You may have felt unfairly burdened, or just exhausted from being involved with such an intense situation. Now you may be feeling a sense of relief that you don’t have to worry any more, or perhaps relief that the deceased’s pain has finally ended. A sense of relief when a difficult situation ends is normal. When the ‘end’ is an unhappy one, the relief can still be there, but now it is colored with guilt.
Remember, don’t expect perfection of yourself, accept your relief and don’t let it grow to inappropriate guilt. Remember, too, that the suicide victim saw death as the only relief possible at that particular time.