It is important to be aware of the traumatic loss the family are experiencing and to recognise your role in providing compassionate pastoral support to the bereaved family and friends through the funeral.
It is important to understand that public communication after a suicide has the potential to either increase or decrease the suicide risk of those receiving the communication. Here are some guidelines for conducting the funeral of a person who has died by suicide.
Prepare for the funeral service in the same way as you would prepare for any other death but pay attention to the following extra considerations:
- Consult with the deceased person’s family about the funeral service and respect their views regarding the information they want shared.
- Aim your message at the living. If the family accept that it is a suicide death, don’t be afraid to speak to the congregation to dispel any myths, stigma or gossip surrounding mental ill health or the circumstances the person was in before their death.
- Do not speak about how the deceased person took their life.
- Use appropriate language – avoid phrases such as ‘committed suicide’ or ‘successful suicide’. Phrases such as ‘died by suicide’, ‘took his life’, or ‘ended her life’, are more accurate and less hurtful to friends and family. A funeral is an inappropriate time to preach on the ‘sin of suicide’.
- Avoid making suicide sound glamorous or normal and do not not glamorise the ‘state of peace’ the deceased may have found through death. Avoid saying the deceased person is ‘at peace’ or ‘has found peace.’
- Do not give the impression that suicide is a reasonable response to distressful life circumstances.
- Make a clear distinction between the positive accomplishments and qualities of the deceased person and his or her final act.
- Encourage the congregation to improve its understanding of mental ill health and encourage them to support and caring for each other.
- Encourage the mourners to watch over one another for signs of distress and encourage friends and family to seek help.
- In preparing for a young person’s funeral service, help young people to understand that it is okay to look for professional support for mental health issues. Encourage adults to listen and talk to young people in need if they come to them for help. Encourage young people to act immediately and tell a caring adult if they notice signs of distress in their friends, particularly if the friend has discussed suicide.