Families and loved ones of those who choose to end their own lives are all faced with the unanswerable question, Why?

We may assume that for those families where the deceased left a note, the answer to that question is obvious. But in my experience working with the surviving loved ones of suicide, notes usually serve to add to the feelings of failure and guilt. Survivors think they should have known, could have done something, might have prevented it.

Self torture is the legacy bestowed on those left to grieve. The suicide of their loved one may be felt as a reflection on them, a sign of their failure to help, a feeling of rejection.

Do we as a society fail those who choose to end their own lives? Perhaps with benefit of hindsight, we might have reacted differently. Now we are left with the unanswered and unanswerable question, Why?

The word suicide is an un forgiving word. The very mention of it instantly causes discomfort. Is suicide a statement about or reflection on the family of the deceased? Does a person’s choice to die reflect the family’s failure to support him or her through whatever crisis has brought them to this point?

Suicide has so many stigmas attached to it. It is the combination of these and the sense of being judged that makes the bereaved feel further isolated. There may be fear of being labeled and being the focus of misinformed or cruel judgmental gossip. The pain felt by the bereaved, their grief alongside the unanswered questions, can be overwhelming . Sometimes the belief that they are to blame may become too much to bear.

Did he or she really mean to do it? Could it have been a mistake?

The survivors torturously relive the last hours of the victim’s life. The imagination re-enacts the act.

Those who have been bereft by suicide need permission to talk about the very real impact, the thoughts and feelings, the legacy that brews, often tightly concealed because of the stigma and fear of disclosure.

Suicide is a choice made by someone who cannot answer the question, Why live? Survivors are left with another question: Why die?

Take care


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Alex James

Alex James, MBACP is a professional bereavement counselor/consultant, agony aunt, and author who has worked with bereaved individuals and families for many years. Specializing in sudden traumatic bereavement, Alex has worked for agencies as a trauma support worker, trainer and voluntarily for a charitable trust supporting those impacted by road death. Alex, who lives and works in the UK, is currently based at a hospice, developing specific services for children, supporting children and their families pre- and post-bereavement. Alongside this much-needed work, she continues to manage a bereavement website where she offers confidential e-mail support 365 days a year and also publishes an online bereavement magazine. Alex has appeared on national and local radio and is the author of Living with Bereavement.

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