Nova Scotia Survivors of Suicide Loss Package
The package was created as a collaboration between CAST, health professionals, suicide loss survivors, and the Nova Scotia Suicide Postvention Subcommittee.
This package includes:
- Hope and Healing in Nova Scotia: An Emotional and Practical Guide for Survivors of Suicide Loss – a 68-page document that is intended to help survivors navigate the difficult terrain following a death by suicide. The guide explores both the emotions one might experience and the practical steps required after a suicide death
- Survivors of Suicide Loss: A Resource Guide for Nova Scotia – a comprehensive list of helpful resources in Nova Scotia organized by county that includes direct services, support groups, recommended websites, and reading material
For other survivor-specific resources, please see Helpful Links and Resources.
If You Have Lost Someone to Suicide
Those who are coping with the loss of a loved one by suicide typically experience a very complicated form of grieving. A suicide death is not like any other, such as a death by accident or serious illness. A death by those causes, though still very tragic, can often be explained and understood; not so a suicide death.
Historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote: “There are always two parties to a death: the person who dies and the survivors who are bereaved.”
An important part of healing is the ability to express one’s grief and mourn the loss with others. Unfortunately, due to the stigma associated with suicide, many survivors of suicide loss grieve alone and in silence. This complicates healing. Survivors may be unsure of how to express their grief and who to talk to about their experience.
Those who have lost someone close to them or a loved one to suicide are often referred to as “survivors of suicide loss” or “suicide loss survivor.” We feel “survivor” is an appropriate term because it showcases the strength and courage that such an experience demands.
A suicide loss survivor does not just refer to family members. Friends, parents, teachers, colleagues, etc. can be survivors as well. All are grieving the loss of someone close to them to suicide.
If you are a survivor of suicide loss, know that you are not alone. There are people who want to support you and you will get through this.
The Complexity of Suicide
Although each person’s experience is unique, people who have thoughts of suicide are typically suffering tremendous emotional pain and have overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
When people have thoughts of suicide, they often feel disconnected from others and the world around them. As confusing as it seems, a person can feel alone and hopeless even when surrounded by people who love and support them.
It’s Common to Feel Many Different Emotions
Below are some common feelings that one may experience immediately after a suicide, as well as further on down the road. These feelings are understandable, given the circumstances, but it is important to remember that how you are feeling at the moment will change.
Also keep in mind that no two people grieve exactly the same. Some people may experience all of the following reactions, while others may only encounter a few.
The order of reactions is also different from person to person. Please know that there is no right or wrong way to mourn the loss of your loved one.
Common reactions include:
- Shock and numbness
- Fear and anxiety
- Anger and blame
- Continuously asking yourself ‘Why?’
If you find yourself thinking of suicide, please seek help immediately. For more information, please see Supports and Services in NS.
We Can Still Celebrate and Honour Their Lives, Despite Suicide
The fact that someone has died by suicide does not change our love for them, what they meant to us, the contributions they made, or our right to celebrate and honour their life.
When a person dies by suicide, it does not mean that he or she did not love or value us.
How a person dies does not have to define the life they lived, us, or our relationship with them.
Take Time to Care for Yourself; Let Others Take Care of You
As you navigate through your grief and loss, remember to be gentle with yourself. It is okay to take time and experience the full range of emotions associated with your grief.
Give yourself permission to do what feels right for you and whatever meets your needs. Rest when you need to, take time off from work, cry if it helps, and grieve deeply for your loved one.
While you initially may be in shock and unable to keep up with your daily routines, it is important to try and maintain good sleeping and eating habits. Exercise and fresh air are also very important.
Surround yourself with loved ones and be brave to ask for help. Look to your family, Elders, friends, place of worship, community, and others for support. You do not have to handle this alone.
There are numerous resources within the community that can support you, including grief support groups and mental health services. For more information, please see Supports and Services in NS.
Supporting a Survivor of Suicide
Sometimes we are so afraid of saying the wrong thing to suicide loss survivors that we end up not reaching out at all.
It is important to remember that those who are grieving typically don’t need advice or answers, they simply need people around them to be present while they are going through this extremely challenging time.
There are simple things we can do to show that we care about someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. Here are a few suggestions of how you can provide helpful support:
- Remember that the most important thing you can do is listen. You don’t need to try and fix or resolve anything. Also respect that some survivors may not feel like talking or sharing.
- Try to listen without judging the survivor or the actions of their loved one.
- Listen with your heart and express compassion. You can cry or even just sit quietly with the survivor.
- Avoid making cliche statements such as “you are holding up so well,” “time will heal all wounds,” or “think of what you have to be thankful for.”
- Be open to learning about their experiences. Do not assume you know their pain and what they are experiencing. Every situation is unique.
- Remind the survivor that their feelings are valid, considering what has happened.
- Continuously remind them that this loss was not their fault.
- Understand that being there is important because it makes the survivor feel less alone, but respect that at times they may want to be alone.
- Ask if you can help with any practical steps or chores or take care of certain simple tasks like laundry or cooking (if they are comfortable with you doing so).
- Provide information about supports available in the community, including support groups for survivors of suicide loss and mental health services.
- Be patient with the grieving process and continue to offer help even if it is refused.
- Help the survivor find ways to recognize their loved one’s birthday, important holidays, or milestones.
- If you think the survivor may be having thoughts of suicide ask directly and get help. For more information, please see What To Do if Someone is in Crisis.
“Survivors over time, and with support, can and do recover and can go on to feel joy and hope in their lives despite the reality and lasting memory of the loss”
– Winnipeg Suicide Prevention Network