By: Centerstone

Emotional responses to grief

When a parent loses a child to suicide, the repercussions can be traumatic and overwhelming. In periods of grieving, there are some anticipated emotional responses to the loss – shock, disbelief, sadness, or confusion, among others. And while grief looks different for everyone, some atypical behaviors can be a cause for concern. Things like suicidal ideations from the parent, or talking about wanting to be with their child again, can be an indication that professional help may be needed.

Processing feelings of guilt

“Sometimes, people blame themselves to rationalize the situation,” says Lynda Killoran, Therapist at Centerstone, “blame is the illusion that you had control over the situation, to begin with.” When death by suicide impacts a family, it is similar to a storm in that it can damage one family’s home and not another, and no one knows exactly what causes it or how the death could’ve been prevented. The sooner that it can be understood that the death was out of your control, the sooner those feelings of guilt and anger can subside.

Resources for processing grief

Individual therapy can help especially if your grief is prolonged, or if your situation is particularly traumatic. For example, if you were the first person to discover that your child had passed, working through that trauma may be something that is best addressed in a one-on-one setting with a professional. In a one-on-one session, your therapist or counselor can help you come to terms with your loss and can provide coping skills to help you manage your grief.

Grief groups can also be a helpful resource for some people. One of the benefits of grief groups is the ability to interact with other people who have faced similar situations and are in various stages of their recovery. Grief groups can be a safe space for people to express themselves and talk about things that they may feel uncomfortable discussing with those who are not grieving. “You also learn coping skills, too,” adds Killoran, “therapists can talk all they want, but sometimes interacting with other people that have been through it is the best way to process the grief.” And since grief can be isolating for some people, groups can also help you feel less alone as you navigate the grieving process.

There are also non-clinical practices that can be helpful for parents grieving the loss of their child.

  • Focus on positive memories as best you can.
  • Reach out to friends and family for support – it’s okay to tell people exactly what you need. But if you’re not sure what you need, that’s okay too. Even calling a loved one to say that you need a hug or want to get out of the house can be helpful.
  • Keeping a memento with you – a locket with their photo, their favorite article of clothing or jewelry, or a stuffed animal or blanket can help bring feelings of comfort.
  • Some people have found it helpful to engage in activities like art or writing. Using our creative side can help us process the feelings a little differently.

What if it feels like therapy isn’t helping?

What is most important is finding what works for you. It’s important that you feel comfortable with your therapist, so, if there is something you would like your therapist to change or do differently to better meet your needs, it’s okay to let them know. But, if that doesn’t help, it’s also okay to find someone new. “One hundred percent of the time, your therapist just wants you to get the help you need,” Killoran adds.

Give yourself time, there isn’t going to be a quick fix. Grief is a process that everyone goes through differently.

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