AccScience Publishing / IJPS / Volume 10 / Issue 2 / DOI: 10.36922/ijps.0777
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“It’s like an oak tree growing slowly across a barbed wire fence:” Learning from traumatic experience of bereavement by suicide in later life

Trish Hafford-Letchfield1* Jeffrey R. Hanna2,3 Evan Grant1 Lesle Ryder-Davies1 Nicola Cogan1 Jolie Goodman1 Susan Rassmussen1
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1 Department of Social Work and Social Policy, Faculty of Humanities and Arts, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
2 Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Ulster University, Belfast, N. Ireland, UK
3 South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, N. Ireland, UK
IJPS 2024, 10(2), 44–60;
Submitted: 22 April 2023 | Accepted: 30 October 2023 | Published: 20 December 2023
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Active Ageing and Educational Gerontology)
© 2023 by the Author(s). This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution -Noncommercial 4.0 International License (CC-by the license) ( )

Bereavement by suicide is a traumatic and life-changing experience. However, little is known about the lived experiences of people bereaved by suicide themselves, and older people’s voices are notably absent from the current suicide prevention and intervention strategies. This paper seeks to understand the different individual experiences and pathways arising from the suicide research for people in later life who have been bereaved by suicide through the lens of transformational learning. Using a qualitative paradigm, we explored the critical themes and features evident in the meaning making, coping, and adaptation needs of 24 people aged 66 – 92 years who were bereaved by suicide. In-depth interviews led by researchers with lived experience generated two themes on the centrality of experience: Critical reflection and meaning making in later life following suicide trauma; and the journey of discovery and how this interacted with social and political rights. Findings suggest that further research is necessary to generate practice-based evidence, which identifies the impact of bereavement by suicide on people in later life and how their needs for support might be unique when being assessed and identified; and how to respond more holistically to older people with psychosocial problems, which stem from these learning experiences. Recommendations consider the potential for developing more service user-led social, community-based, and therapeutic interventions, which utilizes the authentic knowledge of older people with lived experiences.

Later life
Transformational learning
Peer support
University of Strathclyde

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Conflict of interest
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
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