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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Comment by Jael on March 12, 2010 at 1:05pm
Suicide is not a "One Fits All Size."
Comment by Sherry L. Pierce-Simpson on March 12, 2010 at 12:47pm
Georgia,sometimes a person feels,"they have nothing else to loose." My baby sister "lost her life"on Feb 10, 2010,when her husband made a choice and decided to kill her then kill himself.

Everyone has drawn conclusions,he lost his job,he lost his automobile, they were behind on their mortgage;but such a selfish act,he didn't give her a choice.He left five beautiful children,scattered in four different households,three without a mother and a father.

And their loveones left behind wondering "what could we have done?""he could not have thought he was doing what was best!"

Sherry Pierce-Simpson
Comment by Robbie Miller Kaplan on March 12, 2010 at 12:23pm
My deepest condolences to you Georgia. What you’ve shared with us is a good lesson that what helps or hurts one person might impact another in a different way. There is no one size fits all when it come to grief and loss. I thought I’d share a quote from Gail Griffith from a letter to the editor, Washington Post, March 8. 2010:
“The heartbreaking paradox of suicide is that no one who is ill with depression wants to die; he or she simply wants to end the pain.”

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