The death of a friend by suicide can be a huge shock and a very upsetting experience. The traumatic nature of the death, often coupled with a lack of information to explain why your friend ended their own life, can make grieving complicated and confusing.

Why am I feeling so many different emotions?

When Lawrence died, it didn’t feel real at all - it just felt like it was not true, I wanted it to not be true.

Theo

There is no right way to grieve or respond when a friend has died by suicide. Death by suicide is impactful as it goes against our natural instinct to live and thrive. The suddenness and nature of the death can be particularly distressing and you may feel a strong sense of shock and disbelief and find it hard to make sense of what has happened.

What if I feel guilty, or angry?

When a friend dies by suicide, it’s natural to have lots of questions. Why did they end their own life? Could I have prevented it? Why didn’t I know they were so unhappy? It’s important to recognise that you are not responsible for what has happened to your friend. People show different sides of themselves at different times and it may have been that although your friend struggled they chose not to show this to others, or the extent to which they were struggling.

Anger when someone dies by suicide is normal. You may feel angry with your friend for ending their own life and angry with yourself and others for not being aware that your friend was distressed. The reasons someone has for ending their own life are complicated and it may be that no one will ever know why they made this choice. It can be difficult not to have an answer and to accept that you may never know but it is important to acknowledge these feelings and, if you can, talk about them with someone you can trust. Just by accepting your feelings, over time they can become less painful.

Try to do other things

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by your feelings when a friend has died by suicide. You might find it helpful to express your feelings by keeping a journal or doing something creative.  It is also important to try to take time to do other things that make you feel good to help you ‘step away’ from your grief for a while.

Remembering your friend who has died

We don’t just forget it, we deal with it, but we keep the memories alive. Like we visit places where Lawrence liked to be. We’ve done so many different things to try and help keep his memory alive.

At first you may feel that you will never be able to have happy memories of your friend, particularly if thoughts about them are associated with events that are confusing and upsetting. It may help you to focus on different and positive parts of the life of the person, rather than the way in which they died, perhaps by looking at photographs, sharing stories about them or creating a memory book. Some young people we have supported find it helpful to save text messages or photos of their friend that they have on their phone.  

You might find it helpful to get together with friends or schoolmates to create some way of remembering the friend who has died, such as having a special assembly, creating a piece of group art, fundraising for charity in their name or simply doing something you know your friend enjoyed.

We made some artwork with felt using colours that reminded us of our special person. That helped me bring back memories without crying, it helped me think about all the bright colours I associated with him.

It is important to consider your friend’s family and give them time and space for their grief when you are thinking of doing something in your friend’s memory. Are the family ready for a memorial to be made? It can be helpful and thoughtful to ask what sort of memorial or event the family would like before going ahead with something.

Social media

Social media can be a supportive place to share memories of your friend and how you’re feeling, and it might be possible to set up an online tribute. However it’s important to use social media carefully as some people may speculate on why the person chose to end their own life or to spread rumours about the person, which can be upsetting. If you see something on social media that upsets you, it can help to talk about it with someone you trust. You might prefer to switch off from social media for a while if you’re finding it unhelpful or upsetting.

Try not to compare your grief and relationship with your friend with others

Your friend will have been friends with other people who also have memories of them and who may also be grieving. Try not to compare your relationship with your friend with theirs or your response to what has happened; your feelings about your friend are yours and theirs are theirs. Both are legitimate and no two people grieve in the same way.

Feeling left out

It may be that you are not part of some of the things around your friend’s death such as the inquest, their funeral or an event like a memorial service because their family might want to keep this private. This can feel hurtful, particularly if you had a very close relationship with the person, for instance at school or college. This does not mean your feelings don’t matter but just that the family are arranging things in a way that helps them cope with their grief. Sending a card or letter to the family of the person who had died can be a thoughtful thing to do. It may be that later on they would find comfort in speaking to their child’s friends and finding out more about the kind, funny or interesting things they did outside the home. 

Looking after yourself

Looking after your physical wellbeing, even in small ways, can help to reduce feelings of exhaustion, isolation and helplessness. Although it may be difficult, it can help to keep to healthy routines, such as regular mealtimes and bedtimes, and to get outside for fresh air and eat a balanced diet.

Some people may try to manage how they feel through alcohol or recreational drugs. Although you might feel this may distract you or block out emotional pain for a while, they can become a problem in the long term and can obviously have a detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing. Your GP can help if you are worried about your use of alcohol or drugs or if you have panic attacks or anxiety.

Getting support

If you are struggling with your feelings, try to speak to someone who you trust. Young people we have supported at Child Bereavement UK tell us it can also be very helpful to talk to a professional outside your friendship or family group.

The group helped me feel like I wasn’t alone, I felt like I could talk to people without people laughing at me about how he died because I knew they all felt the same way about someone. And I think that helped because it helped me realise how many other people feel the same way.

If you’d like to find out about support that’s right for you, contact Child Bereavement UK via LiveChat or our Helpline on 0800 02 888 40. If you are struggling with difficult feelings about suicide, you can contact Papyrus on 0800 068 41 41.