Depression, mental illness, addictions, personal challenges…there are many reasons someone might choose to end their life. Sometimes there are clues that someone is considering this decision. Sometimes people receive all kinds of needed mental health support in the hopes that they will not take their own life, and yet they do. Other times, a person’s intentions are carefully hidden from family and friends – and a suicide death comes as a total, unspeakable surprise.
Still, for the surviving family members the truth is – a death has occurred. A family has lost a loved one. A sudden, many layered grief has arrived.
As a funeral celebrant who has performed funerals in the case of suicide death – surviving family members have been teaching me about how they cope with their loss. Recently a family chose to speak of their loved one’s death by saying that she died of her depression. And while they grieved this terrible loss, they also wanted to celebrate the life she lived. Just as in any other death, this individual was not defined by how she died. She was defined by how she lived.
Families have taught me that while there is deep sadness and unanswerable questions, there are also stories to name and share about who their loved one was. Sharing these stories, reminiscing, honoring and naming all the wonderful ways that a person lived are essentials to celebrating their life. When possible, family and friends choose to share the stories themselves. And when it’s too difficult, they give me the stories and I share them. The essence is the same; through stories, pictures, music, video tributes and more, we remember together the full life that their loved one lived. The story that is way beyond the immediate one about how that person died.
As a celebrant, I have an opportunity to observe how any family, after a death, is embraced by their community. Friends show up. Caregiving comes in many shapes; friends step up and provide extra house cleaning, make the guest beds, pick up children, run errands and bring food. Caring memorial gifts arrive too – flowers at the funeral home, potted plants, wind chimes, throw blankets with pictures of the loved one, photographs and more. Social media becomes a place where memorial messages are left – tributes and stories and memories appear.
Comfort is needed in the immediate aftermath of the death and the memorial service. And it will be needed in a wide variety of shapes in the weeks and months to come. Since a recent suicide death, one family has experienced support through a daily phone call from a longtime friend. The call comes at the same time each morning. And, when they are able the family answers. When they don’t feel up to the brief call, the friend leaves an encouraging message that can be listened to later. The calls have continued for weeks. And are felt support whether the surviving family member answers the phone on any given day.
Another family continues to receive notes and cards and texts on the anniversary of the death of their loved one; a way of honoring that individual and supporting the family from afar. Family members may find comfort in attending a suicide survivor’s support group. Some family members might find individual support in the form of counseling. And participation in local suicide prevention walks and events may also bring comfort. There are as many ways to cope with this loss as there are individuals.
While it may seem that funeral homes are the first responders – they can also be a place of on-going support. Websites, blog posts and community connections can be found at Hansenspear.com. Struggling with the suicide death of a loved one is hard. We all need one another for care, comfort and support after the death of a love one.
Deb Brandt (formerly Buehler) has blogged for Hansen-Spear Funeral Home in the past. She took time away from her writing after the death of her sister in 2017. She is a certified funeral celebrant, certified creative grief practitioner and professional writer. She works virtually and in-person with individuals and families as they tell their stories of grief and loss. Deb co-authored The Hollowed Heart; Inspiration for Women Awakening from Grief and Loss. You can learn more about Deb and her services at www.growingbeyondgrief.com or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org