When you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, it is very hard to find the right words to express your sympathy. You want to be supportive, but you may not know where to begin. Learn what to say when someone commits suicide, as well as what not to say, and why.
What to Say When Someone Loses a Loved One to Suicide
Losing a loved one to suicide brings with it not only grief, but also shock, confusion, and anger. The person suffering the loss could also be struggling with guilt for not seeing the signs, or for not doing enough to get them help. Therefore, anger toward themselves, as well as toward their loved one for leaving them, is part of their experience.
That is why what you say needs to convey that you support them unconditionally and appreciate the depth of their grief and loss. You can use any or all of the statements below.
"I'm so sorry for your loss."
This statement tells the person that you are sorrowful that they are dealing with this loss. You have probably conveyed this to various people in your life who have lost dear ones in different ways. This still very much applies here, because no matter how it happened, their loved one has passed away.
"I can only imagine the emotional pain you are in."
This statement says that you empathize with their pain, and that you appreciate how hard this time must be for them, without claiming to know or understand exactly how they feel.
"What can I do to help you?"
This simple question tells your friend that you want to do what you can to make things in their life a bit easier during this distressing time. They may not know initially exactly how you can help, but the fact that you asked can be reassuring, and also opens the door for them to reach out to you.
"My thoughts are with you and your whole family."
This kind and supportive sentence can be tailored to the recipient. If they are religious, you can say "My prayers are with you and your whole family."
"I remember when…"
After a little time has passed and the initial shock turns to grieving, your friend probably also wants to remember positive and happy times with their loved one. You can help them do this by sharing a memory you have, such as, "I remember how much he made us laugh during your daughter's wedding." This is also a comfort to your friend because, in a sense, their loved one's spirit is still living through others.
"I will always remember…"
Similar to the last statement, this one also offers comfort because you are sharing a positive moment, something your friend also wants to think about. For example, "I will always remember how much her smile just lit up the room." Such specific and personal statements allow your friend to know that their loved one had a significant impact on your life.
"I will always be here to just listen."
By telling your friend this, you are saying that they can share and process their feelings in your presence, without judgment or problem-solving. Talking about the experience is important for going through the grief process.
What Not to Say When Someone Loses a Loved One to Suicide
Knowing what not to say is just as, if not more, important than knowing what to say. Though you may certainly mean well, you could inadvertently cause someone who's grieving to be closed off from you if you say the wrong thing.
If you are at a loss for words or cannot seem to find the right words to express your concern genuinely, it is okay to just give the person a hug or sit with them in silence. Just your presence tells them that you care. Following are things to avoid saying.
It is natural to want to know the details of the suicide, but what your friend needs soon after is support, not to recount the incident to you.
"They are in a better place."
There are a couple of problems with saying this. First, you ultimately do not know that they are in a better place. Second, it can also imply that it is better that their loved one passed on, that coping with their depression was not possible. Moreover, your friend could be feeling guilty about the suicide, and saying this could amplify that guilt.
"I know how you feel."
You might have experienced loss yourself, and so you might say something like this as a way to show empathy. However, you are not living your friend's experience and therefore you cannot ever truly know how they feel. In turn, this statement could make them feel like their pain is being dismissed.
"You will heal with time."
This is not what anyone needs to hear after such a deep loss. They need support with how they are feeling presently, as opposed to talking about the future. Moreover, "healing" after such a loss means changes to their sense of self and rebuilding their life, not simply going back to the way they were before the suicide.
As a friend, you are certainly not expected to always know what to say or do. You can seek consultation from a mental health professional by contacting a mental health agency in your local area. If you are a college student and it is a fellow student who has recently lost someone to suicide, you can contact the counseling center on campus and ask them how best to help your friend. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for resources for survivors. They are also available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
Losing a loved one to suicide leaves an agonizing void in a person's life and heart. What they need most is to know that they are not alone in that void as they navigate through their feelings.