Coping with the Suicide of a Loved One

Leafless, snow-covered trees rise from the snow next to a frozen lakeThe grief, loss, and bewilderment following the suicide of a loved one can be overwhelming. Many reactions are common, ranging from everything from shock to anger to self blame to considering suicide for yourself. 

There are questions, so many questions. “Why?” “What if…?” “What could I have done?” And there are few, if any answers.

Here are some resources for coping in the aftermath. Some material repeats what I have included on the Resources page for suicide loss survivors, and some goes beyond that.

Coping Immediately After the Suicide

SOS: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide 

Of all the online guides to coping with the suicide of a loved one, this may be the most comprehensive. Written by a man whose wife died by suicide, the guide includes information on the “emotional rollercoaster” that follows a suicide, myths and facts about suicide, suggestions for coping, narratives from other suicide loss survivors, and inspirational words for surviving, coping, and healing after the loss of a loved one to suicide. (Sponsored by the American Association of Suicidology.)

After a Suicide: A Practical and Personal Guide for Survivors  

This booklet begins with information about the practical logistics immediately following a suicide, including details about a possible autopsy, cleaning of the home if the suicide occurred there, organ donation – and more. The second part of this booklet addresses the emotional aftermath of suicide bereavement, including common reactions to the suicide of a loved one, as well as the process of grieving. 

How to Talk with Children about the Suicide

I address what to say to children in my post, “What to Tell Children of a Loved One’s Suicide?

In addition, the online guide, SOS: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide (described above), has a section on talking with children about the suicide of a loved one.

A rich and informative blog post, “Speaking to Children about Suicide,” also contains good information. Its author is Nancy Rappaport, M.D., a child psychiatrist whose own mother died by suicide when the author was 4 years old. 

Seeking Support from other Suicide Loss Survivors

Suicide Loss Support Groups

This site, sponsored by the American Association of Suicidology, and this site, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, both provide directories of support groups nationwide for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. Some support groups are led by a mental health professional, while others are led by participants themselves.

Suicide Loss Survivor Outreach Program

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention trains people who have survived a suicide loss to reach out to others newly bereaved by suicide. The volunteers can visit and offer peer support. Click here to request a visit from someone in your area.

Books about Suicide Loss

This list of books on coping after the suicide of a loved one is quite comprehensive. It divides books according to specific affected groups, including children, adolescents, men, and clinicians. It also provides a list of books on suicide. (Provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.)

Although a great deal of books helpful to suicide loss survivors are out there, a book that I find particularly good is Touched by Suicide, by Michael Myers and Carla Fine. 

Web Sites with More Resources for Coping and Healing from Suicide Loss

A Question for You

Do you have more resources to share? If so, please email me at or submit a comment below. Thank you.

Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work.*

© Copyright 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All rights Reserved. Written For: Speaking of Suicide. Photo purchased from

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  1. Lorraine says:

    Hi I used to work with suicide Problems and the after math. If only I had these notes to refer to We studied but your book is in plane easy to understand Meaning the way you describe the different situations . I attended many situations of why when and how . And guessing where the deceased had ended their lives Thank you for all this knowledge you have given Lorraine whitehouse. Victoria Australia

  2. Bill says:

    My 43-yr old son recently lost his wife to COPD, he had been taking care of her; therefore, unemployed. Because of his irresponsible financial behavior, she left him only a mobile home that he hasn’t been able to sell. No job, no resources, student loan debt, attempted suicide last year, currently seeing mental health professional. I paid for wife’s funeral expenses, gave him $1200 dollars that he blew in one week; gave him another $500; paid $700 in auto repair; lost his cell phone-I bought another because I live out of state. A couple of days ago, he had a wreck due to blacking out after from mixing alcohol with medication. His car was impounded, another $200. I asked him to use some of the money that I gave him for house appraisal to get his car out. He said he didn’t have any. I challenged him by asking what happened to it. He said,”you don’t want to know”. He made the statement in a text that he felt like he might be better off dead. I’m going there this weekend lost for words and over $7,000. I just really don’t know what else I can do that would restore hope that all is not hopeless. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH!

