“How would you like to handle the suicide in the memorial, service or obituary?”
You need to say the word suicide. “As a funeral director you need to say it freely, openly and without judgment,” advises Tana Nash, Executive Director of the Waterloo Regional Suicide Prevention Council. By not treating suicide as a secret, you begin to breakdown the stigma, say no to shame, and open the door so those bereaved by suicide may begin the grieving process on an open and honest path.
When a love one dies by suicide it can be one of the most intensely painful, overwhelming experiences a person will go through. For many families, funeral homes are one of the first points of contact after a suicide. This puts funeral directors in a unique position to set the stage for a healthy grieving process for the family and can also provide community resources for support services for those attending the funeral.
As a professional and respected member of the community, when a funeral director says the word suicide out loud they give permission to the family to say the word out loud. Even if the family is not ready to say suicide or address it head on, you have planted the seed and opened the possibility of a healthy recovery.
Package for Funeral Homes
For many bereaved by suicide, the initial reaction is a powerful response of shock and traumatic grief. They may feel detached, confused, numb, and overwhelmed. We also know close family and friends are at a higher risk of taking their own lives. Having a package with pamphlets from local suicide support organizations and links to local resources readily available is a positive way funeral homes can help.
When speaking to various funeral homes based in Ontario, Tana suggests they reach out to their local suicide prevention organization (if one is available) to partner with them, or at the very least develop a relationship. Not only can they help serve their families more effectively, they can also support the funeral home’s staff in dealing with their own reaction to a suicide.
Please find a link to a brochure created by the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council for funeral homes: Suicide Obituary Brochure. You can also find more resources on CASP’s website including this brochure on Suicide Grief.
Writing an Obituary
The decision to disclose a loved one has died by suicide is a personal choice that only those involved can make. Historically suicide was never mentioned in the obituary but this is slowly changing with our collective awareness surrounding suicide postvention and the healing process following a suicide. When we say suicide out loud we break down the stigma, shut down rumours and initiate the conversations needed as part of the healing process.
We encourage the use of non-judgmental language. The termed “died by suicide” has officially replaced “committed” or “successful” suicide, which perpetuates stigma. How the suicide took place should not be included to reduce the possibility of copycat suicides.
Below are some sample phrases for how to address a death by suicide in an obituary. If the family does not wish to include the cause of death but address the suicide they might suggest a donation to a suicide prevention or support group.
“John will always be remembered for his courage during difficult times. Unfortunately, this time the pain was too difficult, and John died by suicide on Saturday evening.”
“After a courageous and long battle with depression, the pain became unbearable and Sarah took her life.”
“John Horn, who we lost due to suicide on Wednesday April 30.”
“Jeff died by suicide on Thursday, November 10. He was no longer just sad; he was imprisoned in a powerful darkness.”
“On August 22, Trevor was only 17 years old when he died by suicide. Trevor will be 17 forever, and forever in our hearts.”
In conclusion, we recommend all funeral homes and associations reach out to their local suicide prevention organization, or to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, for resources to support the families they serve through this difficult journey. And to find the courage to be part of the suicide prevention and postvention movement that breaks down the stigma by openly, directly, and without discrimination, saying the word suicide.