Death by suicide is on my mind at the time of the Pell verdict, knowing that the trauma of abuse has led to agonising secrecy, substance abuse and if not suicide per se, certainly most traumatic death, with irretrievable loss left behind. I’m thinking of the two young boys in the sacristy. When I read Louise Milligan’s account of the Kid and the Choirboy I’m drawn into a story in which traumatic death and friendship are deeply connected. I feel, like many others, the unbearable-ness of Pell’s victim having died without being able to tell his story. Judge Peter Kidd’s statement invites me to confront the reality that each child’s deep shame was intensified by knowing that the other had seen.
In Facebook commentary by a victim’s partner, I read that Ballarat has an exceptionally high rate of suicide. It is higher than the overall average in Victoria or Australia. Coverage in Thursday’s Herald Sun suggests the likelihood of self harm as a result of suffering the St Alipius school environment.
My mind turns to the deep suffering when someone loses a friend or family member to suicide. And I think of suicide and friendship, and its role in the funerals I’ve helped to shape and facilitate after death by suicide. I’ve seen how much friendship groups add to the life celebration of the person who has died. Family has an assumed position in any death. But the position friends occupy is often very important.
The person who has died has been through a lot. Friends are often key supports. Sometimes there have been unsatisfactory family relationships at one time or another. The person may have fended for himself or herself, and chosen to live their life with friends. Sometimes the person who has died is young, and the sudden and shocking loss has to be absorbed by their peer cohort.
Grieving with family and friends after death by suicide
After a sudden death people speak of their sense of reality not lining up, or of not being able to bring it into focus.
The funeral marks the start of grieving process. The more collaborative friends and family are able to be, depending on particular circumstances of course, the more satisfactory the beginnings of a grieving process are. This may be the most difficult event ever in some of the mourners’ lives. Hearing stories and witnessing the qualities of important bonds helps everyone to grieve.
Shock, anger, shame and confusion are difficult emotions to navigate. However a key intent with a funeral is firstly to find the individual and community story that people can take away and ‘live in’ in future. That story will be made meaningful in the way friends are included.
‘What I liked about Steve’s funeral’ said Nicky, ‘is that the speakers painted an incredible picture of his unique contribution. Yet they didn’t shy away from talking about his difficulties.’ She paused. ‘He had the most interesting friends.’
Trusting conversations between strangers
Another thing we want from a funeral is to create opportunities for connection between people who knew the person who died but don’t know each other. When I’m helping with planning, my aim is to create a space where people can trust in having a conversation with strangers.
I look to set up the most favourable context for friends and family to feel that there’s a way of going forward together after death by suicide. I can be contacted through my website – it outlines more about how I work. Below I’ve listed a few useful resources.
Headspace’s resource You can talk about suicide
Beyond Blue’s Guiding their way back
Bereaving from Suicide a useful Canadian resource