Grief following a loved one’s death is difficult to navigate. The death of someone you love due to suicide can be devastating. Grief is not easy. Suicide is even more challenging. Suicide leaves more questions than answers many times. As a result, it can leave more confusion and pain than grief from other losses. There are ways to traverse the shock and despair of surviving a loved one’s suicide.
In addition to coping with the normal feelings of anguish, such as a sense of loss, one is left with feelings of guilt and maybe even abandonment. It some situations you can feel angry and rejected.
When a dear friend of mine committed suicide several years ago I experienced many of those emotions. She was someone I had prayed with and we attended Bible study together. We had encouraged each other in the Lord and in Scripture. She seemed happy. She appeared to be one of the most joyful individuals I knew. But, looks can be deceiving and some people are good at hiding their pain and depression. They become masters at masking their fears and despair.
When someone commits suicide it is not only the person who executes the act that suffers. It is those left behind as well. The individuals who love and care about that person are left with what seems like empty hands full of more questions than answers. I found myself questioning if there were signs I had missed or maybe something I could have done better to make her feel more loved and appreciated. I wondered why my friendship appeared to not be enough to prevent her from making such a choice. Why she did not turn to me for help. I questioned why the love of her family and other friends apparently was not enough. Even if the person left some kind of note or message, loved ones may continually have questions as to “why”.
There is also the struggle, as Christians, that we know suicide is a mortal sin. We are aware that suicide is a grave sin because it violates the love for oneself, one’s neighbors, and rebels against the love we owe God (who is the author and creator of our life). On the other hand, we must remember an individual cannot commit a mortal sin if they do not have an informed intellect that the action is wrong and a sin. That is the stipulation that always arises when addressing suicide because there are many things that lead to a person’s decision to take their own life. Mental health disorders, an extreme pain or feeling of loss, or a variety of other factors that could blur the reasoning and conscious which result in suicide. For those reasons, we know God is a merciful and loving God. He is compassionate, forgiving, and gracious so we know He is the final judge and only He can judge a person’s intent and knowledge at the time of the action. As a result, we pray for the person who has committed suicide and we offer Mass for them.
The Catechism says “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.” (CCC 2282) So, we trust the Lord in His infinite mercy and then we pave a path for ourselves to survive what seems like the drowning flood of grief and guilt.
In order to move through the grief we face regarding suicide the first thing we must accept is the pain from that loss will likely never leave. To suffer a death that is intentionally committed and in such a tragic way leaves scars and wounds in you that will never fade or heal. When we seek to move forward and traverse this roller coaster of loss and pain, we must acknowledge it is possible to get through the storm and even reach some level of acceptance. When that light begins to break through the clouds of pain you will see that you can continue to live your life in the way the Lord intends for you to do so.
The next thing we must do is to seek the Lord in prayer. As Christians, our primary coping mechanism for any loss should always be prayer. Christ is the great comforter. He is the incredible Prince of Peace and the Alpha and Omega. He’s the holy counselor, author of life, and mighty God. There is no greater source of comfort and peace than the Lord Jesus Christ. We should seek Him continually in daily prayer and in the Sacraments. We should never neglect attending Mass or even the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We should find our comfort in encountering Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and in Reconciliation. It in through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that we can be cleansed and forgiven for any actions, or lack of actions, that may be leading to our feelings of guilt. It provides us an avenue to hear that we are forgiven for whatever we may feel we missed or should have done to prevent it. (Even if those feelings are not an accurate reflection of the reality of cause and effect from your actions to your love one’s decision to turn to suicide.)
Another important thing to remember is that you are not alone. According to statistics, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It is not just an American problem. Suicide is prevalent in most cultures around the world, resulting in almost 800,000 suicides worldwide annually. Reach out to your priest or a counselor to locate support groups to attend regarding grief from suicide loss. It is always helpful to know others are going through the same thing you are and hear how they are dealing with their emotions. You may also want to attend some counseling appointments with your priest one-on-one or find a counselor.
One of the most important things I can encourage you to do is to remind yourself of the good things about your loved one. Do not define their life based on that last decision. Their life was about more than just the succumbing to emotions and despair leading to their death. It was about love, life, memories, laughs, joys, and fun. Remind others around you about the good times and experiences. Suicide does not negate their value. Your loved one’s life mattered and it is important for you to remind yourself of those good times and why it mattered.