There are many ways to die but suicide may be the most painful way for those left behind.
I don’t want to write about the act of suicide itself but I want to talk about the aftermath for those following death by suicide. It is so easy to get access to details on suicide in all of it’s forms. But I want to look and consider what happens during the mourning processes of those friends and family members of a victim of suicide.
Historical View on Suicide
Talking about suicide is not such a taboo subject anymore. Generations before us have had a range of views about the subject from avoidance and dismissiveness to openness and supportive. This change in approach may have led to it becoming de-criminalised. No country in Europe currently considers suicide or attempted suicide to be a crime. England and Wales decriminalized suicide via the Suicide Act 1961 and the Republic of Ireland in 1993. However, many Islamic countries still label it a criminal offense.
My Early Conceptions on Suicide
I recall a relative saying, quite dismissively, that suicide was a ‘coward’s way out’. From the outset, I had difficulty squaring this concept. Much of my parent’s views were based on their own generational experiences and understanding. It was also matched with their religious beliefs (I will say that I am a committed Agnostic now and have formally turned my back on formal religions). There are, in my view, a number of things to counter argue that suicide is a coward’s way out.
Firstly, how awful must a life be to consider that death is a better option than living. How hopeless must their plight be to consider that ending it there and then is the only option left following (presumably) a period of reflection.
Secondly, there is nothing cowardly about causing self-pain and/or suicide. After all, we commit our lives to the avoidance of such things. I cringe at the thought of needles so anything greater can be quite distressing.
When I was a child a neighbour killed himself after the death of his wife. It became a morbid horror in the street that such a thing could happen in ‘our neighbourhood’. As I grew older I became more exposed to other people taking their own lives. Throughout, it was always a shock that people of whom I knew could do such things. These people had showed no signs of which raised concern. This made it even more shocking when I had considered that I may have spoken to them a day (or a few days) prior to them dyeing unexpectedly.
As time passed I gradually grew to accept that such things happen for a range of reasons and refused to condemn them for doing so. In fact with my growing history of depression, I came to understand and appreciate their reasoning’s more. I too had considered taking my own life on numerous occasions.
Front Line Exposure
During my time working for the ambulance service self-harm and suicide became part of the job. People of all ages and backgrounds found ways of taking their own lives via a range of methods. Some peacefully and some traumatically. Generally, these people left a note of some form explaining their reasons or giving details about their funeral arrangements. However, what struck me time and again was their apologies to those of whom were left behind. In effect, all of these people had someone who would grieve for their loss.
I always had difficulty with the ‘non-logical’ (my own phrase) attempts of suicide. These people would take a very small dosage of medication then phone for an ambulance. Well do you want to die or not? It was usually following an argument with a partner and was mainly, although not exclusively, females.
I recall attending a female in her 20’s who was a ‘non-logical’ suicide attempt. She justified calling for an ambulance because she realised that she had booked a holiday with her ‘girl-friends’ and didn’t want to let them down.
Yes, I accept that it was a call for help. But it takes the focus from the real sufferers who needed our support. It could have saved a life. It’s almost on a par with people who falsely claim rape as this diminished the value of true victims.
Let’s be clear. I am not condemning any victims of suicide. I have had suicidal thoughts on and off throughout my life. However, I have always found a reason to not commit the act or have obtained support just at the right time. But what I want to consider is the consequences felt by those left behind.
As stated, many suicide notes (and I’ve read a great many) try to explain their actions to their loved ones. Therefore, they do leave people behind. But it has always struck me that the processes of grieving is slightly different to any form of grief I have witnessed with different types of deaths (see Winstons Wish for an explanation of the five stages of grief)
These people go through the normal processes but experience an extra dynamic based on a lack of communication. Time and again I have heard relatives say things such as;
- Why couldn’t they tell us…
- We failed to see the signs…
- If they had just told us…
- Why didn’t we see it…
And so on…
What I want you to consider is that grief is hard but the added burden of guilt or failure must be unbearable to those left behind.
Four Categories of Death
Generally, there are four categories of death. These are:
- Natural Causes: Quite simply this is when the body ceases to function of its own accord. This also includes medical factors such as terminal illness, heart disease etc – this is generally referred to as death by natural causes.
- Homicide: The taking of one human life by another human being by means of murder.
- Accidental Death: This form of death can also be categorised as death by misadventure. This means that the victim has died by accident either whilst doing something they should not have been doing or by taking risks that would put them in mortal danger.
- Suicide: The deliberate taking of one’s own life. Suicide is neither accidental nor is it classified as death by misadventure.
I think the crucial differences for those left behind are;
- Natural Causes: This is sometimes expected and planned for. The loved ones are allowed time to pre-grieve and make plans.
- Homicide: Although unexpected, the victim was not responsible for their own deaths. Blame can be attributed easier and the loved ones loss can be aimed at another party.
- Accidental Death: Again, this could be similar to homicide, whereby it was unexpected. Furthermore, there may also be a focus to lay blame.
- Suicide: There may be instant anger towards the deceased. This is not a characteristic of any other death as anger may follow much later. Furthermore, I have then witnessed this anger turn inward whereby, they blame themselves for the loss of a loved one. This is hard to witness. It is also difficult to convince them that they are not to blame, especially when they are adamant that they could have ‘done more’ to have stopped this happening. I have been aware that this form of guilt (and shame) often lasts for the rest of their lives.
What I want to say…
Suicide is real. It happens and when it does there is no going back. The pain of living for these people has ended but it becomes a new pain for someone else. The burden of projecting my pain onto my loved ones is a heavy weight to consider. It may have stopped me on a number of occasions.