Thinking Out Loud: Survivors of suicide

John T. Catrett III
ONHL Hospice Chaplain

No one wants to deal with suicide. When some take their own life, there are questions, confusion, stigma and taboo so strong that surviving family members sometimes try to keep what happened a secret.

One pastoral minister at a local church in Tulsa has seen an increase in the number of church members dealing with suicide. There is no prototype. They are young, old, poor, rich, middle class and successful –so “normal” that not even close family members guessed suicide was on their mind. “People don’t know how to respond to suicide,” shared this minister. "They are afraid to say the wrong thing so they say nothing. Then they are ashamed they said nothing so they avoid those who are grieving. As a concerned community of caring people, we need to learn how to reach out to hurting people.”

Another associate minister at a large church who leads the Survivor of Suicide group said, “God helped me through my own struggles after my wife committed suicide. When this happened to me I couldn’t get out of the dark. I was reduced to a zero, but God brought me out of that. The least I can do is help others. Each one in our group is connected by suicide. We try to make sense of what’s happened to someone we love. It helps to be around other people who have gone through this ordeal. Often God uses people in the group to help others experience a sense of hope and peace through their journey.”

The support groups either meet once a month or some twice a month. They have guest speakers and tackle topics such as guilt, forgiveness, blame and growth. The groups focus on more than the last event. “One event should not rule our memories,” one minister shared. “My precious wife was a good Christian lady. She was a wonderful wife and mother. I focus on that and encourage others to focus on the good things they always remember.”

Another minister said, “While it is good to be able to work with survivors of suicide, we also focus on more prevention and intervention. We want to train people to know the right questions to ask and to know the right referrals to make. People are looking for hope. How do you offer hope to people whose mind-set is hopelessness?”

Is suicide wrong? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? No. There are ways for everyone to offer hope to those who are tempted with committing suicide and for those who are dealing with loss because of suicide. If you have a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor who has lost a loved one through suicide and you want to help them, then be there for them and don’t treat them differently. Treat them like you treated them before. Listen if they want to talk. Let them enjoy your company. Let them know that you care. Encourage them to visit various grief support groups. One of the best-kept secrets in Tulsa is that we have some outstanding care groups in our city.

In closing allow me to ask this question, “How do we support people who have lost a loved one to suicide?” Go to visit them in their homes and attend the funeral. Do not ask for details of what happened. Listen, send notes, call on the phone, always pray for them, and finally, just accept them as normal, everyday people you meet on the streets in your community.

John T. Catrett III is chaplain for ONHL Hospice. He can be reached at (918) 352-3080 or john.catrett3@gmail.com.