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Coping with Loss

If you have lost someone to suicide, the feelings can be overwhelming and can seem unmanageable. For survivors of suicide loss, there is no one way to best handle the tragedy of suicide, but there are tools available that can help you cope with your grief.

How to Take Care of Yourself

  • Ask for help: A loved one’s suicide is a challenging, confusing, and painful experience. Don’t be afraid to let your friends and family provide support to you, or to reach out to community resources:
    • DU Health and Counseling Center: (303) 871-2205
    • Colorado Crisis Services: (844) 493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255
    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
    • DU Chaplain Services: (303) 871-4488
    • For life-threatening emergencies, dial 911
  • Find a support group: You don’t have to cope with your loss alone. DU’s Health and Counseling Center offers a support group specifically for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also offers a peer support program where you can speak with a peer suicide loss survivor who knows firsthand how difficult it can be to find your way in the aftermath of a suicide.
  • Do what feels right to you: Don’t feel pressured to talk right away. If you choose to discuss your loss, speaking can give your friends and family the opportunity to support you in an appropriate way.
  • Write: You may find it helpful to write your feelings or to write a letter to your lost loved one. This can be a safe place for you to express some of the things you were not able to say before the death.

Practical Information for Immediately After a Loss

The immediate aftermath of a loved one’s suicide is a challenging, confusing, and painful time. The information that follows will help get you through the first few days with a better understanding of the things you’re likely to face.

What kinds of emotions am I likely to feel in the days and weeks after a suicide loss?Everyone experiences a suicide loss in their own way, so there is no list of emotions that will exactly fit your experience. However, many people who have lived through the suicide of a loved one experience some combination of the following feelings and grief responses:

  • Shock
  • Denial and disbelief
  • Grief
  • Rejection and abandonment
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Blame and self-recrimination
  • Confusion
  • Relief
  • Betrayal
  • Shame and Embarrassment
  • Isolation
  • Depression and Sadness
  • Suicidal Feelings
  • Yearning for the person

What can I expect if I witnessed the suicide or if I found the body? If you witnessed the suicide of your loved one or found the body, you are likely to experience trauma symptoms in addition to grief over the loss of your loved one. Images of your loved one at the time of death may be burned into your memory, making it difficult to concentrate on other things. You may experience anxiety and confusion as well as physical symptoms such as chest pain, stomach or digestive problems, breathing problems, or difficulty sleeping. It is also important to know that, even when you have not been an eyewitness to the death, you may develop trauma symptoms.

These emotional and physical reactions are normal responses to trauma and, even though it may not feel like it now, they will likely diminish in the weeks and months to come. If they do not, it is best to seek the help of a mental health professional who has experience working with people who have had traumatic experiences or losses.

What can I do to take care of myself so I can get through this? It is imperative that you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. No matter how you choose to deal with your grief, you should not have to cope with your loss alone; be open to letting people help you live through this experience.

It may seem as if life will never feel normal again, as if you will not survive this, but you will. Be kind and patient with yourself, and find support by going to a support group and/or by seeing a therapist or counselor. Remember that anticipating a holiday, birthday, or other meaningful date after a loss can be harder than the experience of the day itself.

Consider learning about suicide and suicide loss in order to help you frame the loss of your loved one as well as the grief experience. Take optimal care of yourself and your family members.

What do I tell people about what happened? You may be hesitant to share with others that your loved one took their own life. While we cannot determine what is right for you, please note that in the long run, most survivors are glad that they decided to be honest about the facts of the death. One of the most important reasons to be honest about the way your loved one died is that it will give your friends and family the opportunity to support you in an appropriate way.

Additional Resources