Georgina Guedes

Suicide mourners should be free to express their feelings

2014-08-20 07:00

Georgina Guedes

"Genie, you're free!" was tweeted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in the wake of Robin Williams' suicide last week. (That's them that does the Oscars, in case you were in any doubt.)

The tweet was a quote from one of Robin Williams' most loved roles - that of the genie in Aladdin. It was retweeted more than 320 000 times because the world appreciated its poignancy. A beloved actor who was clearly battling some pretty dark demons is now free from their clutches.

At the same time, Williams made us laugh and cry and think about our humanity in all his roles, and is now free of his service to us.

It was a moving tweet. We liked it. We shared it.

Don’t say it that way

Then, the next wave of commentary on how people should express how they feel crashed down on the Twitterverse.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention released a statement expressing its concern about the tweet, saying, "Suicide should never be presented as an option. [The tweet] presents suicide in too celebratory a light."

Oh dear. So the 320 000 people who were moved by the tweet did a bad thing because they weren't taking the opportunity to express their feelings about the suicide of a public figure in an appropriate way.

Deaths in the family

Look, I get it. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one to suicide wishes that they could have done something to prevent an act so lonely and desperate.

I'm among them - a close family member of mine killed herself, and after her death I was filled with conflicting emotions - I wished we could have stopped her and I wish we could have helped her die.

Yes, I wished I could have been there with her so that she didn't carry out the terrifying choice she had made so utterly alone. Of course, had I been there, I would never have let her do it, so this is a silly line of thinking, but that's what grief and coming to terms with a loss will do to a person.

My father-in-law also died last week, and as our family mourned our loss, we found ways to make ourselves feel better about his passing. He had been an active man but was rendered immobile by emphysema. Our comfort came in the form of the idea that his suffering had ended. He was free… Sound familiar?

There's no right way to mourn

I hear what the American Foundation for Suicide prevention is saying - and perhaps those guidelines are appropriate for the media - but when individuals are coming to terms with their own loss and their own grief in their own way, shaming them for expressing the thoughts that give them comfort isn't a helpful contribution.

This thinking takes away the right to process the loss of a loved one through suicide - which is far more traumatic than other kinds of death - in whatever way comes naturally. Instead, mourners must only express how terrible the suicide is, rather than that their loved one has found peace or is free or at rest. They must dwell on the trauma.

I'm not sure what the solution here is, because of course, we'd like to prevent any senseless suicide whenever we can. So for sure, step up campaigns about treating depression, about options, about identifying risk factors, but when people are faced with sorrow and loss, don't make them feel bad about how they come to terms with it.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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