What’s the Etiquette for a Funeral After a Suicide?

Updated

A funeral for someone who died by suicide can be one of the most challenging to attend. These types of funerals are difficult for the families and friends and also the funeral directors and officiants. Suicides are generally unexpected, leaving the family in shock and denial about what's happened.

Having to plan a funeral while trying to come to terms with their loss can be devastating. 

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This type of loss can be heart-wrenching to the family left behind. Friends and other family members may also be trying to piece together what happened and why. The funeral will generally occur soon after the death, leaving little time to process the death or figure out why this loved one chose to end their life.

Suicide funeral etiquette becomes ever more critical under these circumstances. The following information may help you not only understand funeral etiquette but show you how to offer condolences under these tragic circumstances. 

Do Families of Loved Ones Who Died of Suicide Address the Cause of Death During the Service?

Families often hide suicides from society and other family members. It’s not unusual for them to hold back from addressing their loved one’s cause of death during the service. Typically, nowhere is it ever mentioned that the deceased person died by suicide. They don’t publish any of the cause of death details in the obituary, nor do they address it at the funeral service or when announcing the death.

Among families left behind, there’s a stigma and shame that accompanies death by suicide. No one generally wants to talk about it for fear that the community will judge the family. Some people will wonder how the family failed the deceased, causing them to choose death over life.

These things tend to add stress to an already fragile time in most family’s lives, especially as they’re struggling to come to terms with the realities of their loss.

When responding to curious people who want to know how your loved one died, remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation. No one is entitled to know anything you aren’t yet ready to share with them.

If some persist and keep questioning, here are some ways to address a suicide death when asked at the funeral service:

  • “She died from suicide. I’m not quite ready to talk about it.”
  • “Thank you for being here. Your support means a lot to me. We’re still trying to figure out all the details ourselves.”
  • “Thank you for your support. Let’s talk about it some other time.”

What not to say at the funeral service

Inquiring about the cause of death is a natural thing to do at a funeral. If you stand alone anywhere for any amount of time, you'll likely hear the gossip and rumors surrounding the manner of death. People can't help but to dish and fill in the details when nothing's yet been said.

As you go about paying your respects and talking to friends and loved ones, be mindful of the things you share with others. Your words can be painful to those suffering the death of their loved one.

Know that it's inappropriate to say that someone "took their life," "ended their life," or "killed themselves." These ways of sharing with others what happened are highly offensive and hurtful to the surviving friends and family. 

Whether or not the family chooses to address the cause of death is entirely up to them. Some people may feel more comfortable letting others make up their version of what's happened. Some may feel too ashamed and devastated to talk about it, while others won't see any reason not to tell people the truth and bring awareness to suicide.  

Be sure to observe the general guidelines of what not to do at funerals, as well.

Emphasis should be on grieving

Regardless of how the family decides to handle the funeral, the emphasis should be on grieving the person who has lost their life and celebrating who they were when alive. Remember when talking about the deceased person to mention them by name.

You can honor their memory by sharing special memories you have of them with others to remind them of who they once were. Although death by suicide might mar the deceased's legacy, remind others of the beautiful attributes unique to the person who died. 

It's also acceptable to defend the deceased's state of mind before their death or where there may have been adversities or mental health issues present. It's never okay to judge someone who's chosen suicide over life or to criticize and lay blame on the survivors.

Keep in mind that everyone faces different types of grief following a tragedy. Your words can have a devastating effect on those who are facing this terrible type of loss.

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How Do Funeral Officiants Address Suicide at Funerals? 

There are no words to fix a situation or take away the survivor's pain following a death by suicide. No one's entitled to learn every detail of what went wrong and why the deceased chose death over life.

The officiant at the funeral typically has great discretion on how the funeral will progress. In cases of suicide, the funeral officiant should discuss with the family before preparing a speech on how much information they want to share with those present. 

Weaving in the cause of death in a way that both honors the deceased's memory and brings awareness to suicide will help bring light to any struggles they may have faced during their life. There's never a perfect way to explain that someone has died by suicide without giving some detail or sharing some background with those in attendance. 

For those officiants who've successfully navigated suicide funerals, they may agree that addressing the cause of death in a loving and caring way makes things more comfortable for the family later on. They won't need to suffer in silence, pretending that their loved one died in any way other than suicide. They also won't be bombarded by others asking what happened and how their loved one died. 

When tastefully done, a suicide death notice at the funeral is no different than announcing any other type of death. 

Should Funeral Attendees Acknowledge the Suicide at the Service? What Should They Say?

When attending a funeral of someone who has died by suicide, try and avoid or deflect negative conversations about the manner of death. Learn the difference between acknowledging the suicide and making it a topic of gossip or inappropriate conversation during the funeral. 

As with any other funeral, don’t forgo traditions and grief rituals. If you aren’t comfortable with suicide or if you have strong feelings against it based on your upbringing, religious or otherwise, consider not going and paying your final respects to the family in private. 

When talking to the family and others, don’t be afraid to say the name of the person who died out loud. Allow yourself to speak openly, talk about them, and share your memories of them. But keep in mind that a funeral isn’t the time nor place to discuss a person’s character or decisions that might not have agreed with yours. 

How Can Funeral Attendees Show Support for the Deceased’s Family?

Survivors might feel that because their loved one chose to die, they shouldn’t access the help and support offered to the families of those who died in other ways. 

Families of loved ones who’ve ended their lives by suicide will generally suffer through a period of shock and disbelief. Their emotions may soon turn to shame, regret, denial, and anger. These are all expected grief reactions following a suicide. 

When considering how you can best support the deceased’s family, take some time to read books about grief and suicide. You may learn some invaluable information that’ll make things more comfortable for you and the family when addressing their loss. When unsure of what to say or do, talk to your loved ones in private. Speak from the heart and a well-rehearsed mind. 

Well-intended condolences that aren’t carefully considered can cause unintentional pain and suffering to the survivors. Pay close attention to your reactions upon hearing any details of the suicide for the first time.

It can be tough knowing what to say exactly to someone who’s experiencing this type of loss. Here are a few things you can tell them to offer your condolences when you can’t think of anything thoughtful or meaningful.

  • “I’m sorry this happened to you and your loved one. I can’t imagine the pain you must feel.”
  • “Healing after this type of loss is a lifelong journey. Know that I’ll always love and support you.”
  • “My deepest condolences to you and your family. We can never understand why these things have to happen.”
  • “It wasn’t your fault.”
  • “You are never alone. You can depend on me for whatever you need.”

Comments to avoid

After rehearsing some appropriate things to say, here are some examples of what to avoid.  Never imply that the person who died was selfish or to blame for their death. These words are hurtful and can lead to resentment later down the line. Don't ever tell someone that you know how they feel because you can't ever possibly experience their pain and suffering. 

When you say someone's in a better place, this infers that life for the deceased wasn't good enough here in the presence of their loved ones. Avoid making these unintended judgments against your friends or loved ones. 

Other insensitive things to say to someone who's just experienced the suicide death of a loved one are:

  • “At least they’re no longer suffering.”
  • “It was all a part of God’s plan.”
  • “You have so much more to be grateful for.”

Suicide Funeral Etiquette

Attending the funeral of someone who died by suicide shouldn’t be any more complicated than attending a funeral for any other type of death. The loss of life is the loss of life regardless of the circumstances surrounding the death.

Go with the plan in mind of paying your last respects and showing your love and support to the family. Refrain from entertaining any conversations that speak negatively upon the deceased or their family, and everything should go smoothly for you. 

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