  3. Anonymous says:

    What about those who tried to self terminate their situation. I tried but failed because I was sloppy. Thank God for friends and E.M.T. I’ve been through a lot but so has alot of people. I now know and believe in God & Jesus where before I believed in nothing or satan. I’ve in 2011 had visions which to this day I still don’t know what they mean.

  4. Jennifer Huffman says:
    SOLOS Survivors Of Loved Ones to Suicide, Inc.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What would you do if you were a parent of a suicidal teen and you messed up the first time she said something…but you won’t mess up again…how do I get her to trust me enough again to talk to me…I really messed up the first time…I told her how she was so lucky etc…and I feel so bad…I feel like I might just lose her for this mistake.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “Anonymous,” you sound so regretful and concerned. It sounds like you had good intentions in the way you reacted to your daughter. Of course you wanted her to not think of suicide. And now you realize your response could have been better. It’s great that you recognized that!

      What I recommend is that you tell her exactly what you wrote here – that you feel you messed up, that you want to listen, that you won’t dismiss or minimize her concerns. I recommend making it clear that you want another chance.

      Hopefully she will accept your invitation for you to make amends. And whether she does or not, I would also recommend taking her to a therapist or other counselor, as well.

      I hope, too, you won’t be too hard on yourself. Just recognizing that you could do better is, in my opinion, doing better.

  6. Bethany says:

    I lost my boyfriend Sept 1, 2006 due to suicide. The day before, we was in an argument. It still hurts. Its a pain I know I will never get over. A few days before he did this, he threatened and of course, I called his bluff, when I should have actually listened to him. But if anything, this has taught me. I will never leave someone’s house fighting again and if someone ever tells me they are considering suicide, I listen deeply to their problems. I show them that death is not the way out, and if needed, I get them help! I never take a suicide gesture lightly anymore. Its a cry for help. The pain of losing Greg is still there, and there are times I do still blame myself, and say “what if?”, but it has also gave me a new perspective. To all those grieving over suicide, I am sorry for you! The pain never goes away, you just learn how to cope.

    • Mary says:

      Bethany my husband and I fought two days before his death and he told me that I made him want to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger. Of course there were a lot of issues we were dealing with and he did not utter those words in his right mind but they stayed with me for many years after. Now I am able to put them in the context of him dealing with his own demons but when I first lost him the memory of those words crippled me. I too shrugged off his statement as a way to make me feel guilty. You are right…we just learn to cope.

  7. debra alexander says:

    I totally agree Touched by Suicide is the best book I’ve read so far..books more closely relevant to me is Sons & Daughters of Suicide. I ordered the Empty Chair for my Daddy’s brothers more relevant to siblings…I’ve read many books searching for answers, support and just know I am not alone on this dark lonely path…I have God but it helps to know (as unfortunate as it is) there are others who know my pain. I pray no other human being would feel the agony I feel. thanks for the article

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Thanks for sharing, Debra. I am sorry for the loss of your father. It is sad that there are so many survivors of suicide but also a gift that they write about their experiences, recommendations, etc. to help others, as you have done here. Thank you.

  8. Colleen says:

    I live in Calgary Alberta Canada and went for counseling with Survivors of Suicide after my husband’s suicide Jan. 8, 2010…..I recommend anyone living with the loss of a loved one thru suicide to go to Survivors of Suicide….Here in Calgary our Mental Health Assoc. tries to hire counselors who have lost someone to suicide…Whether its a spouse, sibling, friend, client etc….Because nobody knows what we’re going thru unless they’ve lived it also….

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      I am so sorry about the loss of your husband to suicide. So devastating. I totally agree with you that people who have been through something similar have special insights and understanding. At the same time, sometimes people who have lived a similar experience have preconceived notions about how the other person feels, reacts, etc. This is why listening, really listening, is so important. It sounds like you found survivors who really listened to you!
      Best wishes,
      Stacey Freedenthal

    • Mary says:

      Colleen I lost my husband January 20, 2010. If I hadn’t found the support group when I did just six weeks after his death I would not be here today. Every time I hear now about someone losing a loved one to suicide I feel sick because I know what they have ahead of them. His loss changed me in many ways, in some ways I am stronger, in some ways just hardened but I survived. I really do believe that those who have been through it are the best people to help others.

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