Responding to the Death of a Member

Originally written by Julia Wise, April 2018. Minor updates made in February 2023.

Group organisers can help set the tone after stressful events like a death in the community. You can help group members process what they are feeling, even just by acknowledging that this is a topic that’s on people’s minds.


General advice

Validate the fact that it's normal to have a really wide range of reactions to news of a death. People range from feeling basically fine, and maybe feeling guilty about feeling fine, to feeling devastated by it. All that is considered normal. (Abnormal grief would be having thoughts of wanting to be dead yourself, or being unable to keep up with basic activities like eating or getting out of bed. In that case a person should talk to their doctor, or go to a hospital if they seem in immediate danger.)

It’s ok to not have answers or not know what to do. You can acknowledge your own limits. “I really want to help right now, and I’m not sure what I can do. But I want you to know I’m here to listen.” Just listening is often the most important thing you can do to help.

Be extra aware of people who seem to be struggling themselves, and remind them the community wants to be there to support them too. Use this as an opportunity to talk about the ways all of us are vulnerable and sometimes in need of support.

Common feelings

Some common feelings people in a local community might have after the death of a member, or another difficult personal experience a member has experienced:

After a suicide:

All of the above, plus more. 

I think it's appropriate to use this as a time to evaluate what we could be doing to better support each other, but not to feel that we're ultimately responsible for the choices other people make. Keep an eye out for members who may be feeling an undue sense of responsibility or guilt about the death. 

After a suicide, be careful about incentives to those who may be considering it themselves. Suicide shouldn’t be seen as a way to become a hero or to get people to do things you wanted.

Some additional common feelings in cases of suicide:

Practical activities communities might do

If you'd like more advice, you can reach out to CEA's Community Health Team, such as via this form.