Because I am a pastor, friends often ask for advice on how to approach sensitive subjects with their children and teens. Recently, a friend asked how to explain to her preteen daughter that a friend in their community had taken his own life.
We talked about what she might say, and afterwards she said, “You should write a blog post about this.” So, I’m writing a blog post about it!
Firstly, suicide is confusing. It leaves the living with a variety of deep feelings, such as grief, guilt, anger, and helplessness. The complications can mean that grief is protracted and even more challenging to experience. There also remains quite a stigma around suicide.
How to speak of the situation, especially to a young person? We often say that someone ‘committed suicide’, which is such a harsh-sounding phrase. I might say instead, that the person died by their own hand because they didn’t see a way forward.
The phrasing indicates a empathy with the person who has died; to try to understand what brings a person to that decision. Physical, mental, and emotional pain can be overwhelming, and though the person has chosen a permanent solution to what may be a temporary problem, it is heartbreaking to contemplate what feelings might have led them to such a drastic action.
Empathy also can help to remove the stigma. When we describe death by one’s own hand in more compassionate terms, we are working to remove the shame that the living loved ones often feel.
For information on Suicide Prevention, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
For more information on grieving a loved one who has died by their own hand: Healing After A Loved One’s Suicide by Mayo Clinic Staff.