Coping with conflicting emotions and grief after a suicide

suicide prevention walk

Tributes to friends and family who died by suicide on display at a suicide prevention walk. (Used by permission via Flickr: Copyright 2009, Jenny Sand Photography)

Shock.  Disbelief.  Numbness.  Anguish.  Despair.  Loneliness.  Abandonment.  Grief.  Anger.  Guilt.  Emptiness.  Helplessness.  Devastation.

These are only a few of the intense emotions often experienced after a loved one, friend, colleague, or anyone you admire is lost through suicide.

You are not alone in experiencing a range of potentially conflicting emotions.  They may come and go in waves and change over time.

It is important to know that there is no “right way” to feel and these emotions are normal reactions to an unexpected, untimely death.  There is also no specified timeline to follow: People grieve in their own way and at their own pace.  You are not alone in the whirlwind of emotions that might be washing over you; most of us experience these intense feelings when we lose someone we care about.

Often, it is more difficult to talk about a loss when it occurs through suicide.  The situation might seem so overwhelming that we get consumed in a spiral of thoughts and feelings about the person we have lost, and we may not think to reach out for help ourselves.  Feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or even shame, can also be strong barriers to reaching out after such a loss.  However, the aftermath of suicides present some of the most challenging situations to deal with and thus are precisely the time when people are most in need of support.

Things to remember about the coping process

The mind and body are intimately connected.  Often, the emotions associated with grieving manifest in physical symptoms – heaviness or tightness in the chest, light headedness, difficulty sleeping, headaches, loss of appetite, among others.  Taking care of your physical needs is critical because these can significantly impact your emotional wellbeing.

  • Remember to eat, drink water, sleep, take deep and slow breaths, and let yourself experience your emotions.
  • You are not alone.  Connect with family, friends, or others around you who can talk with you and provide support.  Try to let others comfort you even if this means just sitting together in silence.
  • Focus on the positive memories.  Think about the things that you are grateful for.
  • Be patient with yourself.  Suicide is complex.  Expect that the grieving process will take time. Try to take things one minute, one hour or one day at a time.
  • It can be helpful to reach out to a support group, call or text a hotline, or seek professional care.


Compassionate Friends 

Survivors of Suicide

SOS: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide

Crisis Text Line for 24/7 emotional support for teens: Text “LISTEN” to 741-741.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  800-273-8255


(Psychologist Dr. Mary Alvord contributed to this post.)

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2 Responses to “Coping with conflicting emotions and grief after a suicide”

  1. Diane B   August 23, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Kenneth, if you have every experienced the death of a close loved one who committed suicide it takes years to be able to reach acceptance. Grief is extremely complex and we need to take one day at a time until the emotional charge is replaced with a will to live again.