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Resources for Survivors of Suicide - Writing An Obituary After Suicide Loss

After a suicide death, one of the first big decisions a family will make is what to include in an obituary. Historically, suicide was never mentioned as the cause of death in an obituary (unless it was a very public person). More recently, some families have chosen to mention that the person died by suicide. In some situations, the cause and manner of death may take weeks to be officially determined and the family may not have this information. The decision whether or not to disclose the information in an obituary is a personal one that each family will make on their own. Cultural and religious beliefs may impact the decision that the family makes.

Omissions: remembering a friend who committed suicide is a brief article looking at the pros and cons of disclosing suicide as the cause of death in an obituary that you may find helpful in making your decision.

If the family chooses not to disclose the death as a suicide:

Avoid using euphemisms such as “died after a brief illness” or “died as a result of an accident.” Making no statement about the cause of death is better than stating something misleading. Be aware that if the cause and manner of death have been determined by the Medical Examiner they are a matter of public record and can be accessed by media or others who request the death certificate. Not openly disclosing the cause of death sometimes forces friends and family to “pretend” the death was not a suicide when it may be obvious (or known) to others involved. Families who choose not to disclose the death as a suicide isolate themselves from the support of other people who have survived the suicide of a loved one.

Stating outright that the individual died by suicide will do the following:

  •     Immediately end all the rumors and innuendo that often accompany an untimely death – especially the death of a teen or young adult;
  •     Allow friends and families who are also suicide survivors to come forward and provide support from their own personal experience;
  •     Allow mental health counselors and others to begin postvention activities that may help prevent suicide contagion/reduce the possibility of future suicides;
  •     Assist in reducing the stigma associated with suicide.

Some obituaries reflect on the person’s struggles with mental illness with statements such as  “She died after a courageous battle with depression”

If disclosing privately to other individuals that the death was a suicide, it is OK to mention how (e.g. used a gun, hanging), but state it simply and avoid providing specific/graphic details.

The family may wish to establish a memorial fund for donations which can be used to offset the costs of the funeral services. Whether the family chooses to disclose that the death was by suicide or not, the family may wish to identify a mental health organization or suicide prevention organization as a recipient of any donations.