My husband died on March 20, 2006, and I became a survivor of suicide loss. I was naive and unprepared to defend Jason against society’s taboo of self-inflicted death. I did not understand illness or depression.
How do you cope- alone, with no explanation? Nine years later, my goal is to help other people in the same situation.
Nobody Knows What to Say: The Elusive Formula for Sympathy
This is what I heard from strangers:
“You’re a widow? But you’re so young! He was military, wasn’t he? How did your husband die?”
I was still in shock like a deer in the headlights, and I would state the cold fact: “He shot himself.” Then I would launch into an explanation of how it must have been a serious physical problem. He did not want to leave us…
The average person cannot relate to the complexity of Jason’s story based on one halting, emotional conversation. The stranger would look at me with concern and veiled embarrassment. Their eyes told me: “I should not have asked.”
You are judging him. You are judging me. I was exhausted trying to make them understand.
After a few months of this, I lied to spare them from awkwardness. “He died in a car accident,” I would say. People could accept that answer.
A counselor at church helped me to let go of conflicting religious doctrine about “unforgivable” sins. It was a relief to know that Jason is okay, but I never sought help for the psychological anxiety I was facing as the person left behind.
My advice is to find the right person to talk to. A licensed therapist will be prepared for the negative stereotypes associated with this type of loss.
Scapegoat Syndrome: Stigma from Within
As the widow of a suicide victim, I also suffered from the effects of undeserved blame. This form of stigma is the most personal and the most hurtful.
Emotions are running wild, people are feeling abandoned, and it’s easier for some to process unexpected loss by creating a scapegoat.
The problems that led my husband to take his life were in play well before I came into the picture, but circumstance made me a target for one angry individual.
The person questioned me with accusation, then aggressively shoved a box of tissues at my chest. Things got much worse as time went on. I thought he/she would mourn with me, not hurt me.
Some people are consumed with the stigma of suicide, and will invent stories and scenarios to release their loved one from what they see as an embarrassing label. The accuser cannot find peace because of denial and blame. As a result, memory of the deceased is never given rest.
Be very careful when dealing with this type of person. Misplaced bitterness may cause the accuser to act out against you.
Fighting the Stigma of Suicide
I was criticized for publicly writing about my husband’s suicide. Although the cause of his death is public knowledge, the person feels that I am bringing shame on Jason, that “he should be left to rest.”
However, I feel that stifling the truth would further inflame misunderstanding. If a community is left in the dark, human nature dictates that we will assume the worst. Furthermore, my son and I would suffer from bits of defamatory, twisted gossip.
Someone out there might identify with Jason’s story. Banning the facts and inventing controversial theories about Jason’s death will imply that we are ashamed of him. Shame will discourage others from seeking help.
Stigma stands in the way of prevention.
Openness and honesty will counteract judgement and confusion. When I became comfortable in sharing Jason’s story, I learned that other people are accepting and supportive. By breaking my silence, I hope to dispel the antiquated myth of “disgrace” that follows suicide.