www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/suicideBy Paul Brustowicz

Nothing good comes from a suicide. Except recently when all the talking heads on every television network had special features or stories about suicide when two celebrities completed suicide. That was for two days and then everything went back to normal. Whatever normal is.

The main source for all those “special” reports was The Centers for Disease Control’s monthly newsletter showing that suicides nationwide have increased over 30%. This VitalSigns June bulletin was chock full of statistics, charts and graphs about suicides. It presented suggestions for what government, communities and individuals can do to prevent suicides.

In a nutshell, men are more likely to commit suicide than women and a firearm is the most likely cause of death. Suicide is not limited to people with known mental illness. Factors contributing to suicide include: relationship problems, job/financial problems, substance abuse, and crises situation within two weeks of the event.

Suggestions for preventing suicide include providing financial support, access to health care, creating a safe environment, and teaching coping skills. You can read the full report here: www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/suicide.

After a suicide comes grief and mourning for survivors, which is what this blog is all about. My nephew completed suicide several years ago leaving his family in shock. He had no known mental illness but he was in the midst of a financial/job crisis that was threatening bankruptcy and homelessness for him, his wife and two young children.   When I learned of his death, all those feelings of grief I had when my own son died were brought back.

Suicide Is Painless, the theme song for movie and TV show M*A*S*H, fails to mention that it is not painless for survivors. Surviving moms, dads, wives, husbands and children will be grieving their loss for many months and years.

In “Dispelling the Misconceptions About Suicide and Grief and Mourning” in Living With Loss Magazine, Alan Wolfelt, the well-known authority on grief, explained away a dozen common myths about suicide grief. According to Wolfelt, grieving and mourning are not the same thing, the former is internal, the latter is external. Suicide grief does not morph into complicated grief and neither are there predictable orderly stages of grief. He points out that nobody can ever know the “why” of a suicide and guilt is not a necessary part of the healing process. In regard to suicide being a sin, he quotes a priest who says Christ greets the victim with “Peace be with you”. Tears of grief are a necessary part of healing and a signal to others that comfort is needed. Mourning your loss out loud does not mean you have lost your faith. God has a big and compassionate heart that can take all you throw at Him.

Wolfelt points out that with suicide, as in any death, there are secondary losses like loss of self and loss of meaning. He concludes with a list of realistic expectations for grief and mourning. Here it is:

  • You will naturally grieve, but you will probably have to make an effort to mourn.
  • Your grief and mourning will involve a wide variety of different thoughts and feelings.
  • Your grief and mourning will impact you in all five realms of experience: physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual.
  • You need to feel it to heal it.
  • Your grief will probably hurt more before it hurts less.
  • Your grief will be unpredictable and will not likely progress in an orderly fashion.
  • You don’t “get over” grief, you learn to live with it.
  • You need other people to help you through your grief.
  • You will not always feel this bad.
  • Suicide grief is not painless but you can deal with it and you will survive.