SUICIDE GRIEF STRATA
“Grief is a wound that needs attention in order to heal. To work through and complete grief means to face our feelings openly and honestly, to express or release our feeling fully, and to tolerate and accept our feelings for however long it takes for the wound to heal.”
The Courage to Grieve, Judy Tatelbaum
Grief is a normal response to the death of someone deeply loved. Grief has no time frame and it is experienced differently by everyone. Every bereaved individual works through his/her grief at his/her own pace in his/her own space.
Grief following suicide is extremely chaotic, complex, compounded and fiercely painful. To know ‘what I am experiencing is normal for what I have experienced’ is reassuring. The following definitions of suicide grief strata are intended to reassure. Grief is often describes as coming in phases, stages, levels, waves or layers. Be aware that varying levels or intensity of grief will not come in sequence and not all responses in all stratum will be experienced by all bereaved. There will be some overlap and repetition as you work through the pain of your loss toward a time when the raging anguish subsides and a gentler, more manageable state of mourning emerges.
RECOIL, the fist-in-the-gut blow experienced upon learning that someone we love has died by suicide, knocks the wind out of us, brings us to our knees and changes our life forever. Numb from shock we operate for a time like robots or automatic pilot. We are horrified and disbelieving, denying this could be true. Not only is a beloved person dead, but they have deliberately caused their death. Recoil from the fact of death and the cause of death seem inseparably entwined. Quite commonly, the cause of the death is primary to the fact of death.
The search for answers begins immediately. Every suicide bereaved needs a reason, cause or some justification for being deprived of their beloved, as if knowing why would make it easier to accept.
Shock and trauma are commonly manifested physically as flu like symptoms – body aches, chills, sore throat, upset stomach and diarrhea, which are usually short term. Fainting, heart palpitations and breathing difficulty often accompany shock, trauma and grief. Bereaved may experience memory lapse, trouble concentrating and sleeping problems for several months.
REACTION to a loved one’s suicide is multifaceted emotional chaos, causing bereaved to feel disoriented and disconnected to reality. The emotional gamut is extensive and vacillating. Anger, fear, guilt are initial emotional responses. Anger is a normal protest against being deprived of a beloved person. Anger is sometimes directed toward the one who brought the tragic news. Anger may be misdirected in the form of blame toward another survivor, toward God, toward oneself in the form of guilt or toward the one who has died, where the responsibility eventually must rest. Fear of being deprived of another can make the bereaved hyper vigilant, overly concerned and panicked, when significant others are out of sight or their immediate whereabouts unknown.
Every part of the survivor’s life is thrown out of sync by what has happened. Normal orderliness has been disrupted, leaving them feeling disoriented, confused and out of touch with reality.
A newly bereaved person may express a wish for their own death or, at the least, ambivalence about living. It is not uncommon to hear suicide bereaved say, “I would not end my own life but I wouldn’t care if I was hit by a truck and died.”
Guilt is often excessive and can become obsessive. Almost without exception the bereaved reviews their interaction with the deceased and assumes some measure of responsibility for the death. There is a great difference between being guilty and feeling guilty and for a time, the bereaved may not be able to separate the two. No one is so powerful as to cause another person to end their life.
Depression is a natural grief response experienced as feelings of deep sadness, heavy tiredness and lethargy. Uncontrolled crying, deep sighing, feeling quarrelsome and restless with everything seeming colorless, joyless, and hopeless. Depression causes sleep irregularities, wanting to sleep too much or inability to sleep restfully or at all. Appetite problems can arise. The inability to function on a previously normal level can be expected for a time.
Disorientation/discord – rejection of the fact of suicide
Anger, fear, hyper vigilance of significant others
Thoughts of one’s own death or ambivalence about living
Guilt/responsibility – assuming or assigning blame
Acute depression – deep sadness, uncontrolled crying, heavy tiredness, lethargy
Nightmares….Flashbacks of the event/scene…Post Traumatic Stress
Obsessive Review – mentally visualizing steps taken to cause his/her death
RESIGNATION/RECONCILIATION – Progressing from discord to accord
Acknowledgement of death, loss and its permanence
Acceding cause of death as suicide – cause of death becomes secondary
Acquiescing that there is no definable reason – does not deter continued searching
RESUSCITATION – Effort to regain emotional equilibrium
Managing grief by expressing feelings – resuming some control – coming to terms
Regaining a measure of composure
Choosing to live
Establishing a ‘new normal’
RECONSTRUCTION – Adjusting to life without the deceased/mastering the grief
Reorganization vs disorientation – restoring orderliness in one’s life
Physical readjustments – Living situation, finances, social adjustment
Reaffirming faith in God, trust in self, family, friends
Redefining the future
Transitioning – living presence into loving memory
RESURRECTION – Relinquishing bondage to suicide – Re-engaging in life – free to live again
Investing grief energy – making meaning and purpose
Renewed hope – life is not over
Revived pleasure in surroundings/activities