Suicide was back in the news this week after the tragic death of Marie Osmond’s eighteen-year old son. “Suicide survivors,” the bereaved whose loved one died by suicide, are often left to deal with guilt (could I have stopped it?); rejection (how could they choose death over me?); stigmatism by friends, loved ones, and society (their loved one chose death over life).
So what can you do when a friend or loved one experiences a death by suicide? You can provide nonjudgmental support to help your friend or loved one navigate what will be a complicated and prolonged bereavement.
• Don’t stay away because you fear you’ll say the wrong thing. Instead, express your deepest condolences and share how sorry you are for the loss. If you knew the deceased, you can share what was so special about them and that you will miss them too.
• Don’t think suicide should be treated any differently than any other death. Treat suicide survivors the same way you would treat anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.
• Don’t use words and phrases to describe suicide in negative connotations. Avoid saying “committed suicide;” using the word “committed” implies a crime.
• Don’t use language that implies the person who died by suicide was to blame. It’s inappropriate to say “killed themselves,” “ended their life” or, “they took their life by their own choice.”
• Don’t ask questions. You can offer to listen confidentially, and leave it up to the bereaved to let you know if and when they’d like to talk.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.
I do want to commiserate with Susan F. regarding the way people don't know how to address the subject with you, or insensitively project from their own anger, grief and confusion that you are the logical person to blame.
My partner and lover of 12 years, who was also the father of my oldest child, ended his life more than 25 years ago. It impacts me to this day, and certainly, has shaped our son.
He is still with me in many ways; beyond the realm of spiritual belief and communication, I don't go very long without remembering him, looking for him in his grandson, wondering "what if?" So he remains alive to me even if most of the world he knew in his brief life has passed on or no longer cares.
I have no problem with the phrases "ended his life" or "took his life." They are as descriptive as any, not overly graphic or brutal, and they avoid silly euphemisms. Euphemisms are a dark-ages phenomenon from when things were whispered, and the topic needs light. The fact of the matter is that the deceased did do it; what we fail to focus our energy and attention toward is that something misled them to decide this action!
We've come a long way from branding the deceased as a crazy, cowardly or evil person, or demonizing everyone and everything in the situation(s) that lead to suicide, but not nearly enough to educate the general public about the confluence of factors that can come together for this result.
Two areas that aren't publicized nearly enough are the contributions of endocrine imbalances (especially thyroid disease) or drug reactions on disordered thought processing. I can't emphasize this strongly enough: Too many suicides happen because of untreated endocrine disease, untreated or unalleviated depression, or other natural or pharmaceutical chemical imbalances.
Everyone has stress and oftentimes terrible tragedy and unrelenting hardship in their life, but it is the chemical factor I referenced above that frequently makes the difference as to whether the individual can cope with these challenges or is pushed to the point of doing something just to end their own pain and suffering because their brain just isn't working as intended.
Thank you for this forum.
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