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The hardest grief to bear

Coping after a suicide is different from other types of bereavement, and can cause many feelings on top of the grief usually felt after a death. Bereavement counsellor Alex James looks at the ‘normal’ emotions following the hardest death to cope with; a death which is chosen.

M any children and adults

contemplate suicide at some time in their lives; although those that consider it do not always follow it

through. For some it may be a fleeting thought in a moment of absolute despair …… ‘I can’t go on, I want to die, this is too much’. The reasons that make us feel so desperate are many: broken relationships, low self-esteem, loneliness, debt, depression and mental illness. There are hundreds of situations that may, for some, feel too big and unmanageable, where the only answer that presents itself is to end it all. Where the suicide is achieved, those left behind face a wrangle of endless, tormenting questions. Alongside the stigma when asked how their loved one died, it is normal to feel as if they, in some way, bear some responsibility for their failure to prevent it. For other people, there can be a sense of relief that at last, after what may have been years of threat and attempts and uncertainty, it is over, for them all.

The should haves, would haves and could

haves, may be an ever-present torment for those left to manage absence by suicide. Even with the knowledge that the loved one really was so desperately unhappy or felt so unable to continue in life there may be a sense of failure: ‘I could have done more, I should have listened, I should have known, I would have saved him’. One client told me: “We talked and talked about her feelings, sometimes for hours into the night, and I’d be exhausted with it all but always felt that in the end I’d turned her round and she’d decided not to take her life . “Then one day, out of the blue, she did it.

There was nothing in the days before that signalled it. It was so shocking, I can’t believe it. I spend hours going over it, it’s with me all of the time, I missed something, didn’t I?” Another said: “The other day I was in the shopping centre and someone asked me about him. People knew he’d been ill, everyone knew he had depression, but I don’t think anyone knew

28 Farewell Magazine

the true extent of his illness. Anyway, this person asked how he was, so I told her…… he died. She was shocked and after a few seconds she asked me how and what had happened. I felt ashamed to say it, like it was a reflection on me and my failure to keep him alive, my fault even. It was really difficult to say he committed suicide.” The word suicide is an unforgiving word,

the very mention of it instantly causes the enquirer discomfort as it raises unsaid and unspoken thoughts. Most coroners are cautious of recording death

by suicide. Families and loved ones may be fearful of such a public statement, believing that it is a reflection on the family, on loved ones and friends of the deceased. Does a person’s choice to end their lives reflect the family or loved ones failure to help him or her through the trauma he or she experienced and ultimately was unable to face? Once recorded by those in authority there is no alternative, no grey area where it might be said that it was an accident. The desire for death and rejection of life stares everyone brutally in the face and brings with it so many unanswered tormenting questions. Could have, would have, and should have. Last moments may haunt our thoughts, leading us to a desperate place where there may be no answers. The struggle to come to a place of acceptance of a loved one’s choice to end their life may never end. As with all grief I don’t believe we ever get over it, but in some way we come to live alongside it. Some days will be better than others, hopefully with the passage of time the constant questioning and self-scrutiny will redress and blame will give way to acceptance, allowing us to move into grief for all that has been lost to us and to our loved one. We can only work within our experience of the present, this moment in time. Forgive ourselves for what we perceive as our failures and recognise that for some individuals nothing could have been done to change their choices.

Helplines & support groups

SAMARITANS (08457 90 90 90) Operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you are feeling, or if you are worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email the Samaritans.

CHILDLINE (0800 1111) Runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number will not show up on your phone bill.


(0800 068 41 41) Is a voluntary organisation that supports teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.

DEPRESSION ALLIANCE Is a charity for people with depression. It does not have a helpline, but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information.


DEPRESSION Is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.

BULLYING UK Is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying.

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