by Lynn Cameron, MA RCC
Therapy is often about loss. With that in mind, through compassion and caring we explore with our clients a deep understanding of the meaning of the loss. This is particularly true with suicide loss. It is mostly sudden, unexpected and traumatic.There may have been some indication that it could happen but the person hasn’t really wanted to believe it could be possible and has pulled away from it or pushed it away.
Suicide bursts into people’s lives like a profound painful explosion.
People are in shock, dealing with both grief and PTSD. Remembering what happened presents real challenges. They are often frozen solid and numb, hard pressed to even talk about what they are feeling. They have perhaps found a body, tried to resuscitate or cut someone down. Sometimes, after finding someone who has died by suicide, the police arrive and have to look at the site to make sure there hasn’t been a crime committed. Survivors will sometimes feel they are being investigated. Victim’s Assistance often comes to offer support in these cases but shock can persist for a significant amount of time, disrupting lives in all kinds of ways.
Dealing with intrusive memories is part of the therapy for those who find the person who has died by suicide. EMDR has proven to be one effective approach for some people in dealing with flashbacks. Over time people can be supported to move a little closer to a memory and shock trauma resolution work can be done.
In one case a man lost his wife in a very difficult suicide death that happened at their home. It took two months of work for him to be comfortable at home and to go into the room where his wife died.
More often than not people blame themselves, trying to figure out whether they could have done something that would have made a difference. Guilt, a feeling of abandonment, diminishment and humiliation are all part of suicide bereavement. People often believe the person who died chose to leave them, and that their love, care or attention wasn’t enough.
Suicide is still stigmatized in our society. Particularly parents often feel, “I am a failure as a parent”. For many survivors who believe the suicide is their failing, the grief is more complicated, convoluted and painful.
Clarifying what the bereaved understands to have happened can help. Looking at the story of the suicide person’s life, asking, “What were the other factors going on in your loved one’s life at the time?” Asking “Might any of these other factors have played a role in the death?”
Values around God and death, afterlife and how suicide fits in this may be explored. It is important to understand the belief system that clients hold.
Survivors can also become suicidal. Using gestalt or another intervention too soon can activate the person to want to be with their loved one who has died. In the early days the reunification fantasy can be strong and to unbraid that takes time. Every situation is different. Tease out what reasons keep them here and what the possibilities are for strengthening those connections or resources.
Grief can be transformative and the transformation in healing from a suicide death can manifest in all kinds of ways and sometimes unexpectedly.
One client who lost her mother in a suicide death used self-harming behaviour for self soothing. In the grief process, she became aware of it being self-destructive and now dedicates her life to helping youth who self-harm.
A suicide can also sometimes bring people together, reconnecting family members from whom they have been estranged.
Suicide bereavement can be a deep and heartfelt endeavour taking many years, sometimes painful, can can also bring new life and light into the lives of family and friends of a suicide.
(Article from interview with Dammy Albach, MA, CMHA, former coordinator for S.A.F.E.R. Vancouver)
In your initial contact with a client you might say “I am so sorry for your loss.” With sensitivity ask the name of person who has died and relationship to person calling, if possible ask how the person has died. May ask if the person calling was first to find the deceased.
Ask whether caller is feeling suicidal. You may choose to do a Safety Plan.
Make a copy of the Safety Plan for your file.
Use wise mind in asking these questions as sometimes it’s not the right timing in the intake process.
If you have thoughts of hurting yourself, start at Step 1. Go through each step until you are safe.
Remember: suicidal thoughts can be very strong. It may seem they will last forever. With support and time, these thoughts will usually pass. When they pass, you can put energy into sorting out problems that have contributed to feeling so badly. The hopelessness you may feel now will not last forever. It is important to reach out for help and support.
You can get through this difficult time.
Since it can be hard to focus and think clearly when you feel suicidal, please copy this and put it in places where you can easily use it. such as your purse, wallet or by the phone.
- Do the following activities to calm/comfort myself: Activity: ________________________ Activity: _________________________
- Remind myself of reasons for living.
- Call a friend or family member: Name: _______________________ Ph: ___________________
- Call a back-up person if person above is not available: Name: _______________________ Ph: ______________________
- Call a care provider (psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist): Name: ____________________ Ph: ______________________
- Call my local Crisis Line (Crisis Line of BC): Ph: 1-800-784-7307
- Go somewhere I am safe
- Go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital.
- If I feel that I can’t get to the hospital safely, call 911 and request transportation to the hospital. They will send someone to transport me safely.
Suggested topics for handouts
Myths of Mourning
Coping with Special Days
Talking to others about your suicide loss
What is working for you already?
What is grief?
Resources – Bereaved by Suicide (from the 2016 Winter Insights Magazine)
Lynn Cameron, M.A., RCC, is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Health and Wellness writer from Gabriola Island.
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