Though every death is difficult to cope with, suicide is especially difficult since we know the person who died was dealing with a lot. A life gone too soon is especially tragic.
However, as a funeral director, it’s your job to help the family heal during their time of loss. There is no room for judgment when working with families grieving death by suicide.
Below are some ways you can reduce the stigma of suicide and help families move forward.
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The Problem with Stigma
When things are stigmatized, people are no longer open to discussing them. People feel too shameful to get help or talk about their problems. With suicide, families who lost someone to it often do not receive the help and support they need. They become too uncomfortable opening up about their trauma.
It also becomes problematic with people who have attempted suicide. They are seen as “cowards” or “selfish” which only furthers their mental anguish. By ending the stigma, more people will feel safe and supported and seek help.
It is not up to you to determine the fate of someone who died by suicide. For instance, you may have heard the news report of the priest who spoke harshly about a teen who died by suicide at his funeral service. This not only deeply traumatized his family who is dealing with intense emotions already, but it also deepened the stigma of suicide.
Treat the family like any other family you serve. Show them you care and that you understand how deeply devastating such a loss is. Encourage them to seek support and to find a space where they can openly talk about their loss.
Use the Correct Language
The phrase “committed suicide” is problematic because it goes back to a time when suicide was considered a crime. Instead of making people feel shameful about suicide, we need to show them our support.
During a funeral service, you don’t know who is listening and what they are going through. Some family members may be thinking distressing thoughts that improper language may only deepen. Showing compassion rather than condemning the deceased will help honor their life and help the family heal.
Phrases to avoid:
- Committed suicide
- Completed suicide
- Successful suicide
Alternative phrases to use:
- Died by suicide
- Death by suicide
- Took their life
- Ended their life
Listen to the Family
Since the stigma of suicide is so prevalent, families may request that it is not mentioned in the service. Though this is not always the best way to cope with the loss, it is important that you honor their wishes. It may just be too soon for them to relive the details of the tragic death.
Instead, encourage the family to share stories of the deceased. Who was the deceased? What are some special memories with them? Families don’t necessarily only need to reflect on happy times. They also can share who the person really was and how their mental health shaped their life.
However, if the family is open to talking about suicide, don’t be afraid to respectfully talk about it in the service. By openly talking about it, you are helping to reduce its stigma.
When the service is over, continue to offer the family your support. Guide them to any suicide support groups you know of or offer them any useful literature. Be sure to check in with them a few months after the service. Too often these families remain silent because no one feels comfortable enough to bring up the loss.