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Grief and Suicide

I had no idea when I signed up for the training how timely it would be in a week with two celebrity suicides. On Friday, I spent the day with a couple hundred therapists getting training from a preeminent expert on how to work with suicide loss survivors, those left behind when a person ends his or her life. We started the day by looking at the front page of the Kansas City Star, which featured a story on the increased suicide rates in both Kansas and Missouri. Kansas and Missouri’s suicide rates have increased far more than most of the nation, with Kansas’s increasing 45% and Missouri’s increasing 37% from 1999 to 2016. You can see the article here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article212778179.html .

Our culture struggles to talk about death openly—and that’s when it’s a death by natural causes. Death from suicide is taboo in our culture. When it’s a death from suicide or homicide or other causes, we don’t know what to say. We think maybe it’s better to just not talk about it at all. We might be trying to be kind, but it can send a message of shame and can leave the survivors of these deaths feeling horribly isolated and alone. This only makes the burden of their grief worse as they get only little, if any support, and feel like they cannot talk about such a death. And in some cases, people blame those who died from suicide and say they will go to hell*. This heaps burning coals onto the grief of the survivors. And as those statistics of increased suicide rates indicate, there are now more grieving survivors of suicide loss in Kansas and Missouri than ever before. This is alarming because the research shows these survivors are themselves now several times more likely to end their own lives compared to those who did not lose a loved one to suicide.

If you have lost a loved one (friend or family) to suicide, you may find it difficult to find people to listen and support you in your grief. Additionally, your identity seems to shrink down to being only the parent/spouse, etc. of the deceased who died by suicide; that is all people see when they look at you. And your grief in this situation brings with it questions that don’t come up in a death by natural causes, such as “Did my loved one really mean to kill himself, or was it an accident?”

When I talk about therapy, I often talk about powerful, brief therapies to deal with depression, insomnia, and nightmares. You won’t hear me say this about grief, particularly grief from suicide. Grief cannot and should not be hurried. It is on its own timetable and takes the time it takes. (Please note that I am not talking about complicated grief here, which is grief that never lessens over time. Grief from suicide is likely to be complicated grief). If you come to me to work on your grief, I will not be telling you on your third visit that it’s time to start moving on. Expect grief therapy to take time; it may take many months, although that doesn’t mean we’ll meet weekly for those many months. One central task in our work together in grief therapy is to help you find a way to continue your relationship with your loved one. Death changes the form of a relationship, but it doesn’t end the love or the connection with that loved one. Therapy will help you to find a new way to keep that connection.

*If you happen to believe this, please consider keeping this belief to yourself. How can telling someone who is grieving a loss from suicide that their loved one is going to hell possibly help them? It cannot. It can only torment them further. After all, the suicide is permanent even if the grieving person believes what you tell them. If you are grieving a loss from suicide, please know that you will never hear such condemnation from me because I don’t believe it’s true.

If you are grieving the death of a loved one, particularly the death by suicide of a loved one, I urge you to give me a call. I am a certified grief counselor and I am ready to walk with you through your grief journey. Call me at (816) 226-4678.

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