Does talking about my husband’s suicide make you uncomfortable? Well, that’s exactly why I continue to do it. In order to move past the uneasiness, you first have to be exposed to it. You have to sit with it, read about it and talk about it until it’s no longer the monster it once was.
Until I was forced to get upfront and personal with suicide, it scared me too. I thought it was something that only affected other people and somehow my family and I were immune. But after Chuck’s death, I quickly learned that not only does suicide stigmatize the person that took their own life but the stigma is left behind for the survivors to grapple with.
When Chuck died, I immediately felt like everyone was so concerned with how he died, instead of the fact that he was gone and his family and friends were mourning his loss. Chuck was a husband, father, son, brother, friend, coworker and so much more but almost instantaneously his identity became overshadowed by the way he died and the why.
His family and close friends knew he died by suicide, but it wasn’t general knowledge. I was encouraged by some people to lie or cover-up his cause of death and “just say it was a heart attack” or “he died unexpectedly.” I didn’t know what to say so I just didn’t say anything – for over a year. If anyone asked me, I would answer them truthfully but I didn’t write an obituary, talk about how he died at his memorial service or post anything on social media because I didn’t know what to say.
But, overtime I realized that by not talking about his suicide I was stunting my grief and my healing process. I was not able to fully express my pain or my love for Chuck without fully talking about his death. I also realized that if I lied or covered up how he died I would just be perpetuating the stigma of suicide. If I could not even talk about his death, how could I ever expect people who had suicidal thoughts to seek help?
I also thought long and hard about the relationship that I wanted to have with my children and what I thought would be best for them now and into the future. I wanted to be honest with them and have open lines of communication. I want them to know about mental health, that suicide is not the way to end their pain and how to ask for help. I want them to know it’s okay to talk about their Dad in whatever way they choose. I don’t expect my children to be advocates for suicide victims or survivors but I want them to feel empowered by their voice and not ashamed of their legacy.
I can’t say that it’s been an easy process but since I’ve opened up about Chuck’s suicide I’ve felt so much freer and I’ve been able to experience the multiple facets of my grief. I also never imagined how being open about Chuck’s death could possibly help other people but now I see how so many others are bound by the stigma of suicide too. I’ve had many people reach out to me who have lost a loved one to suicide, had a family member who struggled with suicidal thoughts and friends who have contemplated taking their own life. Being a suicide survivor was never an identity that I envisioned but it is also not one that I can ignore. So, I’m going to keep writing and talking about it until “suicide” is no longer whispered and we can have an open dialogue about its impact on individuals, families, and on our society as a whole.