Breaking Suicide's Unspoken Rule!!

Five years ago, I lost my dad to suicide.  Those first few weeks, I could barely breathe trying to get through the days.  Helping plan the funeral, making arrangements, navigating questions, and all that comes with the aftermath of such an ordeal kept me moving.  I was on autopilot.  Then, getting back to "normal" life, I remember the first time it happened.

It was a week or so after the funeral.  Still on autopilot one afternoon, I went to pick up my daughter from an event and ran into another mother ~ someone I had come to know over the years.  It was obvious I was not myself so she asked, "Are you okay?"  Trying desperately not to cry ~ again ~ I quietly answered, "my dad died last week" and without thinking, I added, "it was suicide."  It was more of a statement really.  A way for me to keep saying it out loud so I could actually hear the words and continue to process this confusion.

Then I realized it.  As if snapping me back to reality I saw it on her face, first the look of compassion, then immediately it turned to fear and discomfort.  "Well, you didn't have to tell me" she replied.  I instantly felt guilt.  I was wrong, I should not have told her.  I'm sorry...what are the rules for suicide?  I don't know since this has never happened to me before.

It was that day when I learned the unspoken rule ~ "Don't talk about suicide, it makes others uncomfortable."  Only later did I realize how different the reaction would have been to cancer, a heart attack, car accident ... anything else!!!  These topics are safe.  I never blamed her for this reaction nor was I offended.  It was more of a confused response because I did not understand.  Why can't we talk about this?  I need to talk about it, to make sense of it.

In the process of healing, I learned that the grief survivors experience after losing a loved one to suicide is not like normal grief.  In fact, it is more complicated largely due to societal stigma.  After losing a loved one to suicide, people become confused, stressed, and are in tremendous pain.  However, in a literature review, Cvinar (2005) found that suicidal loss is "further complicated by the societal perception that the act of suicide is a failure by the victim and the family to deal with some emotional issue and ultimately society affixes blame for the loss on the survivors."  This perception adds additional stress, pain, guilt, and shame to an already hurting person trying to healing.  Yet, suicide happens ... more than we realize!!!

  • In 2007, suicides greatly exceeded homicides
  • 3rd leading cause of death (aged 15-24)
  • 2nd leading cause of death (college students)

As it happens, I am not always good at following rules, especially ones that do not make sense.  This unspoken rule of suicide does not make sense because the only way to deal with an issue is to talk about it.  The fact is, we need to discuss it because ignoring and/or avoiding it is definitely not working.  So I talk about ... a lot!!  Let's talk about this so we can stop being uncomfortable.  It is the only way to begin to heal and ultimately save lives.

Indiana Chapter of the AFSP, Newsletter, SURVIVOR SPOTLIGHT
Northwest Indiana Times, GETTING THROUGH THE PAIN
Photo taken from


Anonymous said...

This was a very well written post.
So sorry for your father's suicide.
I can't say I totally understand, no one can.
Just 2 years ago my oldest son suicided, he was 25, it was an impulsive act without any signs it would happen. These last 2 years have been a misery. I pushed through the first year trying to keep my younger son from fallowing his brother, which for a 17yr old was statistically possible in the first year. The second year has been realizing I'd never really grieved.
I lost most of my friends, they couldn't deal with the suicide, they made it clear it was not okay to talk about. There were many that made it clear I had failed as a mother, that somehow it was my fault. It was more hurt and confusion heaped on top of what I was already feeling.
It was amazing how complete strangers felt empowered to ask hurtful questions or share their opinions .
Seeing a professional counsellor and attending and getting involved with AFSP services has been really helpful.

Speaking out is so important. Thank you.
With compassion and empathy.

Ulrike said...

My Dear Britta,
Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful article, your work is so important and I am so very proud of what you are doing, and I know your Dad would feel the same way too.
Today is December 10, 2010 and this makes it 5 years since he decided to end his life. I have been very determined not to let this day overshadow all the days we shared over 40 years but the tears are flowing, as they should…
It has taken me all this time to realize that this is not something he did to me or to us but that he was in so much mental pain that he could not go on any longer. In his note he said he is sorry for what he is doing and asked us to forgive him. I have forgiven him a long time ago but I could simply not understand why he felt he needed to end his life, there was no obvious reason that anyone could see. Life was good, he was healthy, and we had plans for the future….
I did not understand that he did not want to end his life but end the pain he was in. I did not understand about his pain because he never let me see it; or maybe I did not see the signs because I was not AWARE. I have struggled with the guilt of not having seen the mental anguish he was in, for not being aware of his state of mind, for missing any signs there may have been. AWARENESS is the most important thing that we need, to be able to recognize the signs which are always there somewhere but we miss them or explain them away because we cannot comprehend why anyone would want to die.
You are so right ~ Yes, we need to talk about it ~ a lot, so we can learn and hopefully prevent it from happening over and over.
I have now forgiven myself for missing any clues that he may have shown and for not being able to safe him. I am concentrating on the memories of all the years we shared, good times and bad, funny and sad, and I am so very grateful for having been truly loved for over 40 years by a wonderful man. There are times when I miss him terribly but I know he will always be with me in my heart.
I Love you, Mom