Loss, Grief & Trauma

The experience of loss to suicide

03 Suicide Grief


Each of our experiences of grief is unique and different. Each of us will need different ways to express and cope with our loss. Not all the below will be experienced by everyone. It is important to remember that while grief is a normal and natural response to loss, it can also be a very difficult experience especially when grieving loss to suicide.

Some of the experiences include:

Grief after suicide

When a death is due to suicide, there are a range of complex and
often intense experiences that can be difficult to manage. These could be:

  • feelings of guilt and a sense of letting the person down.
  • feeling responsible that it was not prevented.
  • experiencing the suicide as a reflection of the quality of your relationship with them.
  • a sense of shame and stigma, that other people will think negatively about you and your family.
  • feelings of rejection and abandonment.
  • blaming others.
  • a persistent need to ask 'why' or 'what if' - trying to make sense of and understand why it happened.
  • unresolved feelings or issues due to the suddenness of the death.
  • a sense of relief and the accompanying guilt, if your loved one was experiencing years of pain, illness, chronic mental illness or substance use.
  • anger towards the person who has suicided.

Sometimes people assume that they will feel angry; at the system, at someone who they blame or at the person who died. This can be part of your experience, but it is not always the case. Many people do not feel angry, particularly with the person who died. They have an understanding of the distress and difficulties that the person was experiencing.

It is important to eventually understand that there is a limit to your responsibility. Suicide is complex and complicated with no single cause or contributing factor.


Grief is not the only experience for many people bereaved by suicide. Trauma is usually present as well. This may be for those who found the person but others may also be traumatised by the impact of the death.

The word trauma derives from the Greek word for wound. It is an event of such intensity that it wounds a person’s sense of themselves, their value and worth, their world view and their sense of safety.

Experiencing both grief and trauma is intense and difficult. In grief, we long for the person and want to move towards them to be with them; in trauma, we want to avoid the memory and the images. It can be very beneficial to speak with a trained person to assist in navigating your way through this.

Reactions to Trauma

As with grief, people react to trauma in different ways.

Some of the more common reactions are listed below. We don’t expect that everyone will experience all of these reactions.


  • easily startled by noises
  • restlessness
  • increased irritability
  • withdrawal or detachment from others, loss of interest in social activities
  • avoidance of certain places or situations that are reminders of the experience
  • seeking control over tasks and events
  • easily distracted
  • changes in eating or sleeping


  • flashbacks or re-experiencing what you may have seen while awake, or in dreams
  • pre-occupation with what happened, repetitive thoughts, asking ‘why?’
  • confused or slowed thinking
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • experiencing memory problems


  • increased anxiety, panic attacks, feeling unsafe
  • troubled or distressed when exposed to other disturbing events e.g., in the news
  • worry about others
  • feelings of abandonment, isolation, powerlessness
  • feeling out of control or that life and the world are out of control
  • numbness and/or have mood swings


  • palpitations, trembling or sweating
  • breathing difficulties
  • headaches or muscle aches
  • digestive problems such as nausea or a change in eating patterns
  • sleep problems

These symptoms can be distressing, however there are ways to work through trauma. In many cases, these symptoms decrease in the weeks following the traumatic experience.

care pack 04


Many people find death difficult to talk about. When the death is a result of suicide, it can be even more difficult for others to know what to say or do.

Although this is changing, some people who are bereaved by suicide experience what we call stigma. This could mean that you may be concerned about what others think of you because of your loss to suicide, you may not want to tell others that the death was due to suicide, or you might notice that others seem distant or remain silent about your loss and the person who died. There is a later section which may help others better understand your experience and how to support you.

These experiences can be stressful and add to the sense of isolation you may be experiencing. One of the ways to break down this sense of isolation is to connect with others who have lost someone to suicide. This is where support groups can be extremely beneficial. The support section has information about groups that are available.

Different relationships

Many of the experiences and issues of losing someone to suicide are shared in that others will have similar responses. It’s also good to acknowledge that your relationship to the person who died can affect your experience of grief – whether the person was your parent, partner, sibling, child, friend or work colleague. There are resources and books available on the Postvention Australia website that discuss these perspectives of grief that can be very helpful.

Also, if there was distance in your relationship, your grief may be different to if it was close and harmonious. There are sometimes conflicts between family members due to differences in expressions of grief, or when family or friends blame other family and friends for the death. This may be handled through communication and understanding and supporting each other’s way of dealing with their grief. Family counselling may also be a useful option.



For more suggestions, please visit our Resources Page for a number of helpful readings, guides and websites.

05 6th Australian Rural and Remote Mental Health Symposium

6th Australian Rural & Remote Mental Health Symposium

10 Suicide Postvention Counselling

Suicide Postvention Counselling

12 Police QRC Mental Illness in the Media

Police QRC: Mental Illness in the Media

15 Suicide in the Media

Suicide in the Media

Postvention Australia

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