Bio-One of Miami Beach decontamination and biohazard cleaning services

Coping With a Loved One’s Suicide

There is no right answer for how you should be feeling following the suicide of someone close to you. 

Grief is complex, and it’s rare that any two people will experience it in the same way. 

Just know that whatever you’re feeling is okay. 

Some of the most common emotions people report feeling when coping with a loved one’s suicide include:

Shock

Especially in the early aftermath, it’s common for people to feel numb, disconnected, and distracted. This shock may last for a long time. You may feel a sense of detachment from reality until you are better able to process what happened. 

Severe Depression

Depression following a traumatic loss can be almost identical to the symptoms of clinical depression. There may be a lack of energy and motivation, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and overwhelming sadness. 

This may ease with time, but in some cases it can mark the onset of an ongoing depressive disorder.

Anger

Our brains often try to find someone to blame to protect us from the impact of a loss. 

You may be angry at yourself or another loved one for not noticing or acting sooner, or at whatever systems you believe failed the victim. 

You may even feel angry at the deceased person for abandoning you or for upending your life with their decision.

Relief 

If the suicide took place after a long and difficult struggle with mental or chronic physical illness, you may feel a sense of relief that it’s over—particularly if their illness put frequent strain on their relationships. 

This is more common than you think, and a lot of people experience this, but you may begin to feel like you’re a uniquely bad person for feeling this way. 

This can easily cycle into guilt. 

You may begin to convince yourself that you secretly wanted the victim to be gone or feel selfish for your relief over not having to care for them or manage their difficult emotions anymore. 

Human relationships are complicated, as is grief, so try to remember that you are not the first person to ever feel this way. Relief does not mean that you’re happy they’re gone, just that you wish something could have been different while they were still around. 

Guilt

Loss can often feel senseless, and so you may fall into a cycle of “if only” to find reason for what happened. Guilt can also result from any other emotion you may find yourself feeling... 

  • Guilt about being detached when people are relying on you. 
  • Guilt over feeling angry. 
  • Guilt about any moments of happiness you manage to have in the midst of your grief.

Guilt is complex and is perhaps the most common feeling for close loved ones of a suicide victim to experience. 

You may experience one of these feelings overwhelmingly throughout your grieving process, or perhaps all of them in some capacity at different times. You may also be feeling something entirely different from any of these. 

However your grief is manifesting, there is no wrong way to feel at a time like this. More importantly, you are likely not the only one feeling this way. 

People tend to mask when they are feeling something they believe to be inappropriate for the situation, but if you are feeling confusion, guilt, and anger at this tragedy, it’s likely another loved one is struggling with the same feelings. 

It may be helpful to talk to others who are experiencing this loss with you. Some may need more space to process their feelings on their own, but others can benefit greatly from sharing their feelings with each other and holding space for whatever emotions are brought to the table. 

Finding solidarity in the way that you are grieving can make the process feel a lot less lonely. 

Confronting the Why

Survivors often end up torturing themselves trying to understand why their loved one chose to end their life. It’s very easy to get caught up in replaying the last interactions you had with a person before their suicide to dig out clues that might help make sense of it. 

The truth of the matter is that suicide is complicated with no singular explanation for why it happens. 

However, a framing that may help it to settle a little better in your mind is this: At the end of all things, your loved one died of an illness. 

Most, if not all, victims of suicide were suffering from an acute mental illness. Mental illness causes the chemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain to malfunction in ways they are unable to control. 

It was their illness that caused them to feel the compulsion to end their life. 

A huge factor of mental illnesses like Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and others are that they fundamentally distort a person’s perception. 

In their book After Suicide Loss: Coping With Your Grief, Psychologists Bob Baugher and Jack Jordan explain: 

“Medical research is also demonstrating that major psychiatric disorders involve changes in the functioning of the brain that can severely alter the thinking, mood, and behavior of someone suffering from the disorder… 

The illness produces biological changes in the individual that create emotional and physical pain (depression, inability to take pleasure in things, hopelessness, etc.) which contribute to almost all suicides.” 

