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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Schaper

Alone Together: Reflections on Family Survivors of Suicide

Family Survivors of Suicide Learn to Share Grief

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and I’ve decided to write another blog on this serious topic. In a previous post, I wrote that both of my parents died by suicide.

After my mother's suicide in 1977, as I remember it, both of my brothers and me grieved separately. I had been married and moved out of the household. I was therefore surrounded by caring loved ones. But my brothers had no one to comfort them. My brother Call disappeared after our mother’s death. We learned later he was homeless much of the time. Our younger brother David was still living at home with our father, who was dealing with torments of his own. Time passed, and it seemed life went on. My father, my brothers, and I never had the opportunity to discuss in depth how each of us dealt with our grief.

As the years went by, my father remarried and seemed very happy. Was he really? In his suicide note he wrote, "Call said I was never happy anyway." During his second marriage and apparently unnoticed by anyone, my father's life was plummeting into a deep depression. Then, when his second wife divorced him, he started to become reclusive and paranoid. And in 1988 he took his life. Throughout most of his adult life, he’d been suffering from PTSD because of his battlefield experiences in WWII. He must have been an extremely troubled soul, miserable. At the end, I’m sure he felt no hope for the future. So, in a way, I understand his choice to take his life.

I think the crucial questions in coping with grief are:

- Have you had a family member die by suicide? Or know someone who has?

- How did you deal with your grief? Or did you?

- Did you try to help the troubled person, but to no avail?

- Did you try to help and talk openly and honestly to the person? Do you have guilt because you could not help?

- Did you get support afterward? Did you discuss with family members how it impacted you?

And here are some related questions:

- Is there such a thing as rational or justifiable suicide — as when a person is terminally ill?

- How do your religious beliefs inform your opinions about understanding suicide?

- Do you believe suicide is an act of murder and therefore morally wrong?

- How should families and society deal with people who have attempted suicide but survived?

It’s vital to acknowledge all your emotions if a loved one, friend, or someone you know died by suicide. Allow yourself to talk to others to express yourself. Do you often wonder why an individual follows through with the act of suicide? Understand that it is not your fault. The person’s decision did not depend on anything you did or did not say. The causes are deeply personal, often unexpressed, and the secrets may die with the person.

When you are faced with someone who is talking about killing themselves, there’s no option but to take it seriously. Try to stay calm rather than let the individual goad you into reacting, especially with anger. Listen without judgment, and understand that this individual is going through so much pain, overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, despair, and depression.

Here are some signs that someone is thinking of taking their life:

- Increased alcohol and drug abuse. (The individual is masking the pain because it is so crippling to them,)

- Dramatic mood swings and aggressive behavior

- Withdrawal from family, friends, and community — isolation

Do not be afraid to take action and call 911 you could be saving someone's life.

Find help at this website: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ( or call 800-273-8255 or 911 for immediate support and response.

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