CareTalk: Permission to Grieve

Q. One of my dearest, lifelong friends died by suicide recently. Although we know he was struggling, there were never any signs that he would take his own life. In fact he was making travel plans for the future. It seems so sudden and I am devastated. How do I help myself get through this awful time as well as support his family?

A. When someone we love dies suddenly, it can be so hard to know how to deal with this loss, especially when our loved one dies by suicide. All loss creates pain and grief, but in the case of suicide, there may be many unanswered questions; especially when there were no signs that suicide was being contemplated.

Unfortunately, we know that many people who choose to end their life don’t show any signs, because they don’t want us to know. Even trained health professionals may not see signs for the same reason.

Everyone grieves differently, and there is no right or wrong way, unless there is concern for your own safety, or someone else’s. Feelings of sadness, fear, guilt, anger, loneliness, helplessness − as well as experiencing physical concerns such as exhaustion, poor sleep and reduced appetite − are all considered “normal” when you are grieving.

The best advice I can give you is − allow yourself to express your grief and look after your mind and body. Also, be present in your friend’s family’s life. You don’t need to have the right words: just be there with them and let them know you are available for them; to talk, or to help with anything, whether in terms of the funeral or practical support.

You may never be able to make sense of why your friend chose to end his life but with time, it is possible, through grief, to find ways to create further meaning in life.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Express your grief: many people cry and many do not. Some people find other ways to connect with their sadness: through music, art and other creative means. You can do this alone or choose to be with others.
  • Talk to someone you trust: don’t be afraid to talk about your friend’s life and death and the impact it has had on you. If you can’t think of a friend or relative you feel comfortable with, perhaps you could talk to a counsellor or join a support group.
  • Find ways to connect with your friend, even though he is no longer physically here: you could visit his favourite places, read his favourite books, create a photo album of shared memories, visit his place of burial or cremation, write down your thoughts about him or spend time with his family.
  • Stay physically and mentally healthy: try to go for walks, get some fresh air; eat well, try to sleep. Expressing grief does not mean you do not have good mental health: in fact, allowing yourself to do this means you are not bottling things up and avoiding the pain of your loss. This is better for your health in the long term.
  • Give yourself permission to just ‘do nothing’, and cry (or not cry) if this is what you want to do.

If you find dealing with your grief overwhelming, please reach out to someone. You can contact CatholicCare Social Services for support on 4979 1172.


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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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