Responses to Losing a Loved One

Last week I came across two highly artistic and deeply moving responses to suicide loss. One is a brand new podcast - Nothing to Be Ashamed Of - by a cousin-loss survivor, and one is a music video - YungV-10 Toes Down - by a sibling-loss survivor.

These young people, both living and lost, suffered losses in their families and among good friends.

Here's my question ~~~

Where's the data on how the majority of people cope with suicide loss? Are some people more at risk than others? Why do some people react in life-affirming ways and others go into self-destructive spirals? Why PRECISELY is suicide "catchy"? Is it preexisting? Like the predisposition to get cancer or autoimmune disease?

We need answers from actual humans, and not just psychological autopsies. I mean, pathology is great - but we also need to ask the same questions that lead to prevention practices in cancer response. Do you have a dog? A spouse? Do yoga? Smoke? Drink alcohol? How much?...

There are lots of  "how to deal" suggestions, but where did these come from?  Are these evidence based suggestions? Or are they carryovers from other types of loss? I ask because the Kubler-Ross grief teaching was specific to dying people, not loss survivors, and the theory leaves out yearning. In my own grief journeys YEARNING has been the longest lasting effect of losing my loved ones - especially my daughter.

Mental Health America says that "A loss due to suicide can be among the most difficult losses to bear. They may leave the survivors with a tremendous burden of guilt, anger and shame. Survivors may even feel responsible for the death. Seeking counseling during the first weeks after the suicide is particularly beneficial and advisable." As such, it seems like clergy and funeral directors would be well within their rights to hand out info on suicide to every family of loss, and also asking that it be printed on the funeral program.

There are also practical considerations for immediate family, such as autopsy, media attention, how to tell children, and stigma/shame.

Added to the shame of the initial suicide, subsequent attempts by loved ones - which are common - can compound a person's and a family's stigma/shame. Why do these subsequent attempts occur? Mal-adaptive family coping mechanisms? Does suicide loss cause an actual mental illness? An autoimmune response? What?!

I especially appreciate Mayo Clinic's advice on how to practice healthy coping strategies.

Harvard Women's Health Watch says asks a good question: "People coping with this kind of loss often need more support than others, but may get less. Why?" They note stigma, shame, repetitive thoughts, guilt, and maybe mixed emotions involving anger or relief.

Speaking of Suicide is a truly great "site for suicidal individuals and their loved ones, survivors, mental health professionals, & the merely curious."

Even with these great resources, I don't get a feeling of why some people suffer more than others, why some attempt and die after suffering a suicide loss, and why some don't.

I find it frustrating that loss survivors are at higher risk of attempt and death, but we don't know precisely why.  We need more research on postvention survival - and by postvention I mean ALL of us; loss survivors, attempt survivors, and people who "work in the field" of suicide prevention.