Suicide. Silence and Shame.

Suicide. Silence and Shame.

by Andrea Tam

There are many ways to process the loss of a loved one.

I adored my paternal grandparents and always wondered why I did not have maternal grandparents. When I would ask my mom about them, every muscle in her body would tighten, and she would say:

“Suicide is for cowards! They are selfish and never think about who they leave behind!”

And then there was a long period of silence.

I would sit quietly and wonder what to do. It was a particularly confusing experience when I was a child.

I would carefully ask my mom about them numerous times over the years and met the same suicide statement-silence-treatment-shame-cycle.

Eventually, I realized I was not supposed to ask questions about them.

My mom passed away abruptly on February 22, 2009. A few weeks later, I discovered that she had written her autobiography and left it for me. She noted that writing her story had helped her understand herself more, and she believed it could help other people who struggled with a suicide in their family.

Here’s an excerpt from her story:

“On August 1, 1956, my father (Roland) ended his life at age 56 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound….A few days after his funeral, my mother (Agnes) explained that people would watch us (children) more closely than before. They might single us out in a group and wonder if we would “go bad” like our father.”

My mom was 14 years old when he died. Her older sister was 20, and her brothers were 18 and 10.

My cousin, Dale, traced our genealogy extensively over the years. Recently, we reconnected and began sharing information about our grandparents.

First, it became apparent that Dale and I are curious people with a knack for asking our family members difficult questions and unintentionally ticking them off. As a result, we have both experienced the statement-silence-treatment-shame-cycle. The truth is that the cycle hurts.

Second, I was shocked by some of the new information Dale shared regarding the circumstances leading up to our grandfather’s suicide. Without going into great detail, I needed some time to process it.

In a later conversation with Dale, I told him I had learned that our maternal grandmother, Agnes, told her children that they were not allowed to talk to anyone about their father’s suicide.

Can you imagine not being able to talk about an event that changed the trajectory of your life? How about the shame of believing others may see you as a flawed person because your father chose to end his life? Shame is the one thing that can hurt a human being.

Granted, when Agnes instructed her children, life was very different than it is today. People were more reserved than they are now. However, suicide still has a stigma and carries a lot of shame, and people are uncomfortable talking about it, especially those dealing with it directly.

Dale and I talked about how the shame and silence of suicide have adversely affected our parents, aunts and uncles, our generation, and the generation after us. Our talks have helped us understand why some of our family members have acted the way they did.

We wondered aloud if our family’s mental health and addiction issues stem from the trauma and stress our grandparents and parents experienced. For now, we concluded that if everyone in the family could talk openly about our history, we could process it. And that would benefit all of us.

Dale and I have developed a bond of trust with each other. We have benefited from talking about our information, experiences, and observations. It has helped us confirm some beliefs, discount others, and to heal. And it has given us a sense of understanding and peace.

There are many ways to process loss, like Dale and I processing the loss of our grandfather from suicide and how it affected our family for generations. If you or someone you know is processing loss, consider a gift box filled with positive rituals, care, and love. Sometimes, the simple act of giving one of our gift boxes helps someone find a way of processing loss.

Thank you for reading,

Andrea Tam
Founder @ Robiins
Processing loss. One gift box at a time.™




Andrea Tam
Andrea Tam

Author




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