Sometimes, no matter how much we try to help, a death by suicide tragically happens. And sometimes, a death by suicide can come as a complete shock. Whether it was unexpected or not, it’s still a traumatic event for those involved and the pain isn’t any less.
But as with any death, there are unfortunately practicalities that must be dealt with.
Please bear in mind that what we are about to discuss is traumatic and may be triggering for some. Do not subject yourself to reading this article if you feel as though it may trigger negative feelings for you.
One of the most difficult aspects of suicide is witnessing the death or being the one to discover the body. The sights, sounds, and smells are overpowering, both when it happens, and for some time afterwards. The memories of what you witnessed can be extremely graphic.
Witnessing a suicide or discovering the body—whether it be a loved one or stranger—leaves a mental picture that fades very slowly and perhaps will never fade entirely. It’s so important for your own mental health that you speak to a professional therapist about what you witnessed as soon as possible. The witnessing or discovery of a death by suicide can be a life-changing event.
If a suicide happens in the family home, it’s not uncommon for those left to want the home returned to normal as soon as possible, removing all traces of what happened. It is completely normal and you shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling the same.
When cleaning after a suicide, not only is the aim to remove any visual and physical trace of what’s happened, but it’s also imperative that a professional clean is completed to ensure that any hazards are also removed. Depending on the cause of death, dangers to other occupants of the property can remain; from blood and bodily fluid to sharps or even drugs/medications.
In the days that follow
In the days that follow a death by suicide, there will be some practical issues that you will need to deal with. If it’s easier for you to cope, ask the help of close friends and family to help with some more of the routine tasks.
Informing others of the death
One of the first things you’ll do—and perhaps the hardest—is informing others of what’s happened. This could range from family, friends, co-workers, and perhaps even neighbours. But don’t feel pressured into telling people until you’re ready and don’t feel like you have to go into too much detail, or any detail at all.
While some people simply cannot cope saying how the deceased has died, others find it beneficial to be open from the very start. By being open from the first contact, some people feel like they avoid any awkwardness should the cause of death become known later and it avoids any need to clarify facts. Whatever information you decide to disclose, remember that it’s entirely your choice how and when you share it.
It’s not uncommon for the police to want to speak with you in the days following a suicide. Don’t be alarmed by this. The police have to make sure that nobody else was involved in the death and that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.
Expect to be asked about how the deceased was acting or feeling in the days and weeks leading up to their death. In some circumstances, you may even be asked to confirm the identity.
In England and Wales, all sudden and unexplained deaths are reported to the coroner, an independent judicial officer—usually a lawyer or doctor. The coroner may decide to investigate the cause of death, in which case, the death cannot be registered until this is complete.
The investigation can take some time, particularly if there has to be an inquest. However, you can speak to the coroner’s office about how to proceed with funeral arrangements and they should notify the next of kin within one working day of the death being reported to explain why the death is being investigated and what is likely to happen next.
Registering the Death
If an inquest has happened, the coroner will usually notify the local registrar directly and they will then register the death from the information provided to them. You will then be informed by the coroner that this has happened and in most circumstances, you will not have to then register the death in person.
In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, deaths have to be registered within five days, although an extension of up to nine days can be permitted.
Making Funeral Arrangements
In general, registration of the death needs to be carried out before the funeral can go ahead, with exceptions being deaths subject to investigation by the coroner. If the coroner did decide to open an investigation, you can usually still speak to a funeral director regarding what happens next.
Once you have received a certificate of the fact of death—which acts as an interim death certificate—you can begin to make funeral arrangements. This is issued by the coroner’s office.
Your own wellbeing
Looking after your own wellbeing is vital in the days and weeks following a suicide bereavement. The range of emotions you may feel can be overwhelming or you may find that you feel nothing at all. This is all completely normal but finding ways to cope, or somebody to talk to, is imperative for your own wellbeing.
Feelings can range from anger and denial through to a sense of relief and even suicidal thoughts yourself. These are all normal and you shouldn’t feel guilty for having certain emotions, or a lack thereof.
Common emotions you may feel in the days, weeks, or even months following the event can include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Physical reactions
- Questioning – ‘why?’ and ‘what if ?’
- Sense of acceptance
- Suicidal thoughts
The NHS ‘Help is at Hand’ leaflet explores the wide range of emotions you may be feeling in greater depth and also has suggestions on what may and may not help.
It is important to note that recovering from how you may be feeling will take time. Losing a family member has an emotional impact and feelings such as grief are normal. It is important you take the time you need to recover from the impact of the event.
If you need to talk to someone, you may find the following organisations helpful:
Maidstone and Mid Kent MIND
Tel: 01622 692383 – available Monday — Friday, 09:00–17:00
Tel: 116 123 – available 24 hours a day, every day
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS)
Tel: 0300 111 5065 – available 09.00–21.00 every day
Cruse Bereavement Care
Tel: 0844 477 9400 – available Monday and Friday 09.30–17.00, and Tuesday – Thursday 09.30–20.00
Written with help from our friends at Maidstone & Mid Kent Mind