our side of suicide

How to Refer to Loved Ones after Death

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Something I’ve heard many survivors talk about is how they refer to a loved one in conversation after they’ve passed. This most commonly comes up among parents who are asked how many children they have, or siblings who have lost a brother or sister. Many feel inclined to say the true number of kids or siblings they have, which includes the person who died. Just because they aren’t here anymore doesn’t mean they should be left out. Others wrestle with whether or not to count that person out when telling someone the number, because they died [by suicide]. Technically, they are gone, so will it open a can of worms to mention one is no longer alive? It seems like such a trivial issue, but I know it’s one many survivors take to heart.

Along those lines, I feel uneasy when people ask me questions like where my family lives, since I’m in another state, or if my parents are excited about a first grandchild on the way. I usually respond with, “my mom lives in XYZ” and “yes, my mom is really excited to have a grandchild.” No one really asks about my dad when I say this. But, inside, I wonder what they’re thinking. Do they think my parents are divorced and that my dad is off living a life somewhere else? Or, do they think he’s otherwise out of the picture of our family, for potentially negative reasons? Maybe they do think he died, but of something more commonly accepted, like a heart attack or cancer. I’m sure they aren’t thinking anything at all, but it still makes me self-conscious. At the time of his death, my parents had been married for more than 30 years. We lived in a seemingly happy, quintessential American home – red brick with a white picket fence, a boy (my brother) a girl (me) and a little dog. We golfed on weekends, took trips to Disney World and supported each other at school and work functions and all sorts of extracurricular activities. How can it be that I can’t innocently say, “my parents live in X” anymore because my dad decided to kill himself? I never thought this happened to people like “us.” But, it did and does. It can happen in any family. No matter how much time has passed, I still can’t swallow this. It only reminds me of what he did every time I am asked these simple questions…I can imagine others feel similarly when asked how many kids, siblings, etc. they have.

It’s usually rare for someone to ask how your loved one died, which I’m particularly thankful for. Depending on who asks or how it comes up, I will usually divulge that my dad took his life, since the news was so prevalent, versus making something else up. However, I know that deciding how to refer to loved ones after death differs for everyone.

How have you handled questions when asked about the loved ones in your life? Do you mention the person when telling people how many kids/siblings, etc. you have?