Often people who suffer with suicidal ideation don’t actually want to die, they simply want the anguish or emptiness that their brain is inflicting on them to stop, and for some, death feels like the only way out. 

It may feel like the only thing they can control in a situation that feels fully out of their control. 

Mental illness is treatable just as any mental illness is treatable—but some people still succumb to their cancer even with treatment, while others recover and go on to live a full life. 

Your loved one did not choose to become ill, and they would not have chosen to end their life had their illness not been pushing them to do so.

You do not need to wonder why their friends and family weren’t enough to keep them around, or why they would want to give up on whatever promising future they may have had. Illness does not have a sense of any of those things—and in the end, their illness is what ended their life. 

Understanding this will not make the loss hurt any less, but it may help to reconcile some of the confusion so you can grieve a little more peacefully. 

How to Talk About What Happened

An unfortunate inevitability following a suicide is that you will probably have to tell a lot of people the news about what happened. 

By this point you’ve likely already gone through the difficult process of informing immediate family members and friends. 

However, it may also fall on you to inform the victim’s employer, teachers, or extended family who may have been out of the direct loop about why your loved one is no longer around. These can be emails if you are not feeling up to calling, and the messages can be direct and brief. 

What may be more difficult to handle are conversations with members of your extended community. 

In the aftermath of any premature death, people outside of the deceased person’s direct social circle will always want to know what happened. Obituaries often leave out the cause of death, so there will be a lot of questions. 

Approach these discussions however you need to. 

Many survivors find it helpful to just be straightforward with anyone who asks, but you are not obligated to be. Do not feel as though you are being difficult or unpleasant if you need to tell someone you don’t want to discuss it. 

If they were not close to the victim, then all they truly need to know is that the person died. 

People will be curious, but they are not owed your limited emotional energy. 

Become comfortable with saying no. 

Unfortunately, in spite of the best efforts of many, suicide happens. This leaves surviving loved ones to navigate a confusing and difficult aftermath. 

If you are coming to this resource through the Bio-One website, it is likely you are in the very recent aftermath of a loved one’s death and are unsure of what should happen next. While loss like this is never easy, there are many professionals who have years of experience helping people in similar situations that you can rely on during this devastating time. 

Practical Information

Many resources that help with the aftermath of a suicide launch right into how to cope with grief, but if you are still in the phase of trying to manage the logistics, you may need more direct information. 

This section will deal directly with things pertaining to your loved one’s remains, belongings, and the physical scene of their suicide. If these details have already been taken care of or if the specifics are too difficult for you to think about right now, please skip to the next section. 

What Will Happen Next

  • Transport to a Medical Facility

Once the police, coroner, and/or medical examiner have released the scene, your loved one’s remains will be removed from the location of the incident and transported to a medical facility. 

  • Confirm the Identity of the Person

If you are the immediate next of kin but were not the person who discovered and identified the body at the scene, you may be asked to identify the body in person or through photographs. If the prospect is too traumatic for you, you can decline and ask someone else to do the identification. 

  • Funeral Home Arrangements

If the cause of death is clear, the coroner’s office or medical examiner’s office will usually release the victim’s body to the family within 1 to 3 days, at which point arrangements can be made for the chosen funeral home to transport the body and make preparations for their funeral. 

  • Potential Scene Cleanup

After the investigation is concluded, it is up to the property owner or the victim’s friends and family to take care of any cleanup that may need to happen at the scene. 

Do not try to clean up the scene yourself. Any blood or fluids left behind after a death are a biohazard, and attempting to do the cleanup yourself can be dangerous and deeply traumatic. 

Homeowners insurance will usually cover cleanup costs, which can relieve one potential burden. Bio-One will take care of the insurance claim process for you in addition to handling the cleaning. We have all the equipment and expertise needed for the job, and we will treat the scene, the situation, and any belongings with respect and care. 

