Surviving Grief After a Suicide Loss

By Lisa SugarmanNovember 13, 2023

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is an event in which survivors of suicide loss come together to find connection, understanding, and hope through their shared experiences. This year, International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is Saturday, November 18, 2023. Learn more through our friends at AFSP

The first time my dad Jim died, it was August 1, 1978.

It was a Monday night and he’d tucked me into bed, said he loved me, kissed my mom, and went downstairs to watch his Red Sox play a late-evening summer game. By Tuesday morning, he was gone, taken by a heart attack in his sleep. And it left me lost and broken and confronted with the impossible reality that the person who I felt most secure with in the world was gone.

I was barely ten years old when my dad died that first time and I was the textbook definition of a daddy’s girl, so it blew my world to pieces.

Whether it was peak bagging together in the White Mountains or handing him tools while he changed the oil in his ‘77 Datsun 280Z, I grabbed every opportunity to be by my dad’s side.

He was an outdoorsman, always wanting to be in nature or driving fast around a track in his amateur race car or testing his body’s limits on the Appalachian Trail. And he gifted his passion for those things to me. So, as you’d expect, there hasn’t been a single day since he left us in the summer of ‘78 when I haven’t felt the pain of that loss deep in my bones.

That was how his first death changed my life.

The second time I lost my dad I was 45 and married with two daughters of my own. I learned, very much by accident, that he’d actually died by suicide back in the 70s. The heart attack was just a story my mother invented in that moment to spare me the pain of knowing that my father had chosen to leave us. In her mind, it was devastating enough for me that he was gone; she just couldn’t bear to pour more kerosene on an already raging fire. And I think she made the right call. Because this new and ugly narrative required a completely different kind of grieving, the kind a ten-year-old just can’t understand.

The thing about grief is—especially the grief that’s attached to suicide—it’s deceptive and irreverent and it shows up both when we expect it to and, most often, when we don’t. That’s why, in the decades since my dad left us, I’ve searched endlessly for ways to cope with all of the emotions that are attached to grief. And that search has led me to discover a couple of powerful ways to navigate suicide loss.

Probably the most important way I’ve learned to keep moving forward is by gifting myself permission to be exactly where I am at any given moment. If I’m angry, I let myself be angry. If I’m sad, I let the tears flow. If I’m feeling hopeless, I let myself sit in that for a while until I’m not anymore. Because if we try to outrun our emotions, they’ll always catch us no matter how sly we think we are. And when we run toward them instead of running away, we retain the power.

I’ve spent the better part of my life accompanied by grief—losing a shockingly large number of family members and friends—and it’s given me a pretty unique perspective on loss. And because of that, I’ve learned a few valuable lessons about navigating that unique journey:

Lesson #1:

We need to embrace the suck and allow ourselves to sit in all the feels. Whenever they come. Because even though those intense feelings are sometimes more than we can bear, grief does change over time.

Lesson #2:

Sharing our story of loss is a gift to us and to the person we’ve lost. That’s why, if you feel you can, you should share your person with the world. Tell your story. Because being vulnerable and sharing our personal experience(s) is like sending up a flare that helps us find our community and helps our community find us. 

Lesson #3:

Grief is for life, we just experience it in different ways and at different levels along the way. 

So, whether you’re experiencing a new loss or, like me, you’ve been grieving someone’s death for most of your life, accepting that grief is cyclical is just a core tenant of the whole grieving process. We need to make space for the ebb and flow of it when it comes, without trying to avoid or dismiss it.

That’s how we take back some of the control we’ve lost. And that’s how we learn to thrive again. One small step at a time.

