Grief after a suicide death

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on December 3, 2012 at 5:35 PM

The entertainment world was recently rocked by the suicide death of actor and comedian Robin Williams - an event which stirred up my own painful memories of my father's suicide. This tragedy will touch the lives of thousands of individuals who have not yet even begun to understand the depth of sorrow it contains.

Grief after a suicide death is  extremely complicated and filled with a mixture of emotions: anger, guilt, betrayal, shame, sorrow, disbelief, and blame. Since this tragedy involved a very public person, who entertained and delighted millions of fans with his humor, the tangled emotions are even more difficult to sort through and process.

The family and friends of Robin Williams  are undoubtedly shocked and confused by this turn of events, wondering how it could have happened, how they did not see it coming,  and what they could have done to stop it. I know from personal experience that those questions are endless and have no answers. No one will ever know exactly what triggered the tragic events of that day and no one will be able to understand why his life had to end in such a destructive manner.

When we are plunged into such unspeakable pain as this, it is normal to become numb at first and feel nothing at all. Our mind protects us from overwhelming emotions that might be too much to bear in the beginning. Then, as we become stronger, gradually the tangled feelings and thoughts of grief begin to surface for our consideration. At this point many people retreat back into a state of numbness, preferring to feel nothing at all over feeling the pain that is trying to get their attention. But this is a dangerous choice, for grief that has been buried will appear later in life, sometimes as physical or mental illness. It is important to face the pain and fear directly and begin the difficult process of working it through.

In my case, it took me many years to work through my guilt and shame over Dad's suicide. Eventually I had to face the fact that I was angry at him and felt betrayed by his choice to leave this world. Life is painful and difficult for all of us and sometimes it seems as if we have an unspoken promise with one another that helps us during our hard times: "I'll keep trying if you will. Together we will get through." But when  someone you love stops trying and the promise is broken, life suddenly no longer makes sense. Hope is dashed and there are no lifelines to cling to for rescue. 

This is a precarious time, when grief can sweep you under and cause you to give up as well. There are some steps you must take if you are struggling with pain this deep:


  • Remember to breathe. Taking deep breaths regularly throughout the day can be helpful to calm anxiety and quiet the mind. This simple practice can make a huge difference.
  • Eat small meals or snacks, even if you don't feel hungry. Your body still needs nourishment.
  • Drink plenty of water and healthy liquids like juice or tea, even if you don't feel thirsty.
  • Sleep whenever possible. Sleep is always difficult for those in grief, but do your best to rest when you can.
  • Get some mild exercise. Go for a walk every day or do some yoga postures and stretches at home.
  • Pray or meditate. If you have a spiritual practice, now is the time you will need to use it. Even if you have no words for a prayer say simply "help me" or "heal us all." The time you spend in quiet solitude will help you in the long run.
  • Write in a journal. This is the perfect place to ventilate all the thoughts and emotions that seem crazy and out of control to you. The journal is a safe place to express everything you feel and it will help you to let these feelings out.
  • Allow time for healing. Remember that grief can take years to totally resolve so don't expect it to go away quickly. Don't judge yourself, but allow your own process of healing to unfold.


Ultimately the task of recovering from grief after a suicide death involves learing to live the questions. Know that you will not find answers to all your questions - even though you are desperately seeking them. This is one of the hardest parts of life that we must accept - there are mysteries that cannot be explained. Learn to live with questions and find peace in not knowing.

To the families and friends who are grieving right now over the tragedy of suicide I send you my prayers and deepest blessings. Know that you are not alone in your pain. And know too that there is way to heal from this loss, even though it seems impossible. Hold on and keep going - I am holding out the lifelines you need for your rescue.

Categories: Grief, Death & Dying, Spirituality

Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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