It can also be understood as a series of tasks, each one of which has to be mastered before proceeding to the next.
Following J. William Worden, we have chosen the following model:
THE FOUR STAGES
Various authors have described grieving as a process that takes place in four distinct stages.
OF THE LOSS
Once the initial shock and disbelief have subsided, the main task must be to let the reality of what has happened sink in.
Prior experience of dying and death is often lacking in the event of suicide. Many bereaved continue to feel as if it were all just a bad dream – even for years afterwards. Some may not even have a picture of the deceased, who consequently seems simply to have vanished; or the suicide comes so out of the blue that it is impossible to take on board.
The question of how life can continue after such a death is thus all the more pressing. An opportunity to actually see the deceased and say goodbye should be arranged wherever possible. And if the deceased has gone missing, some symbolic way of bidding farewell should be found instead. In order to accept a death, we must be able to grasp its reality not just with our mind but also with our senses, even if it remains unfathomable.
If the reality of the loss is to be accepted, it is vital that the shock and pain triggered by it are not hidden, but shown. Many survivors avoid appearing in public, believing that no one can understand them or that their distress will merely be a burden to everyone else. Those outside the deceased’s immediate circle may also keep their distance if only because they don’t know how to reach out to the bereaved. This tendency to withdraw on the part of everyone affected is actually in direct conflict with the need to accept the suicide as real.
For the fact is that other people’s expressions of sympathy and concern “facilitate” the process of leave-taking and mourning. Sharing the reality of the death – in all its brutality – paradoxically helps to make it bearable.
AN EMOTIONAL ROLLER-
The first year of mourning is a time of crisis. It is during this phase that you have to detach yourself from bonds of long standing. Feelings of despair, grief, fear, fury, longing, guilt, and shame are all part of this process.
After a suicide, it is often the feelings of guilt that predominate. The reasons for this are at least in part circumstantial, since your first personal encounter after the suicide was most likely with the police. The police have to ascertain whether there has been foul play, which is why partners and family members have to be questioned as witnesses and possibly even as suspects. But even without this, most suicide survivors ask themselves whether they were not in part to blame. Was there really no way you could have prevented this tragedy? Outsiders, too, will probably be asking “Why?” although their main focus will be on what might have motivated the deceased. In their eyes, therefore, the survivors count among the potential causes. This in turn may leave the question of guilt hanging like a cloud over your dealings with them.
Shame is also part of the experience of being left behind: shame at not having prevented the suicide; shame that such a terrible thing has happened in your family; shame at having to depend on other people’s help; shame at all the tears you are shedding.
Es ist möglich, dass Sie es alleine nicht schaffen. Dann suchen Sie professionelle Hilfe. Eine erste Ansprechperson kann Ihre Hausärztin / Ihr Hausarzt oder die Seelsorge Ihres Wohnortes sein. Reden Sie über das Ereignis, über Ihre Trauer und Ihre Sorgen, wie es weiter gehen kann.
Sorrow is also part of the grieving process, whether it is regret at the separation, longing for the deceased and the life you led together, dejection at being thrown back on yourself and having to soldier on alone, or despondency and despair at not knowing what to do next. You may well find it difficult to weep openly. And the helplessness of those around you will make it tempting to keep your feelings bottled up. Not showing your feelings, however, will almost certainly lead to social isolation and hence to even greater misery.
Anger is also part of the mourning process and is likely to be especially strong after a suicide. You may wonder how can such feelings be justified when leveled against someone who took their own life. Surely such a one should be pitied! But anger – fury even – is also part of it. After all, you have been abandoned. Was there really no other way out? Why was your help rejected? Why were you not consulted?
Anxiety tends to accompany us for a long time after the suicide itself. Such a violent, unnatural death induces feelings of impotence and makes us painfully aware of our own mortality. Anxiety might already have marred the relationship even before the suicide. You might already have felt shut out or encountered aggression and even threats. Or perhaps you were for a long time plagued by worries about the deceased. Thoughts of the future also trigger anxiety. The rupture is great, the loss painful: How can I possibly cope alone? Who will support me?
