Dealing with Difficult Questions


Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group - Madison, NJ

Posted: May 21, 2019

Dealing with Difficult Questions After A Suicide Loss

While some days it can feel like the whole world knows about your loved ones suicide, in fact there are many people who do not know how they died or the fact that they are dead. Many survivors of suicide are triggered in their grief when innocent people ask them questions about their loved one who died by suicide. A simple question like "How many children do you have?" can cause a surviving parent to have an anxiety attack. "What does your spouse do?" can likewise cause pain for a surviving spouse. These questions and your response, or lack of response can stick in your head for days after you said them. It is not easy being a suicide loss survivor.

These otherwise socially correct questions are now an emotional struggle to answer and can start tears and an outburst of emotions. Deep inside it is the emotions that we have associated with our loved ones suicide that make these questions so difficult. In some ways we want to keep the story of their suicide private and in other ways we start to open up about their loss. It comes down to the social stigma associated with suicide that we are dealing with. That stigma is inside of us and it can color our reactions. I can remember wanting to explain our son's death so that people would understand the root cause. I did not want pity, I wanted understanding.

These otherwise socially correct questions are now an emotional struggle to answer and can start tears and an outburst of emotions. Deep inside it is the emotions that we have associated with our loved ones suicide that make these questions so difficult. In some ways we want to keep the story of their suicide private and in other ways we start to open up about their loss. It comes down to the social stigma associated with suicide that we are dealing with. That stigma is inside of us and it can color our reactions. I can remember wanting to explain our son's death so that people would understand the root cause. I did not want pity, I wanted understanding.


There are numerous ways you can answer these types of questions, including:

    • Don't answer the question. Not all questions have to be answered. You can just not respond, or you can excuse yourself away from the conversation. My favorite line was "excuse me, I have to run to the bathroom" or "sorry I am late in making a call".
    • Answer a different question. I remember in the early days I would respond by talking about our surviving daughter. It was easier to talk about her being off at college as a socially acceptable answer.
    • Talk about your loved one in the present tense. They did not ask how many children you have that are alive or what does your spouse do now. They are always going to be your children or your spouse, even after they die by suicide. Talk about them with the love and reverence they deserve. Share information about the wonderful life they had before suicide took them away from you.
    • Dodge the question by answering it with a show of emotion. An answer like "It's a difficult situation" or "It's complicated", which may have to be repeated if they don't get the hint, is an honest answer. It leaves the door open to answer it more fully in the future. Many families have difficult family situations with issues such as opioid addictions, family struggles, mental health issues, legal issues, divorce, etc. Most people understand that the subject of families can often be hard.
    • Answer with a simple acknowledgement of their passing. You can always say " they have past away recently" or "they are in heaven" and follow up that it is an emotional subject. Unfortunately some folks with ask how they past away, so think of how you want to answer the second question as well.
    • Acknowledge the underlying issue. We often said "Our son lost his battle with bipolar disorder and past away." It was honest, emotional and opened the door for the right folks to connect with us in our grief.
    • Be honest. After a few months, I had the strength to just say "We have two children, and one of them has died by suicide". I use that when I feel like it is a teaching moment , a moment to help educate people about how common suicide is in the US. Most people are shocked when I share that there are over 45,000 suicides each year in the US. I also share that over 500,000 people went to the emergency room last year with a self inflicted wound (and that number is thought to only be a 1/3 to 1/4 of those who actually hurt themselves). It is an opportunity to share that it is ok to talk about suicide and mental health issues.
    • Whatever works for you! You decide how you want to answer any question, It is your choice. Your loved ones life story now belongs to you and you get to choose how much or how little you want to share. The answer will vary from situation to situation and person to person. Some days you have the strength and some days you don't. You don't owe anyone an answer. Be kind to yourself first.