At a small-town newspaper in Southeastern Wisconsin we had a rule about covering suicides:
don't. Exceptions were allowed for suicides in public places, but only then to explain briefly
yesterday's commotion down on Third Street.
Families hide suicides from the rest of their community, and even from each other. I know of
suicides where the cause of death is mentioned nowhere -- not in the obituary, not in the funeral
service, not in open conversation. Sometimes generations raised on misinformation continue to
wonder how a young relative fell ill and died so quickly.
And even though I'm very open about my father's suicide, I find myself avoiding the topic when
visiting friends. Making them and myself uncomfortable doesn't seem worth the effort.
But what's behind all of this silence?
At the newspaper, the rationale was that people who kill themselves are seeking attention, and
the paper would not provide that attention for fear of encouraging others.
Among families, there's shame. That someone would choose death
might reflect poorly on the home, suggesting a family malady, problem,
Many religions discourage suicide, says Dr. Norman Faberow, an
emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of South Carolina.
He says this codification, dating back to the third century, has
deeply embedded the taboo of suicide into our culture.
And then there's fear -- the fear of ourselves.
We rationalize away the murder of a gang member in a bad part of town: "I'm not in a gang and
I don't hang out in that neighborhood." The traffic fatality: "I don't drive fast, and I wear my seat
belt." The workplace accident: "It was a fluke; it probably won't happen again."
But can one say "I wouldn't kill myself" with 100 percent certainty? Do we know ourselves that
well? In some corner of our minds, is there a question, a few cents of uncertainty? Maybe we're
afraid that if we think -- or talk -- about it too much, we'll realize this could happen to me. So
Faberow says that because someone has chosen to die, survivors feel they cannot ask for the
help and support offered survivors of other deaths. Support for profound feelings of desertion is
not something we're used to asking for, nor offering.
Whatever the reasons for silence elsewhere, this site is designed as a place where
survivors can talk openly.
Not to make suicide acceptable, but to be free of the stigma surrounding those who must cope.
And mainly it is here to ensure that, if we so choose, we don't have to cope in silence.
-- John Keefe