People often say to us that they don’t know how we do what we do – dealing with death and grief every day. One of the most difficult situations for us is when a family walks through our door that has just lost their beloved to suicide. Our heart breaks right along with theirs. We want to have the right words, the answers to elevate some of their pain, but we are at a loss just as they are.
As a profession, one of the main tasks for Funeral Directors is to educate families and the public. It is long pass due that we educate the public about suicide. The definition of suicide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is: “Death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with an intent to die as a result of the behavior.” According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in our country. Every forty seconds, someone dies of suicide and half a million people a year are taken to the hospital because of suicide attempts. There are sixteen non-lethal attempts for every lethal attempt. Suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 25-44. Twenty United States Veterans die from suicide each day. Men are especially at risk, with a suicide rate approximately four times higher than that of women. There are also major disparities amongst ethnic and racial groups, with American Indian and Alaskan Natives being the highest risk groups.
The stigma of suicide must be eradicated. The first step is to change suicide terminology – stop using the phrase “committed suicide”. Crimes are “committed”, criminals “commit”. Suicide is not a criminal act! By using this term it turns the person who died into a criminal. Instead, say “… died of suicide.”
Grief is extremely complicated, but in the situation of suicide, a family’s grief is exponentially complicated. It is impossible to try to understand suicide from a rational perspective because suicide is an irrational act. There are always unanswered questions, regrets, feelings of guilt, thoughts of should haves and what ifs. When you add the term “committed” to the mix, you are also adding shame.
It has been said that people who die of suicide, don’t want to end their life, but want to end their pain. Everyone is born with an innate desire for survival, hardwired to want to live and thrive. Pain has the ability to trick us and lie to us. Pain clouds our minds and takes away hope. Suicide is not an act of extreme selfishness, but a permanent act to eliminate pain. We try to explain “why suicide?” We try to make sense out of something we cannot understand, logic from an illogical act. Questions keep arising, and we are given explanations, but never really giving us the full answer of “Why?”.
What we do know is that our loved one was deeply loved. The cause of their death is not their defining moment. Their life mattered and the world was better because they were in it. God gave us a tremendous gift by allowing us to be a part of our loved one’s life. We will always think about the happy moments we had with our beloved and we will always be grateful for the opportunity we had to love them. The story is not over – Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John verse 16 “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Hope is still alive.
Written by: Diann Anderson