Clergy Corner: Call It What It Is...Suicide
Because a person completes suicide is no reason to think less of that person or to conclude that there must be something wrong with a family who loses a loved one to suicide. I am of the opinion that survivors should speak very candidly about the death of a loved one. There should not be any hiding the fact of the cause of death. Call it what it is--a suicide. If people think less of the person, that is their problem. Certainly, survivors want to protect their dearly departed loved ones and that loved one's good name. I understand that fact very clearly. But I also have strong feelings about educating society about the issues surrounding mental illness and suicide. The longer people have these misconceptions about suicide and mental illness, the longer all of us struggle trying to get out a clear message about issues surrounding mental illness and the toll that such illness can take on those who suffer such pain.
People in general can say that someone who died from cancer really wanted to live but the cancer got the best of them. They can erroneously say that someone who completes suicide wanted to die. Nothing could be further from the truth. People who complete suicide want to live as much as anyone else, but living becomes too painful. They do not want to die; they just can't bear to live in the incredible pain that their illness is causing them. It is very important for people to hear that message to clear up one misconception surrounding suicide. People can think that suicide is a copout on life, but nothing is further from the truth. People who complete suicide are not copping out on life. They can't bear the pain anymore. They have reached the end of their tolerance. They have fought long enough and hard enough and the time has come for them to end the pain.
As with any other part of the grieving journey, it takes time and practice to develop a comfort level with dispelling some of the myths and erroneous ideas that the public has surrounding suicide and mental illness. There will be some discomfort in the beginning, but as the survivor shares information about the death of a loved one, it becomes a little easier each time. At the beginning, it is very painful because it is always painful to acknowledge the death of a loved one from suicide. There is a very therapeutic result from telling your story over and over again. As survivors tell their stories, two things happen. They develop a comfort level about how their loved one died, and their loved one becomes a part of the life of the survivor. They continue to live as their story is told and retold.
Father Charles Rubey is the founder of Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. His words were originally published in the Obelisk Newsletter in September of 2009.