Suicide: Difficulty with Death (Part 2 of 3)

The subject of death is a sensitive subject to write about in a public forum and I believe there is therapeutic value in discussing difficult topics. However, if you are currently suffering or grieving about a loved one’s suicide, use caution in reading this post and please seek professional counsel if needed. If you are experiencing grief or trauma, there are links to resources in the post, google suicide prevention, or phone 911.

Death is rarely welcome in our lives and our Western culture typically has great difficulty knowing how to respond to it. While other cultures have specific rituals and periods devoted to grief (e.g., sitting in shiva for seven days), Canadians, if they are fortunate, will receive three bereavement days off of work. More often than not, the message is: quickly get back to work or back to your “normal” life.

The navigation of grief and loss can be even more confusing and difficult if the death was a result of suicide. There are many beliefs about suicide, that it is a ‘sin’ or a ‘cop-out’ or a betrayal of trust or a friendship. There can be additional trauma for loved ones who “find” the person who suicided or who “didn’t see the signs” and now feel heartbroken about their actions or lack of action.

One of the ways we talk about death in counselling is to ask questions about the relationship the client has with the person that died, such as:

  • What kind of person was s/he?
  • What was s/he good at and bad at?
  • What stories do you have about her or him?
  • How do you want this relationship to continue?

We talk about the person’s beliefs and values about suicide, which typically include the ongoing influences of culture, faith, and family norms and rules. We talk about creating or maintaining grieving and memorial practices and rituals. We talk about strong emotions, including anger, shame, horror, resentment, and frustration and we talk about how to speak about the suicide (or not) with others, including one’s children, friends, or co-workers.

In counselling, yes, we talk—but we also might sit in silence, weep, look at photos, or engage in creative exercises. We give importance to the process of grieving over time, giving as much time and freedom to grief work as is needed. Most importantly, we bear witness to human suffering and offer simple presence, empathic listening, and compassionate alongside-ness.

Important: If you or someone you know is talking about suicide or is at risk to themselves or others, talk about it with a health professional. Call 911 or seek mental health assistance right away (see below for helpful links). Don’t go it alone and don’t wait.

Peace to you and your household,

Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
Twitter: @gottasecond


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