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Excerpted from "Why Suicide" by Eric Marcus


Can you come to terms with the suicide of a loved one?

Yes, over time you can come to terms with the loss of a loved one to suicide, but the fact that your loved one chose suicide is something you never forget.

And there are plenty of reminders. Inevitably, your loved one will come up in conversation. Also there are anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays. For years I got depressed around the time of year when my father died, but it wasn’t until a decade after his death that I made any connection between the depression and my father’s suicide. During the first few years, Father’s Day was the worst. All the other kids at school talked about what they were getting their fathers, and all I could do was joke that I was lucky I didn’t have to worry about that.

For other people, the worst time of year may be Christmas or Thanksgiving. For still others, a specific event such as a college graduation or a wedding may trigger that acute sense that someone is missing.

It’s a cliche to say that time heals all wounds, but even in the case of suicide, as long as you deal with the experience and don’t bury it, in time you will feel better. Eventually, you’ll even be able to talk about the experience without feeling that someone is ripping your guts out.

How long does it take to get over the suicide of a loved one?

I don’t know if you ever “get over” the suicide of a loved one. That’s a phrase that implies that it’s over and done. Finished. Book closed. The end. A better question would be, “How long will I grieve over the suicide of my loved one?” And add to that, “How long will it take to accept the suicide of my loved one?”

This is not something you put behind you in six months. Even people who have been through the death of a loved one from an accident or natural causes aren’t usually through grieving so quickly. In these cases, after an initial period of intense grief lasting weeks or months, it is perfectly normal for people to grieve for a year to a year and a half or more. Fully accepting the loss takes even longer.

In the case of suicide, the whole process will almost always take longer, because before you can accept what’s happened, you first have to deal with what it is that did happen. For example, when someone dies of a stroke, you know what happened. In all likelihood there isn’t anyone to blame and you’re not feeling guilty that you didn’t do enough to prevent the death. You can move right through the process of grieving without getting caught up in a variety of emotions that can keep you from ever fully accepting the death of your loved one.

I wish I could say there was a clear-cut answer to this question–as in, “After one year you will feel . . . “--but there isn’t. I’ve interviewed people who were able to get through their grief and accept the suicide of their loved one in just a couple of years. For me, it was more than two decades before I even had all the details of what happened.

There is no formula to calculate how long the grieving process should last or how long it will take to accept the suicide death of a loved one. Circumstances are different. People are different. But if you or someone you love seems unable to get past his or her initial grief, and acceptance seems like an impossibility, it is important for the person who is grieving to get help from a support group or mental-health professional.

pp. 157-159. Excerpted from: "Why Suicide? Answers to 200 of the most frequently asked questions about suicide, attempted suicide, and assisted suicide" by Eric Marcus. Posted by permission from the author. Published by HarperCollins, copyright 1996.

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