Commonly referred to as Survivor Day, International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is devoted to remembering loved ones and offering comfort for suicide loss survivors. On this day, large and small events are held in communities all around the world, and there may be programs happening in your area.
Suicide is a hard topic to talk about, especially when it involves someone you know. It can be difficult to understand how to address suicide in a compassionate manner, and you might refrain from talking to a suicide loss survivor out of fear that you will say something hurtful unintentionally. However, even if you aren’t a close friend of the person who’s grieving, it’s better to show you care than to avoid them entirely. To someone who recently lost a loved one, your support, even if it’s nonverbal, can make a difference.
What Not to Say to a Suicide Loss Survivor
Knowing what not to say to a suicide loss survivor is perhaps more important than what you do talk about. Before you speak with them, be mindful of words, phrases and attitudes that could come off as insensitive or rude during this difficult time.
- Don’t say that you understand: Even if you’re a suicide loss survivor too, your experience is not identical to theirs, and saying, “I know how you feel,” may come off as dismissive or inconsiderate. Instead of talking at length about your own bereavement, wait for the person to seek your advice.
- Refrain from giving them advice: There is no right or wrong way to cope with a suicide loss, and the person who’s grieving will work through it in their own way and at their own pace. The person cannot simply, “Get through it,” or continue with their life immediately after a suicide loss and must gradually adjust to a new, normal way of life.
- Avoid platitudes and clichés: Someone who’s grieving probably can’t take comfort in phrases like, “They’re in a better place,” and won’t want to hear, “Life goes on.” Because they’re generic, these phrases disregard the specific mental and emotional anguish that the person feels after a suicide loss.
- Don’t offer a summation of why this happened: Keep your opinions about why the suicide occurred to yourself, and steer clear of judgments like, “They took the easy way out,” or, “That was so selfish,” as these do nothing to help someone cope with their loss.
- Avoiding talking excessively: One of the best ways to show you care about someone’s grief is to listen, not talk. Keep in mind that the suicide loss survivor may not be willing or able to hold a conversation and attempting to fill the silence by continuously talking may be overwhelming for them. Let them guide the pace and tone of the conversation, and don’t take it personally if they don’t want to talk.
How to Comfort a Suicide Loss Survivor
Even if you know the person well, you may be unsure of how to comfort a suicide loss survivor. It’s normal to feel apprehensive or nervous about talking to them, but there are plenty of ways to show you care about their loss through what you say.
- Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know what to say: It can be bewildering to pick the perfect words to say to someone who’s grieving. Saying, “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you,” and, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you,” are safe alternatives when talking to a suicide loss survivor.
- Ask how they’re feeling today: Instead of asking, “How are you feeling?” which can be overwhelming to answer, ask how their day is going. Grief can feel different from one day to the next, and your friend or family member may be more apt to explain how they feel on a certain day, rather than overall.
- Bring up a positive memory of the person who died: If you knew them well, recall what you loved about the person who died. Don’t be afraid to speak their name, as it can show the suicide loss survivor how much you miss their lost loved one. Mention how funny or talented they were or share a fond memory of them. During such a painful time, these light-hearted memories could be comforting to the suicide loss survivor.
- Ask if you can help with specific tasks: Although well-intentioned, saying, “I’m here if you need anything,” may not be the most helpful type of reassurance for someone who’s grieving. Instead, be proactive in offering to help the suicide loss survivor. You could ask if they need someone to run errands for them, pick up groceries or drive their kids to school. If they don’t need help with daily duties, they might appreciate your quiet company for a couple of hours, just so that they’re not alone.
- Offer to accompany them to a local Survivor Day event: International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is a time dedicated to the remembrance of lives lost and an opportunity for suicide loss survivors to find solace and comfort. Survivor Day events will be held across the country on November 17, 2018, and you can offer to drive your friend or family member to a Survivor Day event in your area.
How to Talk to a Suicide Loss Survivor Who Is Suicidal
If you’re worried that the person you’re comforting may be contemplating suicide themselves, don’t hesitate to act as you could save their life. The Recovery Village’s guide How to Provide First Aid for Suicide Risk can help you understand how and when to offer this type of mental health first aid to someone in need of it.
If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one this Survivor Day, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Free, confidential support is always available to through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255 at any time to speak with someone who can empathize with your pain and talk with you for as long as you need to talk.