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 StoreClick here to order.

 

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Tags: suicide, supporting the bereaved, what not to do, what not to say

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Comment by sandra marquez on September 10, 2011 at 6:33am
My father committed suicide, that is what i always say. It took a toll on me, had to go to therapy for a long period after it. Also, tried to stop my now ex-husband from shooting himself, therefore shortly after that he was diagnosed as bipolar. I tried to take loaded gun from him and went off in the ceiling of bedroom. i wish i had taken the long road then but instead decided to help him. What I learned that some people don't want to be helped. He was on meds and therapy and I was behind trying to pick up the pieces. Now, after many years of mental abuse and being evicted, i left last year. He had continued with his ending life situations, but he is still here. He is happy in his own way, while I try to shape myself. The loss of my father was tragic for me to the point that I can't remember what year he died unless i look it up.
Comment by Renee H on September 10, 2011 at 4:07am
My husband attempted suicide in 2007. I was never told this but apparently he told a brother-in-law that he knew what he did wrong and he knows he would not make that mistake again. When asked what his mistake was, he replied, "I let someone know".
I was very close to him and I could read him very well. If I had been told about this statement, I can't help to feel like I could have stopped him.
He was the best man and father that I have ever known. I know his family blames me for his death but he actually reached out to them that night. I would never out right blame them as they have me. I just don't think like that! We together raised 3 great children, but he was the father to only 1. He never called himself their stepfather or did things any differently with my other 2 than he did with his own. We werent perfect and neither was our marriage but I know he loved me and the kids more than we will ever know. I think for the first 2 years, we spoke of him daily and never was there a bad memory. There were so many good times that outweighed those less than grand times that we have never had reason to think about them. He was a wonderful husband and father for the time that we had him. We will all be together again someday and I can't wait to tell him the things that so often are overlooked and taken for for granted. My regret is not recognizing him often enough and not being a close enough family unit that we said "I love you" and "Thank you" enough to each other. It has made me and my children recognize each other more often because you just don't know what might happen in the tomorrow's of the future. Now I say I know what I did wrong the first time as well, and I am doing my best to remember every day is a gift. Slow down and make time to take the opportunity to share your feelings with those you love.
Comment by Raejean French on September 9, 2011 at 5:09pm

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.

Comment by Stephanie Segneri on September 7, 2011 at 10:32am
The thing is, most people who take their own lives(from personal experience time & time again), think the world would be better for thoes around them if they wern't here. It's so important to pay attention to people's feelings & make sure your friends & family know how much you care. That's all you can do.
Comment by Donna Patterson on September 6, 2011 at 3:36pm
I would like to add to the comment that people who commit suicide are simply trying to end the pain.  That comment is absolutely correct.  Depression is a pain no one can possibly imagine unless they have been there.  Add that to feelings of low self worth.  There are many depressed people that feel that they are doing their loved ones a favor by ending their lives.  They believe they are a burden because of their depression.  If the depression hasn't been diagnosed, these people have no idea why they are suffering so much and why they can't stop the pain.  To explain away a suicide by cowardice couldn't be further than the truth.
Comment by Linda A. on March 12, 2010 at 9:46pm
My son Aaron left us March 19th 2008. I have a hard time saying he committed suicide, and it was his choice. I know my son wanted to live. It hurts so much. I know I will see him again. I know he is in Heaven. It's just so hard to be without him. The first year was really hard, the second year has been harder. "His Grace is enough". Thank you Jesus!!
Comment by Susan F on March 12, 2010 at 9:11pm
First - thank you, Diane. I understand and appreciate your words, "physically left this world..."

My husband took his life 14 July 09. He didn't suffer from depression - he suffered from hyperthyroidism. We didn't know that until two weeks before he died. The family doctor treated him for anxiety with Zoloft for 10 days instead of referring him to an endrocrinologist. The very last conversations we had were about our trip we planned in October, who was coming to our house for Thanksgiving, and how we were going to beat this hyperthyroid-business. Even the morning he died, I called him from work and he said he was going to make an appointment with the doctor because he felt worse instead of better. I came home for lunch and found him. Our friends and family members (we didn't have children) were very understanding - from what I can remember anyway. The only thing that really disturbed me was when one of my husband's co-workers asked me, "why did he do that? Why do YOU think he did that? What was going on that made him want to leave YOU?" He was angry of course, but at the time I felt like he was attacking me. (I blame myself anyway - I didn't need him to reinforce it...) I didn't know how to respond - I had a panic attack and left the building. I haven't seen him since. He had no idea the wonderful, loving relationship we shared for nearly 20 years and no one was as deeply hurt by this as me and my mom-in-law. I experienced the loss of both parents and our niece who was like a daughter to us and after going through those mourning processes, that one conversation with the co-worker was the most upsetting.
Comment by Robbie Miller Kaplan on March 12, 2010 at 2:44pm
My deepest condolences to you Diana. Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom with us.
Comment by Robbie Miller Kaplan on March 12, 2010 at 2:43pm
My deepest condolences to you Sherry. Thank you for sharing with us.
Comment by Diana L. Nelson on March 12, 2010 at 2:34pm
My 16 year old son, Paul, physically left this world on March,14th 2001. I say it this way because mentally he is with me almost every day. I have felt and often still feel the many emotions that come along with a situation like this. My other two sons call him a coward for doing what he did. I get very angry at this because I am saddened that he felt that this was the only option he had. I have finally realized that I will never understand why and that one day it won't matter anymore. I know that at the time this happened nobody could say anything to make me feel better. I had to take it to God for comfort.

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