What is involved in a suicide scene clean up? 

At Bio-One we recognize that it can be an important part of the grieving process for some people to know exactly what is involved in cleaning up the scene. 

Any unattended death (as opposed to an attended death that happens in a medical facility or under hospice care) generally requires some level of cleanup. The intensity of the cleaning required depends on how the person died and how soon after death their body was discovered. 

The nature of death and decomposition makes it so that cleaning up after a suicide is rarely an easy job. Blood and body fluids can quickly seep into furniture, carpet, and floorboards, causing massive damage as they putrefy. 

It’s also important to know that the bio-matter involved in death cleanup can be dangerous for anyone without personal protective equipment. These situations require specialized deep cleaning and disinfection to remove all traces of fluids, soiled fabrics, bloodborne pathogens, and odors to make the area safe for habitation again. 

At the same time, we are acutely aware that this cleanup is coming in the wake of incredible personal tragedy. While it’s important that the job be thorough, it must also be handled with as much care as possible toward the scene and any of the victim’s affected belongings. It is our goal to complete the job without inflicting further trauma on grieving loved ones. 

Inspection

The cleaning itself begins with a thorough inspection of the scene to assess what supplies will be needed, how much bio-hazardous material will need to be removed, and the extent of any damage that could be caused by decomposition. 

Bio-matter Disinfection and Disposal

The next step is to clean and dispose of any visible blood, body fluids, and compromised porous items. We carefully follow OSHA guidelines to contain, disinfect, and dispose of all bio-matter properly in accordance with state laws to ensure the safety of everyone involved. 

This stage can sometimes involve removing sections of soiled carpeting, floorboards, baseboards, and other household items to ensure that no hazardous material is left behind. 

Personal Belongings

We will take care at this time to preserve any personal items that can be safely cleaned. Porous materials like clothing and stuffed animals can’t be truly disinfected, but upon request we will clean them to the best of our ability and return them to the family. 

Restoration Prep

Once everything has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, we take care to get everything to a point where we can hand it off to contractors for restoration work. We will handle filing the claims with your insurance company to make sure the remediation process is underway. 

We are there with our clients through every step of the process to make sure they are not left in the dark about anything that is happening to their loved one’s property or belongings. 

While this may not help to ease the pain of losing a loved one, hopefully knowing you can leave the cleanup in the hands of seasoned professionals will ease some of the stress burden during this difficult time. 

What’s next? 

One of the most difficult moments in the aftermath of a suicide is having to inform the rest of the victim’s inner circle of the news. As painful as it was to discover the scene or to be told the news by someone else, if it is your responsibility to let others know, it can feel like experiencing the horror of those first moments over and over again. 

Be sure to delegate. It’s an unpleasant task but a necessary one, and you will get through it more quickly if you have your immediate support system help you with delivering the news. 

You can be direct, and if it’s too difficult for you to handle bearing the emotional fallout of each call, it can be a short one. The only people who need to be told directly are immediate family and the person’s closest friends. 

Everyone else can be informed with a social media post. This will help mitigate some of the emotional drain of telling loved ones about the news. This post can be succinct. Whatever you have the capacity to say is fine for now, as long as you get the news out to the people who need to know about it. 

You are then perfectly justified in muting all notifications on the post. People will have condolences and questions, but those can wait. Focus on what’s immediately important and return later when you have more emotional capacity. 

How to Tell Children

There may be young children in the immediate or extended family who will need to be told. If this falls to your responsibility, wait until you have taken care of your own emotional needs enough to be at a point where you can be calm enough to tell them in an appropriate way.

Children are capable of understanding a lot more than we give them credit for, death included, so you can be honest with them about what happened. Be sure to explain it in a way that is appropriate to their age, avoiding focus on the act itself, and prepare to answer any questions they have in a similar manner. 

Assure them that they are not at fault in any way for the loved one’s suicide, especially if the victim was a parent or caretaker, and then encourage them to express how they are feeling with you. 

