Death touches all of our lives sooner or later. Sometimes it is expected, as with the passing of an elderly relative; sometimes it comes suddenly in the form of a tragic accident.
But suicide is different. The person you have lost seems to have chosen death, and that simple fact makes a world of difference for those left to grieve. The suicide survivor faces all the same emotions as anyone who mourns a death, but they also face a somewhat unique set of painful feelings on top of their grief.
Rarely in other deaths do we encounter any feelings of responsibility. Diseases, accidents, old age… we know instinctively that we cannot cause or control these things. But the suicide survivor – even if they were only on the periphery of the deceased’s life – invariably feels that they might have, could have, or should have done something to prevent the suicide. This mistaken assumption is the suicide survivor’s greatest enemy.
Society still attaches a stigma to suicide, and it is largely misunderstood. While mourners usually receive sympathy and compassion, the suicide survivor may encounter blame, judgment, or exclusion.
When we lose a loved one to disease or an accident, it is easier to retain happy memories of them. We know that, if they could choose, they would still be here with us. But it’s not as easy for the suicide survivor. Because our loved one seems to have made a choice that is abhorrent to us, we feel disconnected and “divorced” from their memory. We are in a state of conflict with them, and we are left to resolve that conflict alone.
Write yourself a script. Suicide loss survivors often find themselves faced with uncomfortable questions from outsiders. It will help if you can anticipate some of these and write yourself a “script” of answers that you can mentally keep at the ready. For example, when someone probes for details of the suicide that you are not comfortable discussing with them, you might simply say “I do not want to talk about it right now,” or “I’m sure we can find something happier to discuss.” When new acquaintances learn of your loss, they may ask “How did they die?” You should have no reservations about saying plainly, “They took their own life,” or a straightforward “They committed suicide.” But if this is a casual acquaintance that you wish to deny this information, you would be equally justified in saying, “They suffered a long illness,” which may very much be the truth. The more you fear these kinds of inquiries, the better a prepared “script” of answers will serve you.