Sad vs. Suicidal: “Normal” vs. Complicated Grief

lonely-ghost-man-1142299-1279x852When the grieving say that they don’t want to be “here” anymore you may wonder…what is the difference between being sad and being suicidal, or “normal” vs. complicated grief? Is it normal for someone who has lost a loved one to say (or think) that they don’t want to live anymore? That they not only can’t imagine a life without the person they’ve lost, but that they’re not at all interested in finding out?

Trying to assess what’s “normal” in grieving or whether a person is truly suicidal is no easy task, even for a trained professional.

You may be worried about a friend or loved one or you may be concerned for yourself. In trying to make this determination and whether more help is needed, consider the following:

When a person who has lost a loved one makes a remark that could be considered a form of suicide ideation (for example, “I don’t care what happens to me”, “I don’t want to live without her”, “If I don’t wake up tomorrow that would be just fine with me”) try to examine whether the statement is a true threat or an attempt to explain the depths of sadness being felt following the loss.

Does the griever REALLY want their life to end…or do they just want the pain to end? This life, this new life without their loved one in it, is so foreign and so unwanted, a griever can feel like they don’t belong in it. Trying to find the words, even in our own minds to express the pain and emptiness, may leave few options.

A look at the difference between “normal” (or “common” or “typical”) grieving vs. complicated grief may help shed some light on when a griever is following an expected path, or when they may need more help.

“Normal” grief is messy, complicated, painful, unsightly, and for some, as far from “normal” as they have ever felt. I find what so often brings someone to a support group is the need for validation that what they’re experiencing is normal or okay. Grief can almost feel like an out of body experience, and in addition to feeling sad, scared, lonely and isolated, a griever may feel that they’re not normal for feeling the way they feel.

Because the spectrum of what is “normal” in grief can be so broad, I tend to focus more on helping grievers understand what may be considered behavior that falls outside of that range.

While it may feel strange to spend a day in bed, sometimes that’s what a person who is grieving a significant loss needs. Even if they were someone who was always busy, always on the go, and always socializing with other people, it’s not unusual for that to change for a time. Skipping a shower, not returning a friend’s phone call, or a loss of interest in an activity previously enjoyed, are all things that fall within the expected pattern of what it means to be actively grieving the loss of a loved one.

Complicated grief can look like “normal” grieving to a point, but typically it’s defined by the extremes. If you find that you or someone you love is consistently day after day staying in bed, forgoing basic hygiene, missing work, neglecting the care of home or pets, isolating from friends and family, not opening the mail or paying bills, drinking or abusing drugs or medication- it may be time to consider getting more help.

Recruit friends and family to help, ask your family doctor, or look for bereavement supports in your area. Remember that complicated grief is not the same thing as being suicidal, but don’t make it your responsibility to distinguish the difference.

If there is grave concern, become familiar with what crisis supports are out there and learn more about what to look for in a person who may be considering taking their own life. Two great resources are the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention www.afsp.org or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org 1-800-273-TALK.

When considering what’s “normal” for any of us, it’s important to look at history and how difficult situations have been coped with in the past. Although grief can take us far from a person we used to be, past patterns and behaviors should certainly be examined when trying to determine how to help. Consider factors like substance abuse and mental health history. Is there a history of suicidal tendencies, or reckless behavior? Has there ever been a time prior to this significant loss, that this person expressed a desire to take their own life?

Bottom line, don’t do this alone. Whether it’s for you or a friend or a loved one – reach out, turn to the professionals and find help.

For everyone else – for those who may talk about not wanting to go on with this life, but who truly have no intention of taking their own life, remember:

#1 – Everyone has heard of taking life one day at a time. The grieving can only take life one minute at a time. Make small goals, and each day, focus only on what’s right in front of you. Projecting what’s ahead or what’s next or trying to answer too many questions may simply be too much. Focus on small tasks, and stay in the moment as much as possible.

#2 – While it may seem there’s nothing left to live for – take a closer look. Surround yourself with family and friends, things that have brought you pleasure or joy in the past (even if being with these people or doing these things has no feeling right now, no joy), continue to expose yourself to the good things in life – however small or insignificant they may seem.

#3 – Know that while the ache we have for our lost loved ones never goes away, the symptoms of grief eventually soften and fade with time. Allow yourself to be different for a little bit. Have faith that you will return to those things and those remaining loved ones that define you. Know that there is light and love and wisdom to be gained and so much strength and growth that can be found in the hardest and darkest of times.


