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Writing the Obituary: Where to Start

One of the most difficult decisions a family has to make after the death of a loved one is what to include in the obituary. Historically, suicide was not mentioned as a cause of death, but, in recent times, as our understanding of depression and mental illness has increased, more and more families have chosen to disclose the fact that their loved one died by suicide. The decision to disclose suicide in an obituary is deeply personal.

Saying the Word “Suicide”

Saying the word suicide out loud can help begin the difficult grief process for family members and for the community. It will immediately end all the rumors and confusion that often accompany an untimely death – especially with the suicide of a teen or young adult. Saying the word suicide creates a clearing for friends and families who have also lost someone to suicide to come forward and provide support from their own personal experiences. It also helps to reduce the stigma associated with suicide.

Other Ways to Indicate Suicide

A common way to include suicide in the obituary is to suggest a donation to an organization supporting mental health awareness, suicide prevention, or suicide loss survivor support, like the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors.

Sample Phrases and Wording

“John Smith died by suicide on July 1st.”

“After a courageous and long battle with depression, Emily’s pain became unbearable.”

“Mary will always be remembered for the love and affection she showed family, friends, and the children she taught. The strength and courage she displayed in fighting depression inspired all who knew her. Sadly, her pain became overwhelming.”

Things to Avoid

In recent years, the term “died by suicide” has officially been adopted to replace “commit,” which is commonly associated with a crime or a sin and perpetuates stigma. Some people choose to say “completed” suicide.

Details about how and where the suicide took place should not be included in a public obituary. This ensures added privacy for the mourners, allowing them to share details if and when they want, with whom they want. It also helps to reduce copycat suicides.

Do not glamorize the suicide.

More Than How They Died

When writing an obituary – and in the days ahead – it’s important to remember than an individual is more than the way in which he or she died. Their death does not define their legacy. They had talents, made contributions, and touched others’ lives in meaningful ways. They were and still are, deeply loved. We cherish their memory.