This subject has come up several times recently, and I thought to myself, “Is this a topic I can use in my writing?” I felt the nudge of “yes,” so here I go.
I have spoken to several parents who have had sons or daughters die by their own hand. I lost a dear friend to suicide almost three years ago. There is a different kind of pain there, along with the deep pain of loss that follows the death of a loved one. Suicide has a stigma of its own, along with the survivor guilt that questions, “Shouldn’t I have known?” “If only I had done something to prevent this.”
Suicide can feel ugly and wrong somehow. It’s called “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Sometimes it is left out of the conversation completely, not mentioned in obituaries or retold stories. Why is that? Shame? Whatever the reason, I know that for me, suicide is still death and great loss. The more we talk about it, the better we are able to comfort the survivors.
As a hospice chaplain, I comforted parents whose teenage daughter had attempted suicide and was on life support. Their sorrow and pain felt overwhelming, as I sat and prayed with them. I remember feeling grateful that I had experienced some of this sadness myself, so that I could relate to them. It was a strange thing to feel grateful for.
Suicide is often associated with mental illness, including depression. It is also associated with debilitating and terminal illnesses, where assisted suicide allows the patient to die with dignity while he or she can still make a decision.
Suicide has moral implications to some. Can someone who dies by suicide be buried in a religious cemetery? Will he or she be accepted into afterlife? Will this person’s memory be honored by family and friends?
In my friend’s case, the family spoke openly about his struggles and suicide during the memorial service. His memory was honored and his life was remembered and valued. It is my hope that this may always be the case.