I have just read Stephanie Abraham’s post about her brother’s suicide.
It is powerful and profoundly helpful discussion about the impact of suicide. She observes:
during bereavement, we need more support than those grieving other types of death, but often receive less. The grief that comes with suicide is especially complex and traumatic because it’s typically sudden, sometimes violent, and we’re left reeling with questions about what happened and what we could have done differently. We’re also more likely to face stigma, shame, and isolation.
Stephanie shares a link to a Harvard study (2009) and their conclusion that “Survivors may grieve more intensely, and for longer periods, than people mourning other types of loss”. Stephanie adds:
Suicide jars people to the core, which makes them even more awkward and scared about talking about it. People feel preoccupied about making mistakes or saying the wrong thing. I understand. Still, although there are no magic words to make the pain go away, words do matter, especially in times of great distress. The way we speak to the bereaved can comfort or sting.
She provides some important suggestions about how others might help comfort:
- Don’t ask details about the death
- Console the survivor
- Don’t ask about the mental health of the deceased
- Focus on the well-being of the survivor
- Don’t project your guilt
- Offer to listen to the survivor
- Don’t pretend everything is normal or that nothing happened
- Share positive memories of the deceased
Stephanie concludes her post with this paragraph:
When someone dies by way of suicide, their death often overshadows their life. The responsibility to remember them for the light they brought to the world, rather than for how they left it, shouldn’t just rest on survivors’ shoulders. We should all keep the deceased alive through sharing stories about them. (My emphasis)
Stephanie’s post is very timely. My brother John took his own life in November 1982 three days after his 26th birthday. I am keen to remember the light he brought to the world and in doing so try to address the awkwardness each of us feels about suicide. Stephanie’s guidelines are immensely helpful in this process.
Photographs help too.
John at Primary School
John at pre-season training (bottom left)