Bereaved people, especially suicide survivors, need the support, love, and concern of their relatives and friends. Often a survivor is like someone who has trouble standing by him or herself. It is up to us to reach out to help. Their basic needs are for kindness and caring. With time, understanding, and the concern of their friends, the survivor’s feelings of grief will soften. The following suggestions would apply to both the time immediately after the suicide, including the funeral, and for as long as necessary afterwards.

  1. Make an extra special effort to go to the funeral home. The shock, denial, and embarrassment are overwhelming for the survivors. They need all the support they can get. Due to the cause of death, in most cases the coffin is left closed.
  2. When going to the funeral home, do as you would normally do at any other type of wake. It will not be easy, since you sincerely want to comfort the bereaved person, but really don’t know what to say. Just a few words can be a help. “I am so very sorry, I just don’t know what else to say to you as I have never been through what you are going through now.” “Please accept my deepest and sincerest sympathies; my heart goes out to you.” When the person is close, take their hand, by all means hug them and don’t feel the need to say anything.
  3. Don’t be afraid to cry openly if you were closed to the deceased. Often the survivors find themselves comforting you but at the same time they understand your tears and don’t feel so all alone in their grief.
  4. Don’t say “It was God’s will” or “God called your loved one home because He needed some flowers in His Garden.” Such explanations do not console.
  5. Survivors can tend to become more paranoid than the average person. The guilt is so overwhelming that when people do not attend the funeral or send a card the guilt increases. A note or visit in the weeks and months to come is of great help to the survivors.
  6. Don’t try to comfort the survivor by saying “It was an accident, a terrible accident.” The survivors need to start dealing with the fact of suicide.
  7. Do not say “He or she was on drugs or drunk.” You weren’t there during the suicide, so how could you possibly know? It is not helpful or necessary to give reasons for the suicide.
  8. Survivors may ask “Why?” It is best to say “I don’t know why and maybe I’ll never know.”
  9. Be aware that the survivor’s grief is so painful that sometimes it is easier to deny that it ever happened. Be patient and understanding. Sometimes this denial gives them a breather before the reality comes crashing in again.
  10. Come to the survivors as a friend who sets aside prejudice and judgment. Show genuine and sincere interest.
  11. Don’t say that the suicidal person was not in his or her right mind or was “crazy”. The majority of people who complete suicide are ambivalent and tormented; they may have a character disorder or are neurotic, but they are not insane. Telling the survivors that the person was crazy may invoke worries of inheriting mental illness. Suicide is not inherited.
  12. Be a good listener. Survivors have a tendency to repeat and ramble. They may have a tremendous sense of guilt. It is helpful to listen over and over and over again.
  13. Be patient. Often the survivor is the first one to realize that they are not easy to get along with, but they need people to persevere with them until their grief eases.
  14. Don’t say “snap out of it.” Often the survivor reacts to such a statement by pushing down his or her feelings and thoughts which slows the process of working through ones grief.
  15. Be the type of friend with whom the survivor can talk and feel comfortable and accepted. Be available to spend time with the survivor. Most people find the best way to work through their emotions is to talk them out with someone they trust. When the survivor tells about their feelings often they are helped in understanding what is going on. Talking also releases some of their pressures. Often while talking the survivor comes up with his or her own solutions.
  16. Survivors have every right to feel sensitive. Some people deliberately avoid the survivors. They will cross the street or pretend that they don’t see the survivors. This adds to their guilt. Such actions are not done out of malice, but rather out of confusion about what to say. It is not important to make every effort to befriend the survivor and to reach out.
  17. Encourage the bereaved to talk. It is of not help to say “Don’t talk about it.” Let the person pour his heart out. It is helpful to share pleasant and unpleasant memories; to get in touch with what they are feeling; and to express what they think.
  18. Vicious and cruel remarks are sometimes made. They hurt the survivor deeply. Don’t repeat such remarks and try to help the originators of the remarks to realize the hurt that they are causing the survivor.
  19. Don’t start telling the survivors that your child or friend “almost” tried to commit suicide an you “know” how they feel. Your loved one is still alive and theirs is dead.
  20. Never say “you’ll get over it in time.” Hopefully, the survivor will learn to deal with it and cope with it in time, but never will they “get over it.”
  21. Discussing the signs of suicide with a survivor is not helpful since the suicide is a fact. Telling them “there must have been signs indicating depression” only lays more guilt on the survivor.
  22. Be sincere if you ask “How are you coming along?” and then really listen to what the survivor says. Don’t prevent him from talking. Don’t change the subject or walk away.
  23. The anniversary of the suicide is a very painful time. Relatives and friends should make every effort to be available, to listen, to call, to visit, to send a note, to do little acts of thoughtfulness.
  24. Accept the survivors feelings. Practice unconditional love. Feelings of rage, anger, and frustration are not pleasant to observe or listen to, but it is necessary for the survivor to recognize and work on these feelings in order to work through the grief rather than become stuck in one phase.
  25. As time goes on, it is still appropriate to say that you are sorry or to reminisce about the loved one. It is comforting to survivors that their loved one hasn’t been forgotten and that people are still concerned about them as survivors.