Let them know that it is okay if they need to cry or be angry, and that you are there for them in whatever they need.

Memorial & Burial

With the logistics of the direct aftermath out of the way, the last truly important thing to do is make sure there is some sort of memorial for the victim. Even if they would not want a full funeral, it’s extremely important for anyone experiencing grief to have the opportunity to honor and say goodbye to their loved one. 

Most funeral homes will be able to help coordinate a memorial service appropriate for the culture and wishes of the deceased, though some families prefer to do the preparation and memorial themselves. 

Whatever you choose to do, especially if you are spearheading the planning, remember to pace yourself and ask for help if needed. This is not the time to shoulder everything on your own. 

The time leading up to the memorial and burial can be hectic, so it’s difficult to allow yourself time to process. As soon as your loved one is laid to rest, you will need to give yourself the time and space to grieve in whatever way you need to. 

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you are not alone. 

The number of people who experience suicidal ideation in the U.S. every year numbers in the millions. You are not selfish or a bad person for feeling this way. 

Be assured that most people who experience moments of intense suicidal feelings are able to recover and live fulfilling lives. 

Hold that in mind and keep reading. Let’s take a moment to take stock of your situation:

First, Are you safe?

If you have already tried to self-harm today or are feeling intense suicidal urges, call 911 immediately or have a friend or family member get you to mental health urgent care or an emergency room. 

If you have not yet tried to harm yourself but are feeling strong suicidal thoughts or urges to self-harm, please contact a crisis counselor right away:

Fully recovering from your suicidal feelings will require long-term help, but your focus right now should be staying safe through your current suicidal episode. 

If you have not yet reached crisis point, here are the steps you should follow to stay safe while you weather the current storm: 

Tell somebody.

If you are experiencing persistent suicidal ideation of any sort, reach out to someone you trust as soon as possible and tell them how you are feeling. Even if you are not likely to hurt yourself right now, having somebody who knows what you are struggling with will make it easier to get help. 

Know that talking may be difficult. 

You may not feel like there’s much the other person can do, or you may not want to worry them. Try to remember that your perception of your own worth is distorted when you are suicidal. 

You are not a burden. You are worthy of help. The first and most important step to keeping yourself safe is to reach out to a friend, family member, or medical professional who can provide you with that help. 

Remove access to means of self-harm.

Once you have somebody you trust, get their help to remove anything dangerous from your presence. Your trusted person can hold onto any knives, firearms, pills, chemicals, or anything else you could use to harm yourself until you feel safe again. 

This is easiest if you have a cabinet or safe where you can lock everything up and turn over the key to your loved one. But any means of keeping these items out of your hands is better than nothing. 

Distract yourself.

Giving yourself a sensory distraction of some sort can help to calm the immediate impulse to self harm. Listen to music, take a walk, lay on the floor (yes, that can be enough), or pet an  animal.

If the urge is acute, sensations that are intense but not harmful such as placing ice cubes on your skin can help to keep it at bay. If you just need to divert your attention until the worst of the feelings pass, something mundane and harmless like a movie, game, or craft might help keep your mind occupied until you feel safer. 

Create a safety plan.

If you are currently safe but feel your situation may escalate toward self-harm, work on creating a plan in case you enter crisis mode and can’t think clearly. 

Save.org has provided this excellent safety plan template where you can write down the steps to follow and people to contact if you start going into crisis. Share this plan with your loved ones, doctors, trusted religious leaders, or anyone else you think might be able to recognize when you are in distress and can take action.

Long-Term Safety

Once the episode has passed and you are in an okay place, you should try to secure some help toward your long-term recovery. It is time to make an appointment with a doctor or mental health professional so they can help you work toward feeling better. 

If you are severely depressed, you may be unable to motivate yourself to go through all the necessary steps of scheduling and attending an appointment. It is okay to ask for help with this. You are not a burden. Don’t hesitate to lean on someone in your life to set up your appointment for you, and even to help you get there if necessary. 

