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Speaking of Suicide: Honest Obituaries

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Speaking of Suicide: Honest Obituaries

"Dr. Paula Margery Sandler, 62, died at home in Memphis on April 20, 2015, of suicide. We ask that you open your heart and offer compassion without judgment for those that suffer from illness rooted in stigma, trauma or shame; this was how Dr. Sandler practiced medicine. Sadly, she succumbed to severe depression, leaving behind bereaved friends, patients and colleagues."

When Dr. Sandler's loved ones penned these opening lines for her obituary, they joined a growing movement of mourners who are publicly sharing the truth about their loved ones' suicides. It's a trend we've seen on the rise in recent years.


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For many years, suicide was a word that rarely, if ever, made it into an obituary. Wording might give an understated clue here or there: The deceased "died suddenly at home" or "passed away unexpectedly." But those phrases could just as easily indicate a heart attack or an accident, some other cause of death that didn't carry the stigma of suicide. Occasionally, an obituary would request memorial donations to a suicide-prevention organization – but even that wasn't necessarily a clue, as it could easily mean nothing more than that the deceased supported or worked with that organization. Simply put, suicide was a subject that wasn't discussed, in conversation or in a person's final memorial.

Today, however, more and more people who've lost loved ones lost to suicide are chipping away at the taboo through poignant honesty. A quick keyword search on Legacy.com for phrases such as "took his own life" or "chose to leave this world" returns exponentially more results today than in recent years. Clicking through to those results reveals obituaries that share frank details of the pain that led their loved ones to that final act:

"Tedd never married; after his dad died at a young age, he felt the obligation to look after his mother until her death. Since he had no children of his own, he loved his friend's children. He had become suicidal and homeless after waiting over 29 months for his disability Social Security, which he was expecting to receive July 7, 2015. He had tried to stay afloat for too long and just couldn't hang on any longer."

What's the reason for this trend toward heart-wrenchingly candid obituaries? For many, it's an attempt to raise awareness. A loved one has died, and that's something they cannot change, but they hope an open discussion of the factors that can lead to suicide will help save just one other life – maybe more. That possibility drives them, no matter how painful it is to share the details with others. Some families state this reasoning outright in their loved ones' obituaries:

"If you are ever feeling sad or depressed, please know there is another way out of this labyrinth of suffering. Cathy would never want another person to suffer. Please get help, if not for you, your loved ones."

"As a tribute to Ariana, her family hopes that being open about her suicide may help others to cope with similar losses."

"In Miguel's memory, please remember: Always be kind, always be patient. Always love, and always care. No matter who you are, we are all human beings and deserve to be happy, accepted, and most importantly, loved."

Other obituaries go into less detail about the deceased person's suicide and the family's reasons for discussing it, but they do share one very important thing: a request for donations to organizations promoting suicide awareness and prevention or mental health services. These organizations are always desperately needed, but during September, which is Suicide Prevention Month, donations are especially appreciated. Here are a few of the most prominent national organizations:


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