My best friend, Anne, who is also a vicar, recently conducted a funeral of a teenage boy who had ended his own life. Anne saw at first hand the devastation his suicide wreaked on his family and friends. Suicide is a topic we don’t want to discuss or even think about. But because suicide is now the biggest killer of young people – male and female – aged under 35 in the UK, a statistic I didn’t believe until I checked it, I think perhaps it’s time for us to start a conversation round the causes of suicide and suicide itself.
Until 1961, suicide was a crime in the UK – those who had attempted suicide before this time and the families of those who had died by suicide could be prosecuted. It might seem a bit nit-picky but try not to say ‘He/she committed suicide.’ You can only ‘commit’ a crime and suicide is no longer a crime. Try to find kinder ways to describe a suicide.
As a church, we were also ostracising those families whose loved ones died by suicide. At one time, people who’d ended their own lives were not allowed to be buried in a churchyard. And I’m ashamed to say it was only last year when the Church of England legally ended the ban on full Christian funerals for suicides. How appalling is that! Jesus was clear who the people he is interested in are. He says in Luke 5:31,32 ’Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.’
A prayer for those who are mourning the loss of a loved one.
O God, who brought us to birth,
and in whose arms we die,
in our grief and shock
contain and comfort us;
embrace us with your love,
give us hope in our confusion
and grace to let go into new life;
through Jesus Christ.
I’m impressed with the work of the organisation ‘Papyrus’ - they are ‘dedicated to the prevention of young suicides’. On their website, (papyrus-uk.org), I was challenged by their advice to ask openly and confidently to a young person who is in mental distress ‘Have you thought of suicide?’ I’ve always thought that asking about suicide might put the idea into a person’s head, or offend or anger them in some way; however, Papyrus’ research indicates that asking does not increase the risk. It is also unlikely that a person will be angry or offended but relieved you have invited them to talk about how they are feeling and that you can get them the help they need.
We, as a church, can offer a listening ear, a non-judgmental approach and to direct the distressed person to someone qualified to help. And we can pray, to ask God for peace and healing.
- Revd. Jan Ashton
Vicar of Hightown, Liverpool