The suicide of a loved one hits unexpectedly and there is no way anyone could be ready for it. The signs are nearly impossible to see, it can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone. In most situations, it is a big shock for family members and close friends. Suicide is something people think will never happen to someone they love. Losing someone to suicide is unimaginable. It is a traumatic experience that can have lasting impacts. People that commit suicide see it as an escape, but they do not realize that when they are gone they leave a door open: pain that pours out problems and grief to family and friends. Suicide is not the end of problems, it is the beginning of more, especially for the parents. After the suicide of a child, parents begin a painful journey of grief, which can either pull them together or rip them apart.
After the suicide of a child, parents are devastated. That pain can lead to secrecy. Talking about the death of their child is understandably hard for any parent. The feeling of guilt emerges with the truth and overcomes the parent. Some parents prefer leaving the cause of their child’s death unknown to other family members or friends and not talk about it. As a result, the decision to keep the suicide a secret from outsiders, children or selected relatives can lead to isolation, confusion and shame that may last for years or even generations. Parents do not want to talk about their child taking their own life. In some cases, couples do not even communicate with each other; they have lost the same child, but the loss for each is unique. They isolate from one another because they have different ways of coping with their loss. That is to say, grieving spouses sporadically are able to support each other, but they each feel a profound sense of isolation. Secrecy leads to isolation, both of which are a common reaction to a suicide.
In most cases, parents look for someone to blame. They cannot grow to the idea that their child would take their own life and the guilt becomes unbearable. In addition, anger is one of the stages of grief. Parents feel the need to take that anger out; they tend to look for someone to blame and end up blaming each other. The ‘what ifs’ start flowing though the parents’ minds. They begin to speculate what could have gone different if they had done more than what they did. The what ifs tangle into a gigantic rubber band ball and when it snaps in hurts both parents as they blame each other for not doing things differently. Blaming each other will not help them cope, it will only make the pain worst.
It is important for other family members and close friends to be observant of the parents’ journey through the grieving process and offer help and suggest counseling. Parents might need space, but they also need to know that they have the support of family and friends and that they can reach for professional help.
Photo source: Gisela Merkuur