Watching a loved one struggle with the pain and devastation of losing someone to suicide can make you feel utterly helpless. You might want to reach out, but hesitate because you don’t know what to say or do, and perhaps worry you might somehow make them feel worse. Here are 10 ways we recommend to support a loved one who has lost someone to suicide:
- Refrain from saying “I know how you feel” unless you are also a suicide loss survivor. Instead, something like, “I don’t know what to say: I have no idea what you’re going through, but I care about you and I want to be here for you,” will be more honest and meaningful.
- Read about suicide loss. You’ll better understand what your loved one is experiencing, and in the process might discover helpful information you can share with them.
- Don’t wait for your loved one to ask you for help; they may be too deep in their grief to realize what they need. Rather than saying, “Let me know if I can help,” do something specific for them, like shop for groceries, offer to babysit, bring dinner to their home, etc.
- Help connect your loved one with other suicide loss survivors through International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, AFSP’s Survivor Outreach Program, and bereavement support groups.(When appropriate, consider offering to accompany them to an event so that they don’t feel so alone.)
- Many people find that professional counseling helps them deal with their grief in a healthy way. Help your loved one search for a therapist, schedule appointments, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to speak the name of the person who died. Your loved one will be grateful for the opportunity to reminisce.
- Knowing what to expect and learning from someone else’s experience can help both you and your loved one get through the more difficult times.
- Just be there. Sit with them. Watch TV or a movie. Listen to music. Go for a walk together.
- Be patient. This experience has changed your loved one’s life forever. The weeks and months following the funeral, when the initial shock wears off and the full reality of what has happened sinks in, may be the toughest for them. Continue to check in, and let them know you are thinking of them, that you’re there for them, and that you want to listen.
- Most importantly, be sure to remind your friend of their self-care needs: get plenty of rest, eat nutritiously, etc.
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