Learning to Live with a Child’s Suicide

©Adam Cook

The loss of a child of any age is a horrific, confusing, and life-altering event for any parent. When the loss is by suicide, however, there are often even more unanswered questions left behind for family members who desperately want to understand what happened. These questions can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, or the need to blame others, but it is important to understand that there are many factors involved when a person chooses to take their own life, including substance abuse, mental illness, and depression, and there are not always clear-cut signs that could have indicated suicidal thoughts.

For many, coping with the guilt can be overwhelming. There may never be answers to the questions left behind by our loved ones, which can complicate the process of coming to terms with a death by suicide. Sometimes the mixture of emotions can lead to alcohol or substance abuse in an effort to dull the pain, but, more often than not, these things only serve to make things worse. If you find you are drinking more often than usual—and especially if that drinking is contributing to your own suicidal thoughts—it might be a good idea to reach out for professional help or the support of a friend or family member. 

The subject of suicide can often lead to heated opinions from family and friends due to religious or personal beliefs, which can in turn lead to feelings of shame on your part. The idea that you don’t have anyone to talk to about what you’re going through can be extremely painful and can become isolating, and some find that it leads to depression or their own suicidal thoughts. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no place for blame after a loved one’s suicide, and that there are professionals waiting to help should you need to talk or feel like you can’t go on. 

Anger and regret are two of the most complicated emotions you may feel after losing your child to suicide. Feeling upset with someone for taking their own life and regretting all the times you feel you could have done something differently is a common thread among post-suicide emotions, and it’s difficult to express those feelings in a constructive way. However, it is important to try to do so, because keeping everything internalized can be extremely harmful to your emotional well-being. 

Some of the questions that may arise after such a devastating loss involve religious beliefs or your own ability to love and protect your child. You may find that your faith is tested or that you no longer feel the same way you once did about God. Or you might feel that you have failed in some way as a mother or father. While it may be the last thing you want to do, talking about your child’s death to another member of your church or to a family member can be helpful in healing. There are also sites that offer the opportunity to meet and speak with other parents who have lost a child to suicide, and certainly talking to someone who knows what you’re going through can be extraordinarily helpful.

At times, the pain of your loss may make you want to close yourself off from your family members, from your memories, and from your own thoughts. This, too, is a normal reaction to the death of a child, and while everyone heals differently, it may be better for you in the long run if you face those feelings instead of pushing them away. Talking with people who knew your child well, such as family or their friends, can help you face the loss and cope with your feelings about it. 

It’s also important to take care of yourself. You may find that you have trouble sleeping, lack energy, or don’t feel up to being in social situations for some time after such a loss, and these can be signs of depression. Different from clinical depression, these feelings will usually subside over time as long as you know the various ways to treat them. Staying in touch with friends and family, getting exercise, eating well, and caring for your emotional health are all great ways to do this. It’s okay to eventually find joy in small things or in participating in activities that you once loved, such as making art or music, gardening, or dancing, even though you might initially feel guilty for doing so.  

About the Author:

Adam Cook recently lost a friend to substance abuse and suicide. That loss has spurred him into action. He created AddictionHub.org to help individuals, families, and health workers find life-saving addiction and mental health resources and support from others facing the devastating effects of substance abuse.

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