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Guidelines for Immediate Help from Close Friends in the Aftermath of a Suicide

DO

DON’T

Respond honestly to questions asked by the family. You don’t need to answer more than asked. If they want to know more, they will ask later. Too much information too soon can be overwhelming.

Assume you know best.

Surround them with as much love and understanding as you can.

Tell the person you "know how they feel" if you don't. Don’t make comparisons such as "I know how you feel because my parent/etc. died.”

Give them some private time. Be there, but don’t smother them. Show love, not control.

Tell them what to feel. Allow them to feel what they are feeling, when they are feeling it. Don’t Try to explain or change their feelings (e.g. pain, anger) so that you are more comfortable.

Let them talk. Most of the time they just need to hear out loud what is going on inside their heads. They usually aren’t seeking advice.

Treat them as though they do not have sense enough to make decisions or understand what they are being told.

Encourage that any and all decisions be made by the family together.

Preach to them. If religion plays an important part in their lives, they will draw strength from it when they need it.

Expect that they will become tired very easily. Grieving is hard work.

Tell them it is God's will or Make any comments which could suggest that the care at home, or the hospital emergency room, or elsewhere, was inadequate. Families are plagued by feelings of doubt and guilt without any help from others.

Let them decide what they are ready for. You may make suggestions, but ultimately, the choice is theirs.

Tell the person to call you if they need anything, anytime, unless you are prepared for a 3:00 am phone call.

Get the names and phone numbers of those on the scene who may need to be contacted later, such as police or the coroner.

Try pushing anything at them that will help to quiet them, such as drinks, medications, etc. If medication is necessary, let a trained person do it.

Offer to help with general household operations: keep list of phone calls, visitors and people who bring food; keep the mail organized; keep track of bills, cards, newspaper notices, etc. Offer to make calls to people they wish to be notified. Help with errands, laundry, yard maintenance, etc.

Ask about things such as running errands, laundry, etc. Don’t remove tasks, responsibilities or activities from them without their permission. They may wish to stay involved in the things they feel they can handle. 

Record medications that are administered and at what time.

Try to stop them from talking about their loved one or make the loved one's name taboo. If no one speaks his/her name, it feels as though everyone wants to forget the person existed.

Offer to help with documentation needed by the insurance company. (They generally require a photocopy of the death certificate, etc.)

Tell them what you would do or how you would feel if you were them. You are not. Don’t try to find something positive (e.g., a moral lesson, closer family ties, etc.) about the person's death.

Give special attention to the other members of the family – at the funeral and in the months to come.

Stop seeing them or let your own sense of helplessness keep you from reaching out to a bereaved family.

Allow them to express as much grief as they are feeling at the moment and are willing to share.

Alter the deceased’s room in any way. Do not pick up clothes or clean the room. When the family is ready, they will take care of this in their own way or ask for help, if needed.