Lisa Sugarman is an author, a nationally syndicated columnist, a survivor of suicide loss, a mental health advocate, a storyteller with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and a crisis counselor with The Trevor Project. She writes the syndicated opinion column It Is What It Is and is the author of How To Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids And Be Ok With It, Untying Parent Anxiety, and LIFE: It Is What It Is, available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and everywhere books are sold. Lisa is also a storyteller with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and a contributor on Healthline Parenthood, GrownAndFlown, TODAY Parents, Thrive Global, LittleThings, and More Content Now. Lisa lives and writes just north of Boston. Visit her online at

People need other people. You are not weak for wanting or needing support. If you’re seeking professional help, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Comments (11)

  1. Izabellah

    I’m only 14 years old and I lost my little sister, my aunty, pop and my uncle and I grief by hurting myself and idk how to stop.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Izabellah,

      First, please know we are so very sorry for the losses you have experienced. We wish that wasn’t your reality. And we understand that self-harm can become a coping tool for intense and uncomfortable emotions like grief. You are not broken or wrong for finding relief through this, but there is hope and recovery is possible. You can find other ways to process your grief and cope without harming yourself. You deserve healing! Would you please email our team at [email protected] so we can learn more about your experience, offer you encouragement, and help connect you to help?

      Talk soon and take care,

      Reply  |  
  2. Amanda Webber

    Great information. I have learned that grief is a daily learning experience. Although we are experiencing a loss and journey is heading the same direction. We are all in a different stage of grieving and it is not always the same.

    Reply  |  
  3. Amelia

    Two years ago, I was 14 when my father killed himself. He did it the day before I started my freshman year of high school. My daddy was the most important person to me. He loved me more than anyone else ever has, and I loved him the same way. I miss him every day. I even wear a necklace with his ashes in it and haven’t taken that off in almost three years. I’m turning 17 in March and getting my license, and it breaks my heart knowing my daddy won’t be here to celebrate. I’m not sure how to cope with that.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      First, we are so sorry for your loss. Our hearts truly do break for you. Second, we want to thank you for sharing all of this. It takes courage and vulnerability. You are wise beyond your years and we are grateful you are here. As you approach new moments and milestones without your dad, we hope you know that you are not alone. Your grief deserves to be felt and acknowledged, and we also hope you can find comfort in knowing that there are people who understand what you are going through. You can always reach out to our team at [email protected] for a safe space to share or if you want some help finding support groups or counseling options.

      We are here. With hope.

      Reply  |  
  4. Mary E.

    I’m having trouble working through the grief of my sister’s recent attempt. She survived, but only technically; her brain is now very damaged, she no longer communicates with anyone, and our relationship is pretty much over. How to mourn the someone she no longer is?

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      We are so very sorry for your sister and what she has and is experiencing, and for the grief and heartache you are experiencing. Grief is an emotion all humans feel, so please know that you are not alone in what you are feeling. If you need some support and guidance as you grieve, we 100% suggest looking into counseling or a support group. You can find reasonable options using our FIND HELP Tool at You don’t have to go through this alone.


      Reply  |  
  5. Vicky

    Lisa – I felt connected to you while reading your message on grief and suicide loss. I’ve read many books on suicide and the impact on those left behind. In 2001 I lost my 20 yr old son to suicide. One of the most important lessons I learned in the last 22 years is the importance of embracing the truth, and facing your pain head on. You must walk through the storm in order to find peace

    Reply  |  
  6. Josephine

    Thank you. My children and I are affected by their Dad passing away recently. Needed to see this, great content!

    Reply  |  
  7. Em

    My dad died by suicide 3 days before Father’s Day, and 10 days before my 25 birthday. It was his third and final attempt. I was present for every attempt, and was ultimately the one that found him when he did pass away. He lived alone, and according to my math and evidence I found, he was dead for 17 days before I noticed something was wrong. It’s something that lives in my head everyday. The guilt I feel is suffocating. Months after his death I voluntarily admitted myself to the psych ward. As someone who already suffered from mental health struggles, this event broke the camels back. It’s been 3 years, and I’m finally in a place where I need to talk about it (without crying uncontrollably). The resources here in Canada are just… hard to come by. So I’m struggling. I want help. I need help. But I don’t know who to turn to. I’m alone. And I feel like I’m going crazy.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      We are so sorry for all the you’ve endured. This is a lot of heartache and grief to carry, experience, and process. It makes sense that you would want and need help. Would you please email our team at [email protected] so we can learn more about your experience and situation, and do our best offer you some resources, support, and encouragement?

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
Get Email Updates

Sign up for our newsletter to hear updates from our team and how you can help share the message of hope and help.