Opinion | Sharing the devastation of suicide

TOUGH JOURNEY: "Suicide happens in the best of families and to the best of people".
TOUGH JOURNEY: "Suicide happens in the best of families and to the best of people".

On Thursday, October 5, at Lake Macquarie, friends and relatives who have lost loved ones to suicide will gather to share their loss and grief in an atmosphere of acceptance and hope. For too long suicide has been a taboo subject, but it is essential for those who are left behind to realise that they are not alone in their pain.

The Wesley LifeForce Memorial Service at the Heritage Shed will give people permission to talk and grieve. It is now an annual event for the people of the Hunter and the mid-North Coast. 

Of all the funeral services I have conducted during my working life, there are two kinds that stand out as being particularly painful.  One is following the death of young children and the obvious unreasonableness that is present on such an occasion – and the other is when standing before and alongside families who are sharing the loss that comes as a result of people who bring their own life to a close.

The suicide of someone you care about is a devastating tragedy. It happens in the best of families and to the best of people – and leaves the shattered lives of shocked survivors. 

I am convinced that in so many ways suicide is one of the most difficult deaths to face. There can be all kinds of mixed emotions present in someone’s loss and there is no orderly process through which we pass.

Recovery from suicide of someone close to us is an enormous task, because the process for mending a broken heart is both painful and slow. This journey may involve exploring and accepting our feelings, however difficult that might be. 

We are led to believe that we must always answer the question, “Why?”  Sometimes we may have clues as to why a person has chosen to end their life. You will be aware of some reasons, but often there are more questions than answers. 

Grappling with the perplexity of not knowing can be extremely difficult.  Our ‘whys’ may never be answered. A person may take the mystery of their life and death with them. We must remind ourselves that unanswered questions do not communicate lack of love and that our continuation of love is often in the knowledge that we do not know everything.

The Wesley LifeForce Memorial Service is an chance to comfort those bereaved by suicide, to help reduce the stigma associated with suicide and to honour the memory of their loved ones.

A desire for suicide prevention realised the birth of Wesley LifeForce in 1995. The program has since delivered suicide prevention skills training to more than 35,000 Australians. The evidence-based training helps people identify when someone may be at risk of suicide and then take action, such as linking the person to a qualified health professional or support services. 

Wesley Mission is also helping communities develop prevention responses through suicide prevention networks. In Newcastle, the Greater Hunter and the North Coast there are three Wesley LifeForce Suicide Prevention Networks and support groups, and more than 70 nationwide.

The death of a loved one to suicide is life-changing for those left behind. Thursday’s memorial service is a time to grieve, share and hope. It is also an opportunity for those bereaved by suicide to know that they are not alone but embraced by a much larger and compassionate family who share a similar journey.

The service will be held at Speers Point on Thursday (October 5) at noon. 

Rev Keith Garner AM is the CEO of Wesley Mission