Thoughts on My Grandfather’s Suicide (and suggestions for others)

Harry & Young George Spear | Hansen-Spear Funeral Home - Quincy, Illinois
Harry & Young George Spear | Hansen-Spear Funeral Home - Quincy, Illinois

George H. Spear (as a young boy) and his father, Harry G. Spear.

 

Last week we celebrated on Facebook the 85th anniversary of my grandfather, Harry G. Spear, becoming a citizen of the United States. What we neglected to celebrate was his death, 60 years ago.  I never knew him since he died the year I was born (1955). And I didn’t know that he committed suicide until my grandmother Spear died in 1979.

By that time I was already an apprentice funeral director in Quincy and had been exposed to suicides that we had handled. I actually got to experience a bit of the emotions that these survivors had been feeling.

Even after finding out about the suicide, my familyg seldom discussed it. The whole subject is taboo in our society. The most discussion we ever had was at a family dinner after my father’s visitation in 2013 when we asked dad’s brothers and sisters about their dad (My dad was the oldest of 9 and was the father of two with me on the way when grandpa died.) The story was enlightening and reinforced my long held belief that a person who commits suicide is not in any rational state of mind.

With that last point as the basis, let me offer a few suggestions to family members who have experienced a loss by suicide. Guilt will always be a part (“What if I…”), but do not let that consume you. My uncles (grade school and high school ages) used to walk along the train tracks with their father and always tried to stay between him and the track because they sensed his desire to commit suicide. Without professional intervention, and sometimes even with it, a suicide may occur.

The next question is how to ‘deal’ with it. Rabbi Earl Grollman once commented, “When someone is born we rejoice. When someone gets married we celebrate. When someone dies we want to act like nothing happened.” This is particularly true with the stigma of a suicide.  But the fact is that a very significant thing did happen, and a life has ended. This needs to be acknowledged. Trying to ignore it or to ‘be brave and don’t cry’ are not helpful. A follow-up quote from the Rabbi reminds us that “Joy shared is joy increased. Grief shared is grief diminished.”  Talk to people about it. Hopefully you have a good friend or circle of friends with whom you can confide your feelings.

Don’t neglect the younger members of the family. Children have an ego centric view of the world which has them at the center of the universe. If anything happens, it’s because of something they did. Simple language can help straighten out a lot in their minds. Just beware of clichés that they don’t truly understand like “Dad is sleeping” or “Grandma went on a long trip.”  They take these literally and then wonder what will happen if they fall asleep or why doesn’t grandma come back to visit. Even small children can understand death clearly. If you need some help, ask us for some brochures with easy language to use.

And finally, as a friend, this is a great time to step forward and be the support person that is needed. Most definitely go to the visitation and funeral. There are no magic words that will lessen the grief, but just by being there and giving a hug you have shown that you are there for them. Some families try to skip having any services which doesn’t easily allow others to show their support. (I hear occasionally of families who regret this since they then have an ‘informal visitation’ every time they go to the store or anywhere in public. They then end up hating to leave the house). If this is the case, go to the home for a quick visit.  And then, more importantly, continue to stay in contact because it will be days/weeks/months later when the casual acquaintances have dropped off and they really need a shoulder to cry on.

No one ever said grief was easy. In the Bible, even Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died. And the grief surrounding a death by suicide is even more jumbled and chaotic.  Life has changed. There may be no getting back to normal. But your life can go on one step at a time until you reach a place where every moment is not being consumed by the feelings or loss, anger, guilt or devastation following a suicide.

We have helpful literature about suicide. Please let us know if we can help in any way.

12 Responses to Thoughts on My Grandfather’s Suicide (and suggestions for others)

  1. Melinda says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your Grandpa Jeff and that you missed getting to know him. He left a great legacy in his 9 children and grandchildren. There are some things no one will ever ever be able to answer.
    There will always be an empty spot in our hearts that your Grandfather, for your family (and Terry , for us) once filled. And yes, so many questions for the survivors. Some days are better than others for sure, but still heartbreaking on some days. Thank you for the post. Peace be with you.

  2. Suzi Duker says:

    I absolutely agree with you that a person who takes his own life is not in a rational state of mind. Paul’s mother took her life at age 49. Health issues were at the root of her irrationality. So hard for those left for all the reasons you stated.

  3. Marsha Taylor says:

    I am sorry about your grandfather.
    We lost a granddaughter to suicide 3 years ago and everything you wrote was very touching. I treasure every moment we got to have with her but still suffer from her loss a lot. Time has not healed this and I doubt it ever will.
    The “why” and ” what if” is there every day.
    Thank you for speaking of this and helping to bring it out of the darkness.

  4. mark neiswender says:

    nicely put Jeff, that is always a tough death and your closeness to the situation was spot on, because you’ve been in those shoes, even though you didn’t know it at the time. I’m sure it still affected you, because of stories about his life, that you were not a part of, but still a piece of your ancestry.

  5. Mark Schuering says:

    This is so very well said and though increidbly difficult, great suggestions. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Dawn says:

    Thank you Jeff for posting this. My only chiled Dylan died on Nov. 6th, your words speak volumes to how the grieving family feels. We have had too many suicides in our small community. With the help of a support group called Left Behind Moving Forward has helped me in my grief. This group meets the 3rd Monday of every month at Transitions from 6-7 pm.

  7. George Wriedt says:

    Hugs to you and your family Jeff. Thanks for sharing this important information. I think this is spot on. This will help so many. I will forever be indebted to your dad and your family for all kindness shown to me. Hansen Spear Funeral Home is the best at what you do!

  8. Linda Bassett says:

    so sorry Jeff. I lost my grandfather 56 years ago when my sister and were alone with him in his house. I was five, she was 12. Grandma had gone to get groceries and found him in the garage when she got back. We were told nothing and I wasn’t allowed to say good bye to him at the funeral. My Mom thought I would me traumatized. Hey…. I was there when he shot himself… how much more traumatzed can you get…? I loved my grandfather.

  9. Debbie Arrowsmith Miller says:

    Sorry to hear about your grandpa Jeff. I know that had to be hard to find out. God’s blessings to you and your family.

  10. Tracy Alexander says:

    There should be advocates in our community to assist with getting education out there and not be afraid to speak out. The Stigma and an unwillingness to address the needs of those in pain can no longer be a silent, there must be a voice for those families and for those of all ages that think there is no way out.

  11. Marla Roberts says:

    I have lost my Husband, my Father, and now a Grandson all suicide all with guns. I know they are not thinking straight they are in another world when they do this. I only wish they knew how hard it is on family and friend’s.

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