Caring for and supporting someone who has lost a loved one to suicide can be difficult. Many feel unable to provide adequate support and struggle to understand the depth of distress. Some have difficulty in knowing what to say or do and feel awkward, uncomfortable and concerned about saying the wrong thing. Others worry about what the bereaved person is saying or doing and whether it is normal. The stigma attached to suicide can make this even harder.
It is helpful to gather information and learn what you can about grief and bereavement following suicide.
At a Glance
You may be dealing with the coroner and the police which can be overwhelming. Many of the coronial services offer counselling and crisis support and there are a range of organisations which offer assistance by phone. These are listed in our 'Finding Related Organisations' page and include 24 hour phone lines and support groups for people who have lost someone to suicide.
In the next few days and weeks you may be dealing with making funeral arrangements. The Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing provides information and support packs for people in each state. These are listed in our 'Finding Related Organisations' page and they contain a great deal of useful information and assistance in the aftermath of a suicide.
For funeral arrangements, it can be challenging to consider whether or not to view your loved one. Some people are reluctant to do so while others feel a strong need to do this. Listening to yourself and what you need to do is helpful.
Responding to children, answering their questions and wondering about how to guide them through the experience is also challenging. It can be very beneficial to involve family and friends, including children, in decisions about the funeral. It might help to know that children sometimes do want to be involved and that this can be beneficial for them if they are listened to and supported through the experience.
People also have different views on speaking about suicide at the funeral. Some find it too difficult while others would prefer to be direct about it. These differences of views can sometimes cause conflict and distress. Finding a balance and respecting differences can help as this conflict can lead to arguments and further distress.
It is also important to keep in mind that it can take a week or more for the coroner to release the body of your loved one.
Finally, in relation to the funeral, there can occasionally be difficulties in regard to religious or spiritual faith. In society, suicide is still surrounded with stigma and, though it is rare nowadays, there can be difficulties in the funeral rites from some religious ministers. This can be deeply distressing however, in most cases it will be possible to find a priest or minister who will respond with compassion and respect. So if you encounter someone who will not conduct the service, look further until you find someone who will.
There may be many financial issues that require consideration. Some financially related decisions are:
Decisions about moving house
Administering the will
Insurance and superannuation
Dealing with Centrelink
A death certificate is often needed to carry out financial transactions and handle accounts of your loved one. Sometimes the information on the certificate is very detailed and you may be reluctant to show this to institutions and organisations. Births, Deaths and Marriages in some states offer an abridged certificate which will be accepted by some organisations. It's a good idea to check with the organisations before you proceed with ordering the abridged certificate.
The information and support packs for each state in our 'Finding Related Organisations' page have practical information regarding financial decisions. You may also need to consider legal advice and/or engage legal aid within your state to assist with these issues.
In all decisions, it is important to consider what is right for you, however, it is often suggested that you delay making major decisions for 12 to 18 months following a significant bereavement. This applies particularly to moving house and dealing with some of the belongings of your loved one. There are, of course, situations where making decisions sooner than this is necessary.
Ongoing support is an important part of bereavement. We know that social support and connections are very beneficial in the experience of bereavement. This support can also be from professionals and other bereaved people.
Resources such as counselling services, support groups, books and online information are all available in many areas. Links to some of the resources on this site are listed below:
Finding Related Organisations - counselling, groups & telephone support
Helpful Resources - Books, DVDs and online information
SaS Community - community of people bereaved by suicide
Bereavement or Compassionate Leave in Australia is often limited to three days. In the case of suicide, this will often not be long enough. It may take several weeks before you are ready to return to work. For some people, work provides a focus and a routine which is helpful. For others, the impact of the trauma and bereavement impacts significantly on the capacity to return to work. The 'Returning to Work' page has some suggestions about getting back to work. It may help to consult your General Practitioner if you are having difficulty returning to work.
Because suicide is difficult to make sense of and understand, it is possible to begin to see yourself or others as responsible for what has happened. In the emotionally charged atmosphere, guilt and blame can result in conflict, arguments and a breakdown in communication and relationships. This increases the level of distress and can leave some feeling isolated and alone.
If anyone is feeling particularly angry, which is not unusual, it is helpful to keep in mind that it is beneficial for the long-term wellbeing of the family, and especially children, that caring and support are offered to everyone in these heightened emotional circumstances.