A Holiday Love Letter to the Newly Bereaved From Suicide Loss

You might be exactly where I was six years ago after I lost my father to suicide. It's your first Thanksgiving without your wife, your son, your uncle, the person who meant the world to you. They're gone and you're feeling completely alone, even when surrounded by the laughter of family and friends hovered over plates of turkey and stuffing, and cranberry sauce straight from the can.

In 2009, during my first Thanksgiving without my father, our family and a few friends reminisced about the good times my father. But after those few, brief cathartic moments, I was still left with a sense of longing and loneliness that I couldn't shake. How the hell could anyone else in the world understand what I was going through?

The next eighteen months were the hardest for me--capped by a six week bout of clinical depression in early 2011 that nearly caused me to take my own life. Thankfully I got help and found the space to connect with other survivors of suicide loss, many of whom have become some of the best friends I've ever had. Because we shared our stories and our grief with one another, we know we'll never be alone again. Several of us continue to share our stories publicly with the hope and belief that if we do, we'll be able to honor our lost loved ones and help others dealing with the complexities of their own grief or despair.

To all the newly bereaved, I'm deeply sorry for your loss. Please know that you are loved and you are not alone. There will be a bit of a learning curve while on your grief journey but there is a great deal of support as well.

  • Please be gentle with yourself. It took me a few years to put away the feelings of regret for things I thought I should or should not have done before my father died. And it may feel counterintuitive but it's totally okay during the course of your day or week to laugh or cry or just let yourself feel.

  • Take your time on your grief journey. No one has the right or the authority to give you a time frame on how long you're "allowed" to be sad or in mourning. You need to be able to process your loss and your feelings for as long as it takes.
  • I can't promise that the grief will get easier but it will be different, with varying levels of manageability. The grief will come in waves--sometimes when you least expect it.
  • It may be difficult at first but try to connect to helpful resources: a local International Survivor of Suicide Loss event (the Saturday before U.S. Thanksgiving), a survivor of suicide loss support group, a LOSS team who can help with the newly bereaved, or even a good a book from a fellow survivor of loss.
  • And if you're reading this and you want to help a new survivor of suicide loss:

    • Please be patient. Let the survivor know that it's cool that they cry around you or talk about their loss. And please don't try to set a time limit on the survivor's grief.

  • Avoid trite sayings. It's not helpful to say things like: "you have to be strong for your other children," or "it's in God's hands," or "everything happens for a reason." It's better to simply say, "I love you, I don't understand but I want to, and I'm here for you."
  • Listen and listen some more. Listening without interrupting is a great gift you can give to anyone whether or not they are dealing with a suicide loss. Listening shows that you care, and shows the survivor that their feelings are important and that they matter.
  • Ask if and how you can help. Sometimes it's good to give the survivor space. Other times it's good to give a gentle nudge and ask how you can help. And then there are times when you can say, "your lawn is starting to look like Jurassic Park. I'm coming over tomorrow and I'm cutting your grass."
  • ___________________

    If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.