After a Family Suicide
Dissolving Emotional Chaos © Martyn Carruthers
What can you do after a relative suicides … or tries to?
I have helped many people deal with the
suicides of parents, partners, siblings and children.
Here are some of my lessons about suicides in the family.
Healing a Family after a Suicide
My mother killed herself when I was 12.
Nearly 20 years later, I still feel guilty and confused.
I felt isolated at school – the other kids avoided me like
I had a disease. I want a woman to mother me, but not many
women want to partner a scared child in a man’s body. Australia
My father got drunk and blew his brains out in our living room
before I came home from school. He left a note saying that my mother
and I didn’t deserve him because we ignored him and didn’t respect him.
You helped me accept his death and his way of dying, and move on. USA
My uncle died in a car accident and my aunt killed herself afterwards.
We were never really close, but since then I was terrified of death and of
any kind of risk. Being alone was torture. I felt afraid every waking minute.
My partner and I met you a few times, and since then I am much more relaxed. UK
While it may be difficult to understand why some people kill themselves; a suicide in a family is often followed by unpleasant consequences. You may notice:
- a family member may be overcome by grief and/or guilt
- emotional exhaustion and insomnia may lead to accidents
- a family is shocked and burdened by unpleasant emotions
- a child may have suicidal thoughts for much of his or her life
- a grand-child may grow up to become suicidally depressed
- reactions vary from nightmares to being paralyzed with terror
- a baby may soon die – perhaps as a miscarriage or cot death
- a family may refuse to discuss the suicide and try to dismiss it
- an increased consumption of alcohol, sedatives and sleeping drugs
- a family member may be assigned to ‘look after’ whoever is most upset
The eldest children of a suicidal parent are often the most traumatized and perhaps most likely to blame themselves. An eldest child seems more likely to take on terrible emotional burdens and may identify with the dead parent.
It’s like my dead mother is always with me. If there’s a problem I seem
to hear her saying things like, “Don’t worry about it dear, just kill yourself”
Signs of ‘identification with a dead relative‘ include lasting sadness and obsessions with death. Such people may feel drawn to cemeteries and places where people suffered and died. They may also consider themselves psychic. See Chronic Sadness
If the adults and older children can accept a relative’s death, they can help younger members deal with it (to learn from it what they can, and move on with their lives).
Attempted suicides and suicide threats may have similar consequences to a “real” suicide. Expect some children and their descendents to be burdened by unpleasant emotions, nightmares, limiting beliefs and relationship disturbances.
A teenager may use suicide to try to punish parents, family or friends who did not seem sufficiently interested in the teenager’s life. The deaths of parents, celebrities or role models may also cause a teenager to consider suicide. As teenagers seem to sense each others’ moods, a suicide by one teenager may initiate copycat suicides.
Are you worried that a teenager may be considering suicide?
Some warning symptoms include avoiding friends, no interests,
excessive risk taking and a preoccupation with gore, death and dying.
It’s important that children can talk and ask questions after traumatic experiences. Be prepared to answer two questions, even if they are not asked: “Why did he or she do that?” and “Is it my fault?” Also help children accept that many questions about a suicide may never be answered satisfactorily.
Common Emotions after a Suicide
Family members may feel anger towards the dead person, to people they believe failed that person, to those who try to help them, or to the world at large. They may also feel angry with themselves for whatever they did or did not do.
When opportunities for happiness vanish, sadness may remain. You cannot apologize or explain your past actions to a dead person, nor ask for clarification about some misunderstanding. Such sad people may not even know why they are so sad.
Suicidal thoughts are relatively common, and a suicide might tempt relatives to follow them into death. Some people may then fear their own thoughts and avoid talking about or even thinking about the suicide … or their own futures.
Feelings of guilt following a suicide are normal. You might hear people saying, “If only …” a lot. They may feel guilty until they understand that they are not responsible for another person’s decisions. We help people rebuild supportive beliefs and self-trust.
Family members may lose their motivation, have difficulty sleeping, cannot concentrate or avoid communicating. Some may feel that there is nothing left to live for. If such depression does not fade away with time, consult a local health professional.
Physical activities, plenty of rest and a healthy diet helps. Don’t try to be “the strong one” of a family. Meet people you like and perhaps talk to other people who have suffered a death in the family. Learn that it is OK to smile and laugh again.
We help people explore, express and manage their emotions.
When Children Return to School
Contact the principal, head-teacher, a school counselor or school nurse. Tell the school staff what the child was told. Perhaps meet the child’s primary teacher or counselor, and consider involving teenage children with this meeting, if they agree.
Prepare children for what may happen at school. Teachers and friends may not know what to say. Help children to practice saying things like, “Thank you” and “I don’t want to talk about it now, but you can ask my mother (or father)“. Remind children that if adults want more information, the children do not HAVE TO answer.
As confused children may say stupid or cruel things, ask teachers and neighbors to talk about how the children can support distressed friends and how they can be kind.
Later in Life
After a suicide (or similar trauma), children may be afraid that if they love someone, they will be abandoned or deserted. Such limiting beliefs often indicate that “part” of the person could not grow up, and remains at the age they were during the trauma.
While such age regression is common enough to be normal, age regressed people may be unable to function as mature adults, gaining a rainbow variety of psychological diagnoses. We help people mature, grow up and pull themselves together.
A suicide can provoke shock, guilt and anger among relatives. Some may express anger at the suicide for “running away” from responsibilities, or to the suicide’s family for not preventing the suicide. We help people deal with (assimilate) the emotional and relationship consequences of such trauma.
Why do People Suicide?
While suicide is often blamed on depression, adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) and people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have higher suicide risks. Some people may consider suicide if a partner leaves or if a life philosophy is shown to be false. Also, people who have killed or tortured other people may suicide, perhaps after periods of isolation, substance abuse and/or depression.
Suicidal behavior may be connected with military service, especially if the causes for which people fought are later exposed as lies. Soldiers who have killed innocent people may suicide, unless they are somehow convinced that their murders and destruction were for a higher cause.
Does your family suffer from a suicide? We help people find causes and solutions, and help dissolve negative emotions, now and in the future.
If someone says that he or she may suicide, refer that person to a local health professional. Perhaps telephone a health professional yourself, and give the telephone to the person. (Telephone a suicide hot-line or the police or a hospital if you don’t know a health professional).