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EDITORIAL – Why we shouldn’t fear the ‘suicide’ word in obituaries

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

I WAS RECENTLY ASKED for my opinion on whether or not CFJC Today should publish an obituary as it was submitted, acknowledging that a man took his own life.

My answer was that it should. If a family wishes to include such information, I said, that wish should be met. More importantly, suicide needs to be recognized and discussed openly, not hidden away and regarded as something shameful.

So, CFJC Today published the obituary as written, which was absolutely the right thing to do. However, another news medium deleted the paragraph of the obituary in which the person’s suicide had been stated.

That’s the old-school way of handling the issue. I don’t know whether the deletion was made with the consent of the family, but it shouldn’t have been edited. By taking out the reference, a judgment was being made that suicide is a secret that must be kept.

The opposite is true. If we’re to make progress in suicide prevention, we have to first candidly admit the reality of it. Thousands of Canadians die each year from suicide, and each year thousands of funeral services of people who killed themselves are held in which the term is never mentioned.

We think, somehow, that we’re doing a service for the lost loved one by denying the cause of death. Actually, we’re denying that person the dignity of an explanation, of candor about the tragedy of his or her passing.

Coincidentally, the question of what to do about the obituary came up just ahead of annual Suicide Prevention Day. Because of the pandemic, the day was marked in a low-key manner here, with a few dozen people tapping into an online forum.

We must hope that, once we return to normal, that day, and the discussion of suicide and its causes and possible means of prevention, will grow into a true national dialogue. And that includes accepting it in obituaries.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

About Mel Rothenburger (7772 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on EDITORIAL – Why we shouldn’t fear the ‘suicide’ word in obituaries

  1. Dawne Taylor // October 11, 2020 at 2:54 PM // Reply

    I agree totally. Surprised Mel that you didn’t mention your own family’s story.

  2. I totally agree with you, Mel. Although a long and thorough discussion of the rationales for suicide will undoubtedly unfold over time, assisted suicide is being accepted within our legal framework, and with that acceptance the need for using the phrase “choosing his/her own time” should be recognized as euphemistic, not allowing the word “suicide” to bestow the dignity the person deserves while avoiding cause of death entirely in an obituary leaves nothing but wondering. The attitude to suicide by the ancient Roman culture allowed that dignity, as have many other cultures since. Euphemisms just skirt the issue leading to poor communication.

  3. lorrainewinter // October 11, 2020 at 10:19 AM // Reply

    You know I agree with this 100%

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