Last year I was at a winter concert at my children’s school when I got a call from a friend asking for support with an unexpected death. A father of a young child had chosen to end his life after years of struggling with depression. His wife had discovered him that morning after he’d ingested a combination of drugs and alcohol and put a bag over his head.
A year later, I met with the man’s widow and heard more about her journey. Close to the anniversary, there had been a sweet remembering and scattering of his ashes. During the recent Days of the Dead, which preceded the death anniversary, she had created an altar to him in their house. It was one of the first things any visitor to the home would see. No shame, no hiding, a blatant display of love.
I also recently heard the story of how a women’s group had hiked into the mountains on the anniversary of the death of one of their circle. Their fellow member had hung herself from a tree near a popular trail. Her friends chose to retrace her footsteps and gather in her name to remember her life and acknowledge her departure.
Perhaps one of the hardest things for families and friends of those who die by suicide is how to, with ease, celebrate the life of a deceased loved-one. But remembering and marking the lives of those who die by their own hand, is important and healing. It means revisiting the pain of their exit, and yet calls on us to look deeply at the meaning of the lives of those departed souls. In doing so, we might end up grappling with the hard but revealing question, how did their lives gift us with opportunities for growth? How did their lives shape who we are today, in some positive way?
The Alliance of Hope website (www.allianceforhope.org) for survivors of suicide is a valuable resource I discovered while researching this issue. Its eclectic blog is good and informative reading, especially about memorializing the dead. I read about Martha Corey-Ochoa, a first-year college student who jumped from the 14th-floor of a Columbia University building. Corey-Ochoa was a promising writer, whose poetry and prose would never reach beyond her immediate family. But father, George Ochoa, determined to publish her work post-mortem on a website (www.marthacorey-ochoa.com), in recognition of her talent, and to share it with the world.
Our intention with this issue of NTM is to offer stories of hope and inspiration, and to create an understanding of suicide and the grief that follows in its wake. Something to Do addresses the helplessness felt by families, and invites creative, meaningful responses to loss, with or without the body’s presence. Libby Moloney of Victoria, Australia and Heidi Boucher of California, both home funeral practitioners, share illluminating personal stories. Author and hospice physician, Karen Wyatt, speaks candidly about the impact of her veteran father’s suicide (at least 22 veterans a day take their own lives because of unresolved trauma). And we leave you with Naomi Shihab Nye’s Kindness, balm for the soul and one of the most moving poems ever printed on our Last Words page.
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