Grief after a suicide has a great deal in common with grief after any death, regardless of how the person dies, but suicide bereavement is also unique. Suicide is a singular way to die precisely because of the deceased's volition (the idea that the death was a choice, was willful); and while it is valid to debate the nature of the choice involved in a suicidal person's self-destructive actions, it is inarguably clear that every person who dies by suicide takes decisive action himself or herself that negates the innate human will to live. It is, therefore, the deceased's volition in causing that fatal action which accounts for what is unique about the survivor of suicide loss's experience of grief.
Survivors almost universally ask themselves their own personal version of the question -- Why did the person I love take his (or her) own life? -- and although they are certainly seeking a practical explanation for what happened, many are also asking a metaphysical question: How could the "parent who raised me," the "sibling I grew up with," the "spouse I love," the "child I gave birth to" commit a self-directed act of such murderous proportions? It is the need to grasp -- not only cognitively but also viscerally or soulfully -- the volition of this act that sets suicide grief apart.
It is common for survivors of suicide loss to find the deceased's volition so puzzling -- indeed, so impossible -- that (at least at first and in some cases forever) it is literally unimaginable to them that their loved one died by his or her own hand. The process of coming to terms with this reality requires the bereaved to integrate an absolute degree of self-destructive impetus into their view of the deceased's psyche. I would argue that this is the "task of grief" unique to suicide bereavement.
I would further suggest that volition plays a role in magnifying or intensifying all aspects of grief after a suicide:*
• Shock. Survivors often experience shock because their loved one died suddenly and unexpectedly, but it can be doubly shocking to learn that the deceased was the instrument of his or her own death.
• Anger. Survivors might be angry at themselves, at a mental health care practitioner, at another family member, at God, or at any of a hundred things, but if the survivor is angry at the loved one, it is commonly because the deceased is also the "murderer."
• Blame. The same can be said of survivors blaming the loved one: It is often because the deceased is seen as the predominant causal agent in the death.
• Shame. Survivors' shame over a suicide can be caused by the loved one's complicity in the death being seen as proof that both the deceased and the survivors are bad, evil, or irredeemable.
• Guilt. When survivors feel guilty about contributing to or not preventing the suicide, it is often because they believe they could have (or should have) persuaded the deceased to choose life instead of death.
• Abandonment. Survivors feelings of abandonment over a loved one's suicide has a clear connection to volition, for abandonment requires a willful departure.
• Fear. The fear survivors experience is often a direct result of realizing the absolute power a person has to choose suicide, and especially realizing that all people -- including themselves and others whom they love -- have the same power of choice and might act on it.
*Please keep in mind that there is no standard, predictable list of feelings any specific suicide bereaved person will experience and that a particular individual may experience one, several, all, or none of the feelings outlined.© 2013 Unified Community Solutions. All Rights Reserved.