ADJUSTING TO LIFE WITHOUT THE DECEASED
Mourning is the transition from a life with to a life without.
Withdrawing, or even fleeing, from anyone and anything that might inflict further injury is a perfectly natural reaction to the loss you have suffered. Yet at the same time, you long for the kind of comfort and understanding that only other people can provide. While having time to yourself is important, you also need the solace and nurture of friends and family. The grieving process generally entails long and intensive periods of withdrawal. This is a profound need that those around you might find difficult to cope with.
Once the shock has subsided, the reality of the loss will slowly begin to sink in; yet even now, most people will be loath to address the impact the suicide will have on their own life. Life goes on much as it did before. Keeping busy is an important part of the mourning process. Without this willingness to be distracted, we would not be able to adjust to our new circumstances at all. Besides, it almost certainly makes sense to wait patiently until you have regained sufficient confidence both in yourself and in the world around you to be able to ponder how your future life will look. This could well take two to three years.
Grieving, as a response to bereavement, is also part of the process by which we adjust to a life without the one who is no longer there. The gap left by that person will be felt not just in the everyday life of the present. The past, too, is now a closed chapter, and the deceased chose not to have any place in the future. The knowledge that they departed this life of their own volition makes their absence even harder to bear. Such an extreme form of rejection is incredibly painful. It shatters the survivors’ faith in their own self-worth and makes them doubt whether they can ever really mean something to another person. Very few people ever have to grapple with themselves as profoundly as this – with their feelings and with their own self-worth.
FINDING A NEW PLACE FOR THE DECEASED AND FOCUSING ON YOUR OWN LIFE
Once a certain level of confidence has been restored, you can hazard a glance back at the lost relationship.
Many suicide survivors prefer not to remember how things were before because the memories are simply too painful; others tend to dwell on just a few key scenes, while others still can think of nothing but the past. Yet remembering is important. After all, the history you shared with the deceased amounts to far more than just a violent death. The cause of death often makes it tempting to reinterpret the whole relationship or to doubt everything that preceded it. But the circumstances of the death are only one part of your shared bond; there was a time before.
Understanding what the deceased meant to you personally, both in your everyday life and emotionally, takes time and patience. It is also important to find a new place for that person that does justice to every aspect of who they were. You can broaden the scope of your own memories by talking to other people and together with them sharing your experiences of the deceased. Sharing memories can be very soothing; it is also a good way of bringing people closer. Rest assured that over the years, you will indeed find a permanent place for the person who is no longer there.
Leave-taking is an incremental process that entails slowly detaching yourself from old images and old hopes and dreams. Letting go is an active decision that ushers in change, since what is let go is bound to leave a gap that cries out to be filled. Letting go also entails talking, weeping, raging, recalling, fantasizing – over and over again. And none of this can be forced. Over the years, you will probably keep having to redefine what can remain and what you would prefer to let go.
Of the utmost importance to the healing process is the willingness of survivors and their wider circle to face up to the new reality that has been thrust upon them.
You might at some point feel unable to cope alone. If so, you should seek professional help. The first person to contact might be your family doctor or the local pastor. Talk to them about what happened, about your grief, and about your fears for the future.
Notruf Kinder und Jugendliche
(hotline for children and young People)
0848 35 45 55
Elternnotruf (hotline for parents)
061 261 15 15
Ärztliche Notrufzentrale Notfallpsychiater
(emergency psychiatric Services)
061 325 51 00
Notfall für Erwachsene, Jugendliche
(emergency psychiatric services for children and adults)
061 325 81 81
UPK Basel Akutambulanz
Offene Sprechstunden für Erwachsene
(walk-in psychiatric clinic for adults)
Mon to Fri 8 a.m.–4 p.m.
061 553 56 56
Psychiatrie Baselland, Liestal
Notfall für Erwachsene
(emergency psychiatric services for adults)
061 325 82 00
Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie Basel
(psychiatric clinic for children and young People)
061 553 55 55
Psychiatrie Baselland, Liestal
Notfall für Kinder und Jugendliche(emergency psychiatric services for children and young People)
061 689 90 90
Zentrum Selbsthilfe Basel
(centre for self-help Groups)