Last week, fashion designer and stylist, L’Wren Scott took her own life at her Chelsea apartment in New York City. She hung herself. Ms. Scott’s death made newspapers and website headlines around the globe because she was the long-time girlfriend of veteran rocker, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. However, Scott is just one of more than 38,000 people who die of self-inflicted injuries in the United States each year. In fact, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America, according to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. Although such persons may have felt alone at the end, on average, a person who commits suicide has six survivors.
Why suicides are particularly difficult for survivors
Suicide deaths are particularly difficult to handle for both survivors and funeral directors. Often the person is young. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the third most common cause of death in Americans aged 15 to 24. Almost always the death is unexpected. Unlike deaths from illness or those who die at the end of a long and happy life, those who die from suicides are healthy one day and gone the next. Rarely do family and friends have an opportunity to say goodbye. Too often survivors are plagued with guilt, wondering if they had missed the signs and/or if there had been anything they could have done to prevent the suicide.
The truth is that 95 percent of people who take their own lives suffer from a mental illness–either diagnosed or un-diagnosed, according to grief speaks.com. Such people generally aren’t thinking about the pain and the anguish their death will cause their friends and family. At that moment, they can only see their own pain.
Suicide is also often a spur-on-the-moment decision. According to a Harvard University study, more than 70 percent of those who survived a suicide attempt said that they tried to end their life within 30 minutes of making the decision. That short window of time, obviously, doesn’t give the person a change to fully examine all of the ramifications and consequences of their action.
Why Suicide funerals are the hardest funerals to swallow
Funerals for those who have committed suicide can be some of the most difficult funerals for funeral directors to plan as well as for families and friends. For one thing, most suicides are unexpected and family and friends haven’t had time to think about what sort of arrangements the deceased may have wanted. That is especially true when a young person dies. In addition, family may still be in shock and denial about their loved one’s death. This can hamper decisions like choosing a casket, a service and a burial site.
Handling the funeral arrangements for a person who has committed suicide can be a challenge for funeral directors, but it can also be an opportunity for your funeral home to help start the healing process for family and friends.
Helping survivors cope
Funeral directors are in a unique position to help survivors of suicide fatalities to cope with their loved one being gone. According to the Harvard University study, there are several things that funeral directors (and others) can do to help suicide survivors cope.
- Normalize the situation. People who have had a family or friend die from a suicide tend to feel isolated and even ostracized from the rest of society. This may come, in part, from traditional church views condemning suicide and the stigma that still remains about suicide. Treating the funeral arrangements and planning as if it were any other funeral can help the family and other survivors cope with the situation. Avoid making the arrangements seem anything but a “typical” funeral.
- Allow them to talk. Suicide survivors may have no one else with whom to share their feelings. Allow a little extra time for such consultations so that you have time to listen if necessary.
- Provide information about support groups. Suicide survivors may not be comfortable talking to their friends and co-workers about the cause of death. In fact, according to the Harvard University study, nearly half of the survivors surveyed explained the death as an accident or other mishap rather than a suicide. Having information on support groups available can help such persons find others who have been through such a situation and help them to realize that they aren’t the only ones.
Planning a funeral for someone who has committed suicide can be a challenging–and a rewarding–experience. Keeping in mind that family and friends of such persons have special needs in the grieving process and doing what you can to keep the funeral planning as “normal” as possible can go a long way to helping start the healing process for those left behind.
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