Available Support Resources

If financial hardship or other barriers to your seeking mental health treatment are already one of the contributing factors to your suicidal thoughts, do not let these instructions discourage you. 

No matter your situation, there are resources for you on both national and local levels. Here are some of the options that may be available to you: 

Community Mental Health Centers

Most states have some level of community mental health services. These can usually be found through the Department of Human Services on your state’s website. Private non-profits can also offer free or sliding scale mental health treatment. A good place to start is your local YMCA or similar community center. 

Churches or Spiritual Communities

Many churches provide support resources for their congregations. Your church leaders may offer free individual counseling for those who need it. Some congregations may be willing to provide financial assistance to members who need help seeking treatment. 

It is also very common for religious communities to sponsor support groups or group therapy. These are often open to the general public, so you do not need to be a member of the congregation or be religious to attend. 

Online Resources and Communities

There are widely available resources online for people experiencing feelings like yours. Free crisis chat lines are obviously a good place to turn if you are in active distress. 

For the process of recovery, many online therapy platforms offer reduced rates for those who are struggling financially. Online support groups can also provide a lot of connection and stability in times of need. 

University Resources

If you are a student, your university almost certainly has a resource center where students can receive mental health assistance. Whether they can provide you counseling on site or help you get in touch with affordable outside treatment, your school can be an incredibly helpful resource. 

Training Clinics

There are training clinics for every sort of medical practice, from family medicine to mental health, and they often operate at much more affordable rates than other clinics. 

The training physicians there are in the final stages of earning their degrees and are overseen by more experienced attending physicians, so the standard of care provided will be exactly the same as anywhere else.

Negotiable Pricing

Most people don’t realize how often mental health clinics are willing to work with people who are financially insecure so they can still have access to the treatment they need. Especially if you have been struggling with thoughts of suicide, don’t hesitate to ask a nearby clinic if they can help you work something out. 

Steps Toward Recovery

Once your medical needs are taken care of and you are feeling a little more stable, you can begin to take other small steps to help in your recovery. Small things like reestablishing interest in your hobbies and improving your self-care habits can begin to make a huge difference in how you feel on a daily basis. 

Larger steps involve things like finding a broader community of support among others with experiences similar to yours. These can help you progress in your recovery without shame—and provide plenty of support to fall back on in case things ever get difficult again. 

Things may seem dire and hopeless right now, but they can and will get better. It is always okay to ask for help and to seek out a new support system if yours has failed you. 

Once again, if you are in crisis, don’t hesitate to contact any of these resources:

No matter what you’re feeling right now, you will get through this with time and help. Life will begin to feel kinder and a lot more manageable.

Reach out for help. Stay safe. 

The first step to suicide intervention is recognizing warning signs. 

Once the signs have been recognized, it’s equally important that something is done about it. We’re here to help you understand what you can do, what will help, and what to avoid. 

People who are struggling may not be very forthcoming about feeling suicidal. However, there may still be signs that might help loved ones know when to approach them with support or intervention. 

Major warning signs someone may attempt suicide include:

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Withdrawing from life and social responsibilities 
  • Increased drug or alcohol use
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Agitated, anxious, or restless behavior
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Talking about wanting to die or self-harm
  • Increased fascination with death or suicide, especially with specific means of suicide

These indicators are serious and require intervention, but may not be an immediate emergency. However, if the person is directly threatening suicide, posting on social media about death or suicide, or researching or seeking access to methods of suicide, call 911 immediately. *


* Threats of suicide should always be taken seriously, but if they are coming from an abusive partner—especially if you are trying to leave—take measures to secure your own safety first. A suicidal abuser may also try to harm their partner before taking their own life. Get to safety and contact emergency services. 

Signs can be subtle, or even misleading, so don’t blame yourself if some things slip your notice and things come to a crisis point. Do your best to invest in your close relationships so you can more easily notice when something is off. This is especially important if your loved one is experiencing mental illness. 

No matter the circumstances, understand that missing signs does not mean you have failed them.  

