Greetings, Friends ~
This excerpt has not yet been formally edited. I took it from a chapter that focuses on how to better understand some of the complexities of a loss due to suicide.
The more we know.
Just Keep Breathing
The way someone died should not make a difference in how we offer emotional support to those grieving that loss. But sometimes it does matter – a lot. Like everything we do not understand, by learning a little more about it we can minimize damage and better help.
Suicide is a type of loss that, when discussed, can shut down a conversation entirely. Generally speaking, humans are extremely uncomfortable at the slightest mention. I understand. I felt that same way before my son died.
I now see a problem with that level of discomfort, in addition to the stigma that society has created about suicides. Because these types of deaths are so difficult in conversation, those close to the deceased do not feel as though they have the same opportunity to share memories of their loved ones as, say, someone whose family member died in a car accident. Why is that? Should I not grieve my son because he committed suicide? Should I remember his entire 22-year life here by his final action?
Keeping in mind that no one would have ever chosen this nightmare, we can do better than we have in the past. For many reasons, it is necessary to have a direct conversation about suicide and its aftermath.
In the case of losses due to suicide, the bereaved have a double blow. Not only did they lose someone close, but they have to deal with a very high level of judgment from others. It is not always direct, but it makes it way back around. Several times after my son’s death, a few people expressed how sorry they were that my son was not going to heaven. I heard it directly, and a few times indirectly. I believe that is beyond cruel. I have also heard, “What kind of family did Lewis have that he would do something like that?” Excruciating emotional pain with a side order of judgment. I would not have heard those harsh remarks had my son died by accident.
Because of Lewis’ choice to leave his life here, I am more aware of the stigma surrounding suicide. In many ways, it is highly misunderstood by the masses. I believe this is because as humans, we feel the need to label every situation and assign it a meaning that makes sense to us. Regarding suicide, that label says that every single person who dies by his or her own hand must have some sort of mental illness, even in cases where there is no medical record or other evidence to substantiate it. And why do we feel it necessary to diagnose a dead person, anyway? It seems ludicrous to me. Having studied psychology, I understand how it came to be this way. But remember, the world used to be flat, and people were stoned for saying otherwise.
After someone voluntarily ends their life, that person is deceased. Because they are gone, they cannot participate or offer any information to support any kind of diagnosis one way or other. If they had a history of mental illness and that contributed to their choice to die, then that is one thing. But that is simply not the case with everyone.
I would submit that some people, in a moment of time, become too overwhelmed by the circumstances that exist in their lives and they simply cannot see their way around their situation. That said, I know that I have absolutely no qualification as an expert in the area of what causes a person to choose to die. Why is that? Because I am still alive, and that means I have never experienced suicide. For that reason, I cannot possibly be an expert on why people choose in a moment of time to end their lives. I believe that same way for all people who are still living today. If we are here, we did not die by our own hand. So, how can we speak to why people do it?
On behalf of the people like me who have lost someone close to them as the result of suicide, especially if it was their own child, my wish is that you have the same compassion as you would for anyone suffering any other kind of significant loss. The bereaved who lost someone to suicide are struggling with thoughts and feelings that are so harsh even the strong among us would buckle under the emotional weight. We can choose to judge the survivors and even say harsh things about the deceased. Or, we can focus on the fact that their loss caused them a severe amount of pain. We can also be of assistance in their healing process. That cannot be done by placing blame, judging, saying the deceased was selfish and cowardly, or feeding into this idea that everyone who commits suicide was mentally ill.
Those left in the wake of this type of loss need to believe that they are not being judged. They need to process the death itself without more difficulties being placed on them. They do not need to hear unkind and harsh beliefs and opinions about where their loved one’s soul may have gone from here. What they need is sincere and heartfelt compassion. Compassion in this context need not include someone’s personal religious beliefs or their opinions about the final action of the deceased.
Copyright 2013, Jana Brock. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.