When Your Co-Workers Make Jokes or Act Weird After Your Family Member’s Suicide

Suicide sucks.

Suicide is a monster that will haunt you forever.

Suicide is on the rise in the United States, and according to the most recent statistics from the CDC, is the tenth leading cause of death in our country.

Suicide not only sucks, it destroys those left behind. We will never, ever be the same again.

Yet the horror of suicide is terribly misunderstood, and our language reflects this.

After my beloved husband died by suicide of depression and hopelessness, most people were extremely supportive of me and my inconsolable feelings of loss. I was lucky. I didn’t hear the “well, at least now he’s in a better place” although there were a couple of “at least now he’s at peace” comments. Neither is helpful.

Let me repeat that… neither is helpful.

But, our language minimizes the hideous nature of suicide, and some of the kindest, most caring people I know make flippant, thoughtless comments that they’d never say about – or after – any other form of death.

One dear friend who was there for me after John’s body was found, texted me a couple of weeks later about a problem at work, saying “Just shoot me” and using a gun emoji. I was stunned and stared at that text for a few minutes before responding that “John used his gun to kill himself”. My friend was horrified by what she’d written. And I got that. But it still hurt.

Other friends have had tough days for one reason or another and posted similar words on Facebook, “Oh just shoot me”.

One doesn’t die by suicide because of a tough day. Or because of a fight with your spouse or parent. Or because of any number of challenges we all face.

One dies by suicide because all hope has been lost. And that can be because of a long-term depression (which my husband had), because of emotional or physical trauma (both of which my husband was dealing with), because of physical health failing (which was slowly killing my husband), because of chronic pain (again, my husband), because of addictions (alcoholism, in my husband’s case), or for some other reason.

Yes, there are impulsive suicides, but in my experience after knowing too many people who have died by suicide or attempted to die by suicide, or who have struggled with thoughts of killing themselves, it’s the lack of hope that is the tipping point.

Despite suicide being the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, most people don’t understand it or know how to respond to it. And so, the thoughtless comments are made, or questions about how it all happened, or perhaps worse, ignoring the survivor’s loss.

Please, please be aware, that losing someone to suicide is a loss like no other. Unless you’ve lived it, you cannot imagine the impact on the survivor. It’s not called “complicated grief” for nothing.

Workplace Support and Training.

This blog was written after seeing a post by a friend on Facebook this morning. His ability to get through the workday keeps being challenged by a thoughtless co-worker’s frequent insensitive comments and questions about my friend’s son’s death by suicide.

I don’t know the co-worker, or the workplace, so don’t know what’s going on. Is the co-worker a survivor of suicide loss himself, and now dealing with it the only way he knows how? Has that co-worker perhaps seriously considered suicide, and so is making rude comments as a way of coping with his own feelings? Or is he just a thoughtless individual who has no idea of how hurtful he is?

Whatever the reason, this should not be allowed to continue, obviously because it creates a challenging environment for my friend. But also because if the workplace tolerates it, this creates morale problems, and could even be considered a hostile environment. Or, for no other reason than the cost of decreased productivity on the part of my friend, which surely the workplace doesn’t want.

If your workplace needs help in understanding the impact of suicide and how to support an employee who is a survivor of suicide loss, please contact me. I’m available to offer support and/or training on the topic.

Just call Linda at 207 / 740.2247, or email me at LSnyder@heritagehealthservices.org.

FMI on suicide:

The Grief Warrior Project. https://warrior-project.org. This is the website and blog I started after my beloved husband died by suicide. Our support groups are presently on hiatus but will be starting up again soon.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://www.afsp.org. I am a trained volunteer with AFSP.

NAMI-Maine. The National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.namimaine.org. I’ve taken NAMI’s suicide training, and also provide respite for a child with a severe disability through them.

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