It is sometimes the case that a person who has been depressed or in crisis for a long time will suddenly become uncharacteristically calm or upbeat if they have decided to attempt suicide. This can happen because they feel they have found a simple resolution to their problems and that an end to their suffering is in sight. 

This is why it is so important for loved ones to be aware of the person’s feelings and behavior patterns so they might recognize when a sudden positive change in mood may be cause for concern. 

How to Intervene and Provide Support

If you have noticed warning signs in your loved one but they have not spoken to you directly about feeling suicidal, the next step is to speak to them. Starting a dialogue can feel awkward or invasive, but your willingness to talk may give the person permission to speak where they previously felt they couldn’t. 

1. Begin by Asking

Some questions to ask to start a conversation may include:

  • “Do you ever feel so bad that you think about suicide?”
  • “Do you have a plan to kill yourself or take your life?”
  • “Have you thought about when you would do it (today, tomorrow, next week)?”
  • “Have you thought about what method you would use?”

These questions can help you assess how serious the danger is and respond accordingly.

2. Keep Calm and Trust Yourself

The knowledge that a loved one may be at risk of suicide can be overwhelming. Whether they have directly confided in you about their struggles, or you have noticed concerning behavior from them, it can be difficult to know what to do next. 

The first thing to know is that your intervention is already a big step toward keeping your loved one safe. Your response may not be perfect, but your willingness to act on their behalf is already going a long way toward bringing them the support they need during this time. 

3. Press Pause on Tough Love

There are a few things to avoid when intervening with someone who is feeling suicidal. 

  • Minimizing - Even if you believe they are overreacting to their situation, never try to minimize their problems. Mental illness does not respond to assurance that it “isn’t that bad” or insistence that suicide would be a selfish decision. 
  • Shame - Regardless of your own opinions about the situation, your loved one needs to hear that you are not disappointed in them, that life can get better, and that you are willing to do whatever is needed to help them. Trying to shame a suicidal person into changing their mind will only make things worse. 

4. Be Extra Proactive

Once you have talked to your loved one about their suicidal thoughts, it is important not only to take action, but to follow through no matter what. Even a person who is willing to seek help may not have the motivation or ability to do so on their own, so your own motivated support is crucial. 

5. Seek Professional Help

If the threat is not immediate, you can start by helping your loved one find a doctor or mental health professional to get them on a path to recovery. You may need to go so far as to make the first phone call, or even to take them to their appointment. 

People suffering from severe depression have a difficult time following through on these things, so it may be up to you to make sure the initial steps toward seeking help are executed.


6. Don’t Try to Do it Alone

If your loved one has told you about their plans to take their life:

Don’t keep secrets. Even if it was told to you in confidence, and even if they are upset with you for telling, their safety is far more important. 

Reach out for help. If you are not in a direct position to help and monitor your loved one, contact someone who is. 

If they are a minor, contact parents and school counselors, as well as any other trusted adults in their life. 

If they are an adult, contact partners, roommates, close family members, or any others who may be in a position to help you keep track of the person and find them help. 

Remove access to dangerous items. If you are directly responsible for the person, you can help ensure their safety while you work on getting them help by staying aware of their location and restricting access to any means of self-harm (pills, weapons, access to heights or busy roads, etc.).

Though suicidal ideation and planning may be ongoing and persistent, the crisis period during which someone is likely to actively attempt suicide is usually short. Until it passes, this is the most important time to provide support and reduce access to lethal means. 

7. Recognize When It’s an Emergency

Finally, if at any point you suspect the situation has escalated to become an emergency, don’t hesitate to call 911. You can also call the 988 Crisis & Suicide Prevention Lifeline for guidance on what to do in your specific situation. 

Suicide can be prevented. The more quickly a person’s loved ones notice and take action toward helping them, the more likely they will be able to get the help they need. However, please remember, it is not your fault if your loved one dies by suicide.  No matter the outcome, your efforts are important, and your support could save a life.