Supporting Bereaved Families
It helps for grieving families to feel they are not being judged and to know that there is compassion for the loved one who has died. When you visit and pray with grieving relatives, you should approach this the same way you would approach any bereaved families. Here are some things you can say and do to help:
Don’t worry about what to say. Just being there shows you care. Don’t feel you have to have answers. Just be a good listener.
Talk about the person who has died. Talk about anything you know about them, such as things they said or did. It helps the grieving person to keep them close.
Call often, especially after the first couple of weeks. They may need to talk.
Don’t avoid the person when you see them for the first time after the funeral. Go up to them first. Try not to look startled when they mention the person who has died. Let them talk about their loved one as much as they like.
Don’t try to ’take their mind off’ the loved one. That is impossible for a long time.
Don’t be uncomfortable if you cry and the bereaved person doesn’t. A person can only cry so many tears.
Don’t talk about what the person who has died might have been spared by death. Those thoughts bring no comfort.
Don’t remind the person of what they still have. At this time, all they think of is what they have lost.
Immediate Needs of People Bereaved by Suicide
Witnessing the suicide or finding the body are disturbing enough and then the families have to deal with the official response involving police and emergency services. When you arrive you may find a doubly traumatised household, shocked by the loss and put out by the “official” response.
Few first responders at the death scene are there to help the family members after a suicide in the same way as the clergy. The family may need some help getting answers to claiming the body, recovering personal effects and possibly arranging a clean up of the scene. You may have to help them with these issues.
Some families may not want clergy to be there at this stage and it is important to respect this. In these circumstances you can offer information and signpost to other sources of support. Family members may choose to seek your support at some stage in the future.
In the first hours and days, people bereaved by suicide may need any or all of the following:
To see that what they are feeling is normal.
To understand they will need time to deal with their loss. They need to take things slowly and take care of themselves and their families.
To get support. Different things will work for different people but a good source of help is contact with others who have lost loved ones to suicide. This is available through suicide loss support groups (See Key Contacts and Resources Section).
To know what to say to any affected children. It is generally felt that children should hear the truth.
Offering practical support to people who are grieving can be a great help. For example, church members could bring them a cooked meal or offer to pick up or drop off children. You can also help a grieving family by supporting them through events such as organising the funeral, dealing with financial and legal matters including if there is a Coroner’s inquest.
Each local Health & Social Care Trust (see Key Contacts and Resources Section) provides a leaflet for people bereaved by suicide, which includes detailed information on practical support such as financial matters.
Practical help may also be offered to families by the local church or through faith-based groups such as Christians Against Poverty, the Salvation Army and St Vincent De Paul. It may be necessary to reassure families that past church practices of disallowing Christian burial of a person who has died by suicide in a church cemetery, is no longer the practice of the church.
Support for Clergy
You many also need help to deal with your own grief (particularly if you have provided support to the person who died) and to cope with the stress of supporting others at a time of deep trauma. Acknowledge your own reactions and if you are struggling get the help of a trusted friend.
Support is available for you through colleagues, friends, family, and mental health professionals.