The social and theological issues associated with suicide add to the burden that survivors must carry and complicate the grieving process. In addition to the trauma of the sudden loss of a loved that has taken his/her own life, survivors must also confront a number of questions that are unique to suicidal death.
Because society has stigmatized suicide, survivors often feel a greater sense of guilt, have less social support, and have more of a need to understand why the death occurred. There is also a greater tendency to deny the cause of death or conceal the cause of death from others. In one instance, a survivor tried to persuade officers not to list suicide as the cause of death on the police report.
Psychologists say that social stigma causes survivors to feel a greater sense of shame, responsibility, rejection, and blame than other groups, with the results of making the grieving more complex and prolonged. Many survivors listed “loneliness” as their most distressing symptom.
Survivors of suicide are often left with increased financial responsibilities. In those instances were loved ones committed suicide because of overwhelming financial difficulties, those financial concerns may fall on the shoulders of survivors. Many life insurance policies are cancelled and payment forfeited in cases of suicide.
It is common for suicide survivors to raise questions arising out of their religious beliefs. Perhaps the most common one centers on the eternal destiny of those who commit suicide. Survivors often ask, “Did my loved one go to hell because he/she committed suicide?”
This is a subject for debate and there are varying opinions among different faith traditions. Rather than engage in theological argument, perhaps the best response is to help survivors understand that ultimately this is a question that only God can answer and His answer can be trusted.