Living in the wake of suicide
Updated: Jul 17, 2019
After looking at the facts and figures behind suicide (Elderly suicide), now we turn our attention to what happens to those left behind by the suicide of a friend or loved one.
Christopher Lukas knows first-hand what it is to lose not just one person close to him from this cause of death, but several; his mother, an ageing aunt and uncle, and a life-long friend since childhood, followed years later by his brother too. He started writing about suicide as a therapeutic activity for his own benefit and soon realised he had something to offer others whose lives are irrevocably changed through a suicide in their own family or close social circle.
His book Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide (Jessica Kingsley, 2007), co-written with Henry M. Seiden, is his account not only of his personal experiences but of those he's interviewed over many years in similar, though fundamentally unique, circumstances.
The conclusion he reached after silence shrouded his first loss – that of his mother when he was a child – and subsequent deaths was that the 'bargain' of silence is never worth it. Families may feel that not speaking about such a death avoids reopening wounds, will hasten recovery, lessens the risk of social stigma from those around them who are uncomfortable with any discussion of such matters but, he says, it is never a good idea.
Sorrow which is never spoken
Is the heaviest load to bear
Frances Ridley Havergal
Grief that makes other joys in life impossible
Suicide is described in this book as 'the kind of grief that makes other joys in life impossible'. The fact that the dead person 'renounced all possibility of help from them' leaves survivors, sometimes, feeling 'quite worthless'.
Leo Tolstoy said 'Silence will not cure a disease. On the contrary it will make it worse.' Yet so many families resort to silence as a coping mechanism in the face of pain. 'The bargain of silence is a family's solution to the anger and blame members feel toward one another, and the guilt they feel about themselves,' writes Lukas.
Yet he points to how, in the case of a bereaved husband or wife, for example, research shows that 'shame and guilt… denial, concealment and refusal or inability to talk about the suicide… sharply limits the bereaved spouse's opportunity for catharsis, for activity checking distorted fantasies against the realities of the suicidal act, for clearing up a variety of gross misconceptions, or for dealing with and eventually resolving the irrational guilts and particularly the angry reproaches felt towards the person who committed suicide' (Cain and Fast, 1966).