Grief is complex and evokes a host of emotions. When someone dies by suicide, the bereaved often experience added layers of guilt and shame. This may make it more difficult for them to discuss the death, or for their friends to provide the right kind of comfort.

Those in the deathcare industry can play an important role by helping to navigate the sensitivities surrounding death by suicide and providing support to grieving families and their loved ones.

Here are some suggested ways funeral directors, clergy, and other deathcare professionals can address the topic of suicide, as well as how they can help the bereaved better cope with the loss of their loved one.


When someone dies, people close to them often know what caused their death, and are not afraid to discuss the cause. However, if the person died by suicide, people often shy away from talking about it because it may seem taboo. This is especially true for the survivors of suicide (those who have lost their loved one), because they are scared of what people will think and how they will react.

Those in the deathcare industry and clergy can help by changing the language when discussing someone’s suicide.

The first step is saying the word “suicide” and not shying away from it.

For years, it has been normal to say that someone “committed suicide,” but that phrase is not necessarily helpful. In the secular world, “committed” implies a crime occurred. In many religions, the word “committed” often implies a sin. Both of those add to hesitation to speak openly and to the feelings of guilt and shame.

In order to remove the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide, as well as lessen some of the shame survivors of suicide tend to feel, common language now eliminates the word “committed.” It may be helpful for those in the deathcare industry to use the term “died by suicide” and encourage loved ones to do the same.

Normalize Guilt and Shame

Guilt is part of many grief processes, but guilt, as well as shame, tend to be experienced at a deep level for survivors of suicide. When guiding them through funerals and the early stages of grief, clergy and funeral directors alike may want to normalize and validate guilt and shame by naming it, providing active listening as it is processed, and being careful not to minimize these heavy feelings.

Deathcare professionals can remind the bereaved that they are not alone, and provide them with lists of support groups specifically intended for survivors of suicide, such as American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They can also ask them to share stories of when the deceased was joyful and about what they loved. It can be healing to have feelings validated while also knowing people care about the good memories of the person who died by suicide.

Unique Grief, Unique Support

The moments immediately following a suicide are hard to navigate, and survivors may benefit from the validation and care from their clergy, funeral directors, and other deathcare professionals.

When these leaders are not afraid to say the word “suicide,” the family often finds the strength to name the “suicide,” too. By using supportive and uplifting language, and encouraging dialogue about the death, deathcare industry leaders can help alleviate the stigma, guilt, and shame surrounding death by suicide and lay a healthier foundation for grief.

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