To lose a family member, friend or colleague is one of the worst experiences that we can go through. To lose someone by suicide is a different type of grief and throws up so many different emotions and obstacles.
Some people choose not to tell others that they are bereaved by suicide and that’s because of the judgement that you sometimes receive; judgement against both the person that died and also those left behind. I will never forget being in the school playground picking up our son two weeks after my husband had completed suicide. Someone referred to him as a coward and said that he was selfish. These comments didn’t just make me angry, they also made me wary about who I could talk to about this. That is just one example of the stigma around suicide, but it had a massive impact on me.
People are very quick to assume things, when in reality we never really know what goes on behind closed doors. Mental ill health can change a person beyond recognition and that is why so many marriages break down due to PTSD. This is another subject that can cause great upset after someone’s suicide, it can be very difficult to maintain a relationship with someone that has shut themselves off to everyone around them. I left my husband, but not because I didn’t love him, but for my own safety. He will always own a piece of my heart, but people just focus on the separation.
As in any bereavement people tend to rally round in the lead up to the funeral, which is amazing, but I found that once the funeral was over people disappeared. It was like people thought that was it, I had said goodbye and now the grieving had ended, and my life would start again. This couldn’t be further from the truth, before the funeral I had something to focus on, something to keep me going and now I had lost that. This was the time I probably needed more help; I was trying to guide our son through an horrendous loss and was also faced with the inquest which is a very stressful experience. People don’t want you to phone or visit every day, we know that you have a life but please show your support and let people know that you are there.
The language that is used around suicide is very important as it can be very insulting and can cut deep into someone that is already hurting. The phrase ‘committed suicide’ although commonly used is quite outdated. It implies that someone has committed a crime or a sin which is not the case. Slowly but surely word is getting around that ‘completed suicide’ is much more appropriate.
Someone who completes suicide doesn’t do so on a whim, there has normally been a build up to it. Some ask for help and some don’t, but either way it’s not a cowardly or selfish act. Coping with a mental illness is exhausting, both for the person suffering and also those around them and you have to be in a very dark place to think that you would be better off dead. This haunts those left behind as they will always feel they could have done more; they are left with many unanswered questions and a lot of ‘what if’s. Please remember this blog when speaking to the bereaved as a little understanding goes such a long way.
Mandy is a loving mother, a bereaved wife, a veteran of the Royal Air Force and a Peer Support Worker with All Call Signs. She and her son Jamie have been tireless campaigners on the subject of veterans mental health since losing Chris Small in 2016. Adding to an astonishing list of achievements in the last few years, Mandy has written a book chronicling a life bereaved by suicide and the journey she and her son have faced since Chris’s tragic and untimely passing. The book delves into grief, stigma and the inimitable power of a mother and child in ensuring their family’s loss might save other families from similar pain.
You can purchase her book ‘Living Our Lives: Bereaved by Suicide’ by clicking here.