Our website gathers together those who have one very important thing in common: their grief. Regardless of who we were before, grief has a way of setting a reset button that brings us all to the same point of needing care, validation and support. When left to cope alone we can become lost in the sadness, but when we talk to others, especially those who can relate and who can understand what we’re going through, we have an opportunity to feel heard. Bottom line, support matters. Join us today to share your story, to connect with others, and to feel understood at this very difficult and challenging time.

9 thoughts on “Sad vs. Suicidal: “Normal” vs. Complicated Grief”

  1. My Son Sgt.Kerry Lynn Brown II.160Airborne Special Operation an Elite Group Called The Night Stalkers,All Mission were Done at Night.Six Tours in IRAQ an Afghanistan I’m So Proud of my Son.But my nightmare started 9-16-2014 In Lacy Washington that’s when he was shot and Killed By a police officer My Son was 26 Years Old…I Stopped Living That Day….Forever Heartbroken and Devastated…They Call Me A Gold Star Mother Now.But I’m KBs Mother:'(

  2. My best buddy, babies daddy, step children’s father, grandpa, husband,friend and Addict was taken from us on 1/7/17 by the horrible disease called addiction. I miss him so much. It feels like my heart is being ripped apart. My 11 yo son shouldn’t be without a daddy. I shouldn’t be a widow at 52.

  3. I have major trust issues and found a Therapist that I started seeing about 4 yrs ago. She was much different than any therapist I had worked with before. She was blind and on our first meeting she explained how if this would be a problem she would gladly refer me to another Therapist. I had no no problem with continuing on with her. Well all her other skills were very sharp! I never had a Therapist who went above and beyond for her patients, and I learned so much about myself working with her. She truly loved and had a true passion for helping others even with the struggles she herself faced her entire life. A couple of months ago she just wasn’t feeling well one day and went to the Drs. and was admitted to hospital and within less than two weeks she passed away. She had inoperable brain cancer and know one knew. I was and still am devastated by this loss! I feel like I lost a good friend, she was much more than a Therapist to many of her patients! She left a forever lasting impression on me. I have struggled with loss that has never truly been dealt with before as well and it was one of the things we were working on. I feel somewhat crazy, like I shouldn’t eel this way or no one would understand. I’m so glad I found this site.

  4. My name is Jane on June 10,2017 my girl Jenny passed
    Totally unexpected she had a young son she had been single for 10 years basically raising her son by herself with the help of my husband and myself.Jenny was not only my daughter but a dear friend,she had a contagious laugh and more wisdom than someone way beyond her years she was always happy to see me her love was unconditional needless to say l feel my heart has been shredded,this loss also includes no longer having the relationship l had with my grandson l was is second mother as he has gone to live with his father and all things “normal” no longer exist he is all that is left of Jenny and is our only grandchild. I am a strong independent woman and yet l feel almost “gutted “ emotionally and physically so empty l work a lot it sometimes helps but the emptiness is I fathomable

  5. I’m glad you said that we don’t have to do this alone and can always turn to professionals for help if we don’t have friends or family. My mother passed away recently and I’ve been struggling more than I think is “normal.” I don’t have anyone close that I can turn to for help, so I think I’ll start looking for professional counseling.

  6. One of my best friends lost her husband in a firery small plane crash that took the life of their friend as well. Miraculously my friend and the pilot lived. She has 3 children. We have raised our children together, known each other since high school. She constantly says she should have died, that she doesn’t wan to live without her husband. I don’t know how to help. I want her to know I am here for her but she pushes back, I try to give her space and she stays I have abandoned her. I need help to help her. My grief for her husband is so strong, I can not imagine the pain she has. What do I do?

  7. My wife of 57 years went to bed one evening with some stomach issues. I woke up the next morning and found her on the floor in the bathroom deceased. I screamed and immediately called 911.

    I performed CPR per the instructions of the 911 operator screaming for her to wake up. The medics arrived and after about 10 minutes emerged from the bathroom saying there was nothing further they could do. My wife had minor issues with her knee and hip but nothing serious according to the doctors. The cause of death was determined to be cardiac arrest.

    This was the worst day in my entire life. I screamed asking her to take meI want to say to her the many thing I failed to say when she was with me. She was one of the most caring, selfless and loving human beings to inhabit the planet. It’s been 5 weeks since her passing and I still am devastated and empty and want to be with her.

    The support of family and friends has been amazing but I feel so alone and now know the meaning of true heartbreak. Since her passing I have seen cardinals and butterflies and hoping these are signs of her presence I am devastated and empty.

    As a friend of mine said, who also recently lost his wife of many years, “,I am not suicidal but if God took me tomorrow, I would not be unhappy. I feel the same way and as of now cannot envision and happiness in my future without her.

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