My Grief Care

Grieving A Suicide

6 Episodes

Episode 3 : Feeling Blame and Shame After a Suicide

Blame and Shame

The unique and awful reality of losing a loved one to suicide can lead to feelings of judgment, blame and shame. Despite the fact that survivors of suicide are virtually always shocked by a loved one taking their own life, others will sometimes question, though not always directly, whether the survivors bear some responsibility for the suicidal act of the deceased person. Oftentimes, survivors can actually be the worst offenders in this regard and assign blame to themselves.

Many grieving the loss of a loved one may have a sense of guilt and/or responsibility for the death. They often think they should have seen it coming, or that they should have insisted they get proper care.  It is common to question yourself.

Survivors of suicide often take this type of thinking to an entirely different level. They scour their memories looking for ways that they might have interceded to prevent the death. And they typically search for anything – even the smallest clue – that their loved one had signaled their desperation and hopelessness. “I see it now . . . he was calling out for help and I didn’t pay close enough attention. There were so many clues. I should have seen it and done something more!”

How about you? Are you taking on a responsibility that really isn’t yours to carry? Are you convinced that your lack of attentiveness or concern is a key component that led to your loved one’s suicide? Or maybe you are already aware that there was, in all reality, no reasonable way for you to have predicted or prevented their suicide yet you feel judgment from others. Maybe someone has asked you a question like “So, didn’t you have any idea that she would kill herself?” This might seem an innocent (if insensitive) question to ask. But one could easily infer that the question is tinged with blame.

You could interpret the question as suggesting that you should have seen it coming. And if you had seen it coming, you could have done something to prevent it. These are awful questions to ponder, as they cause us to think: “Could I somehow have saved my loved one? Was I really so inattentive and uncaring that I callously let him die in despair?”

If you are thinking this way, it might be impossible for me to break through the shroud of guilt and remorse draped over you right now. Nothing I say to you at this moment will likely change the trajectory of your grief. I understand that much. Only you can release yourself from the bonds of guilt and shame.

Yet never in my experience to date, my research on this topic, nor in my training have I come across a suicide in which a survivor is the responsible party for the death. I don’t believe such responsibility to be a viable conclusion – ever.

And yet, never have I come across a survivor who didn’t at least seriously question themself about holding some responsibility for the suicide, or ponder repeatedly how they might have predicted and prevented it.

Some level of self-examination is common for most survivors. Is that true for you? If so, you may carry a sense of guilt or failure for a while that is not easily dispelled. Nursing a sense of guilt or failure creates a significant obstacle to healing. You alone must conclude the truth of the matter – the truth that one person cannot commit an act of suicide upon another person. Your loved one’s death was a suicide – not a homicide. You couldn’t save them, nor are you responsible for their decision.

When you can fully grasp that reality (which might take you a while) and can exonerate yourself of responsibility for another person’s actions, you will have removed a primary obstacle from your path of grieving and healing.


  • Shame and blame are commonplace for survivors of suicide
  • Survivors are often their own harshest accusers
  • Self-doubt and guilt are obstacles to healing
  • Only you can release yourself from the bonds of guilt and/or perceived failure


If you can summon the courage, write a letter to your loved one explaining your feelings of responsibility for not predicting or preventing their death. File your letter away and then put a note in your calendar to re-read it 30 days from now. When you read it again, ask yourself if your feelings have changed in any way. What is different? And why? Repeat as necessary.


Our human inclination to assign ourselves responsible for things that are beyond our control is worth pondering. How much influence and control do we really hold over others, and even ourselves? Perhaps we deserve neither credit nor blame.