Proper Etiquette for a Memorial Service for a Suicide

Grief following the death of a loved one can be amplified if the cause of death was suicide.
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The act of suicide leaves surviving family, friends and acquaintances reeling in disbelief and shock and wondering why it happened and what they might have done to prevent it. While memorial services usually demand a high level of etiquette, the stakes are even higher and the use of good judgement even more important in situations where the deceased took his own life.

1 Celebrate the Deceased

A memorial service is exactly what the name implies. It is a chance for the life of the deceased to be remembered, ideally in a fond way. While it may be hard to separate the suicide from your recollection of the deceased’s life, there was far more to it than just that final act. The deceased was a child once with hopes and dreams. He was a son, father or grandparent with favorite movies, music and jokes. Tell amusing stories about the deceased, and reminisce about the elements of his personality you found most appealing. Chances are, others will be able to relate and suddenly there will be a group of people entertaining positive, healthy thoughts. Focus on the things the deceased enjoyed and accomplished in life when they were in a happier frame of mind, because those things exist regardless of how that life ended.

2 Do Not Speculate

The immediate aftermath of a suicide for the survivors brings a barrage of questions, both internal and from other people. None of these questions has an easy answer. “Why did he do it?” is the most common question, and survivors can fall into the trap of compulsively thinking about it over and over again. This question will likely get asked at the memorial service, but use good etiquette and do not be the one asking it. The memorial service should be a respite from that sort of thinking for the survivors, where they gather to remember the deceased in the best possible light just as they might for a deceased individual who died peacefully at home in old age.

3 Beware Details

In telling a story about the deceased visiting the zoo as a child, details are appropriate and will help to immerse your listener into a happier time. In discussing the manner in which the deceased died, going into detail is morbid. Do not start or engage in any such conversations. However, if you hear others carrying on such conversation, do not think too harshly of them. Talking graphically and openly about all the grisly details might be the only way certain people know how to grieve or make sense of the situation.

4 Listen Attentively

If you are worried about saying the wrong thing or do not know what to say, nobody will judge you for opting to remain silent. There may be some in attendance who will actually appreciate the fact that you are just there out of respect with no desire to speculate or rehash old questions and painful memories. By simply listening to a grieving relative or friend of the deceased, with minimal conversation required on your part, you could end up providing one of the most helpful tools for healing, and help along your own healing in the process.

Based in Virginia, Chip Marsden has been a writer for more than eight years. He has covered film, politics and culture for regional newspapers and online publications. Marsden holds a B.A. in theater arts with a concentration in performance.