Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief – grieving the death of an abuser
Losing someone to suicide is a unique loss and has long been believed to be one of the most difficult and lonely experiences a person can have. All types of grief and loss can cause intense sadness, anger, anxiety, or numbness, but research shows people bereaved by suicide have the most intense feelings of shame, responsibility and guilt when compared with people bereaved by other sudden deaths.
Likewise, the suicide of an abuser can place the survivor in a whirlwind of complicated and conflicting emotions. The impact of psychological and emotional abuse from perpetrators is only going to make the survivor’s feelings about their death more complex and difficult to process. This can add to further feelings of isolation if the survivor’s support networks don’t understand how they can be grieving someone that was so harmful to them. It’s also likely that there will be a degree of relief, which often triggers tricky and conflicting emotions, for which themselves and others may judge them for. After a suicide there is often a lack of privacy and an intense interest from people within the local community and in some circumstances, the media. This can make it even more difficult to grieve privately.
What feelings might arise for the survivor?
Survivors of domestic abuse may experience a wide range of feelings following the death of a perpetrator. Feelings and emotions around grief are all very personal to individuals and may differ from person to person. It is important to remember that any feelings can emerge, and these feelings are valid and a natural reaction to such complicated circumstances. Below are a few feelings that may arise but it’s important to remember there may be many different ones, as well as many differently reasons for the ones listed to occur.
Fear and Anxiety
Survivors might question “are they really gone or is it another manipulation tactic?” and be afraid to feel safe straight away. They may question what happens now or lack confidence in how to rebuild their life after domestic abuse. For example, if the perpetrator used cohesive control and didn’t allow the survivor to leave the house, the death might mean that they can freely do so – but fear to. The existing expectation of repercussions may not simply melt away just because that person has died.
There may be many reasons a survivor can feel angry. They may feel angry that other people are mourning the abuser after all the abuse and trauma they endured. They may feel angry that they died before being brought to justice and now must live with the consequences and trauma of their abuse. The death of the abuser may also provide enough emotional space for the survivor to start to process the abuse and feel an overwhelming sense of angry at their situation and that there was no closure.
Due to the trauma that the survivor has experienced from domestic abuse, it is more likely that they will suffer from depression.
There are many reasons why a survivor may feel guilty after their abuser’s death. Self-blame for the situation is extremely common after domestic abuse, even without a death. Sometimes they may feel guilty for being relived at the news of the death of their abuser or wishing it upon them so they can escape without the danger of having to leave.
Perpetrators can often make threats to end their lives and so it is also possible the abuser completed suicide in reaction to survivors leaving or bringing them to justice, which can evoke even deeper feelings of guilt.
It is common in an abusive relationship for the perpetrators to isolate people from their victims as it makes them more vulnerable and easier to control. This may mean that the survivor does not have a vast support network of friends and family around them, and it is likely that they could feel lonely in their grief and have no-one to share their pain with.
People who have been abused may feel great shame for feeling a certain way and may also feel shame about the control that the abuser still has over them.
Those who have experienced trauma from domestic abuse may feel a sense of relief when their abusers die. It could be a relief that they don’t have to go through any danger of trying to leave the relationship or no longer fear the repercussions having already left. They may feel relief from no longer feeling trapped and instead feel free.
What is disenfranchised grief?
Disenfranchised grief if often defined as grief that is not supported or acknowledged by those around you, or society. Disenfranchised grief can happen for several reasons, and, in the context of domestic abuse, grief can be disenfranchised because people don’t understand that it is possible to grieve someone that was abusive. Survivors may feel ashamed to admit they are grieving the person so those around them could assume they are coping with the death and in fact are suffering in silence. Domestic abuse can be a secret so, whilst others may be complimenting the attributes of the deceased abuser – unaware of their actions, the survivors’ feelings such a relief and anger can be invalidated, and even leave them questioning ‘were they as bad as I believed them to be?
Suicide Bereavement Support Services
NOTTINGHAMSHIRE CRISIS LINE
- Tel: 0800 196 3779
- Help in crisis: www.nottinghamshirehealthcare.nhs.uk
The crisis line number is available to everybody of any age in mental health crisis. It can be accessed at anytime, anywhere across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. Available 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, it’s the number to call if you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need immediate help.
Monday – Friday 9am–5pm. Harmless is a user-led organisation providing a range of services regarding self-harm including support, information, training and consultancy to people who self-harm, their friends, their families and professionals.
THE TOMORROW PROJECT
- [email protected]
- [email protected]
- Tel: 0115 880 0282 (leave a message we will respond within 1 working day)
- Tel: 0115 880 0280 (admin only)
- Monday – Friday 9am–5pm
The Tomorrow Project was established to support those affected by suicide. The service offers two confidential support pathways. The first is the Crisis pathway, offering support to those in suicidal crisis, having suicidal thoughts or feelings. The second is the Bereavement pathway, offering a safe space for anyone who may have been bereaved or affected by the loss of someone to suicide. These services operate in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire and can be accessed by phone, email or via social media.
HELP IS AT HAND
Support and a guide dedicated to those grieving the death of someone from suicide.
The inquest handbook: a guide for bereaved families, friends and advisors.
NOTTINGHAM CRISIS SANCTUARIES
- Tel: 0115 844 1846 (Open 4pm – 11pm, 365 days a year)
- Digital / Zoom sessions are also available
- www.nottinghamshirecrisissanctuaries.tv/visit (visit website to see list of locations available each day)
We are here to offer support, information and guidance to anyone aged 18-years or older nearing or in a mental health crisis.
Listening service. Confidential emotional support for those in distress. Whatever you’re going through, a Samaritan will face it with you. We’re here 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.
Free, confidential, anonymous text support service for anyone struggling to cope. Available 24/7.
- Text NOTTS to 85258