Bereavement due to suicide
The funeral or commemoration
Funerals or other meetings to commemorate a person’s life may be very sad occasions, but they often help those who are grieving. Planning can be cathartic and distracting and some said they wanted to be closely involved because it was the last thing they could do for the person who died. They give people an opportunity to express thoughts and feelings about the person who died, to pray for the person’s spirit, and to say good-bye.
Funeral ceremonies in the UK take many forms. They differ according to a preference for burial or cremation, and in line with any religious beliefs or affiliation. Some have a funeral service in a chapel, church or a secular building, followed by another ceremony at a crematorium. The ashes may be buried or scattered there, or taken elsewhere. Others go to the crematorium first and then have a service in a local church, where they bury the ashes. Some people have the entire ceremony at the crematorium. Others have the ceremony at the church, followed by a burial (see ‘Burying the body or scattering or burying the ashes’). People from different cultural backgrounds will plan different types of funeral. Minority ethnic groups have their own funeral rites, and may specify particular roles for men and women. People sometimes ‘borrow’ from other traditions or amalgamate elements from funerals they have been to before.
Mike was only 18 when his father died. The funeral, at a crematorium, was dreadful because it...
The actual funeral was just a dreadful experience, really in the sense that of course it really brought it home that he’d died. It was an horrendous experience for me in that, in the January of that year, my father took his life in the April, from the January of that year I’d got badly smashed up on a motorbike, I was in hospital for three months, and when I came out of hospital I still had a full length plaster cast and I was at the funeral with like two crutches hobbling about with a full length plaster cast feeling not only smashed up in body but smashed up in mind and spirit, so it was a triple whammy, you know, in all senses of the word.
It was a dreadful day. There was like hundreds of people there I couldn’t believe how many people were there, I didn’t realise my father knew as many people as that, that was quite amazing how many people were there to me.
I remember feeling quite overwhelmed by that but at the same time it was good that people were there, you know, that, in remembrance of him, you know?
Graham's funeral at the crematorium was horrendous. The hearse was late and all the children were...
The funeral was arranged for a fortnight and a day after his death and that was horrendous.
Did you plan that with the children?
Yes. It was all planned with the children, the hymns everything. We didn’t have many believe me. It was a very, very short service, primarily because I knew I would fall apart completely. And ironically I was the one that didn’t. That, that was very, very strange and I am quite an emotional person anyway and I really thought I would fall apart completely. My best friend took me and the two youngest boys and a friend of the middle son. The others went independently. My daughter came with her fiancé and my eldest son came with his girlfriend. They arrived independently. We got to the crematorium and we waited and waited and waited and the place filled up and the hearse was late, got caught in traffic. Nobody else did but the hearse did and I remember saying to the undertaker; he said, ‘I’m really sorry we got caught up in traffic so we’re late’. And I said, ‘Graham would have hated to have been late’.
It was, as I said, a very short service. Our vicar was really, really choked. He was a personal friend as well. He was very choked. He did an address. He came with a prepared address and didn’t use it. He just spoke. My best friend stood between, stood beside my youngest son who was beside me and my children and their friends were in the front row. And I remember saying to my best friend, “If anything happens with the youngest, if he kicks off just take him out”. I knew she would do that, just take him out. He sobbed the entire time, the whole funeral. My middle son stood beside me holding my hand and crying his eyes out. My daughter was tucked up in her fiancés arms weeping buckets and my eldest son just stood holding his girlfriend’s hand and the tears just fell out of his face. He wasn’t even crying. It just fell out of his face. And I just stood there and thought, “This is totally unreal. I wonder what I am doing here? All these people.” It, it felt exactly as if I was in some sort of a play where I had to do this particular, play this particular role and there was no room for emotion or anything like that.
Did you feel you were having to support them all the time?
I don’t, I don’t even remember thinking about them at the time. It was awful. While we were waiting for the hearse to come and the youngest kept disappearing and I remember I kept saying you know, “Where is he, where is he?” Because I was so worried that he would disappear somewhere. He didn’t of course but…. And afterwards going outside and there were all of these people just wanting to shake my hand and say how sorry they were. And the headmaster had come from the youngest one’s school and there were so, so many people there who loved him. And I still didn’t feel it was real. It was about six months later when I suddenly thought I really, really need to go to Graham’s funeral. And that was a really odd day because it was, you know, it was right out of nowhere. What on earth would I want to revisit a funeral for? But I was suddenly very aware that I hadn’t actually been there. I had in myself but spiritually, mentally, whatever I was totally removed from it. I was the only person who didn’t cry and I knew that I would fall apart. I was absolutely certain I’d be a sobbing wreck and that people would be shovelling me up afterwards and [laugh] putting me back in the car and it wasn’t like that at all.
Jasvinder felt perturbed because the funeral took place at the house where her sister had taken...
Do you mind saying just a little bit more about her funeral?
They didn’t want you at the mourning.
Did the funeral take place there, or was it in a, somewhere else?
The, the funeral itself was actually in the house, the coffin came to the house where she had committed suicide.
Was that taken by the local priest, the local Sikh?
Yes, it would’ve been the local, it would’ve been a Sikh priest, but I felt quite perturbed at the fact that it felt very insensitive to me that her coffin was being laid in the house where she’d committed suicide, it didn’t feel right to me, none of it felt right to me, at all. And when Asian women mourn, when somebody dies, what happens is and I remember this from being young and also when I went to the house when I was told to stay away, this was the case, they take all the furniture out of one room and they lay a white cloth on the floor, white sheets on the floor and you have to go in and cover yourself, your head, take your shoes off and you sit down and you cry and cry and some of them hit themselves and beat themselves, and cry and cry and you walk into that environment and you see that, and when I walked in, people walked out. But the fact that Robina’s body was actually in the house where she’d committed suicide for me, never sat with me, it should’ve been at my father’s house.
And that’s where it should’ve been.
Was there any formal part of the service, was there a service as it were, or just the mourning, the people there mourning?
There were people mourning, and she was cremated. And that was it.
Were any special words said at the mourning?
There was an Asian priest there that spoke, but nobody passed any special words to her. I mean my mother was being held up by people, she was in such grief, in such a grieving state and I remember seeing my nephew who was her son; he must’ve been about 3 or 4 at the time, just running around oblivious to what was happening.
Alices funeral was immensely helpful. It gave the family a sense of strength and a feeling of...
Her fathers humanist funeral was a joyous occasion. It was a celebration of different...
…do you want to say anything about his funeral?
Well that was a joyous occasion because he was a man with a wonderful sense of humour, and my brother found the strength enough to talk about his life and gave lots of details. I mean he’d traveled a lot, he’d traveled with my mother a lot in the last years, he was always the life and soul of the party, my father was a real party man and there was a lot of laughing at the funeral. He was a very popular man, two to three hundred at the crematorium, people obviously write lovely things to you at that time, it was…
It was a celebration of his life?
It was. A real celebration. Yes, I don’t think I cried much, I’ve got a little bit of lump now but I don’t, I don’t think I’ve cried much because he, he has lived life so fully.
And I think he was proud of all of us as well, I don’t think any of us let him down. And no, I’ve no regrets.
Was it a Christian funeral?
It wasn’t actually, no. My father was not a Christian.
So would you call it a humanist one?
Yes I suppose so, yes, just a celebration really, at the crematorium, you know it wasn’t at the church, although there was a vicar who spoke as well, a Reverend who had known my father and christened both my sons, and been involved with the school where I had worked, so he did, he was involved, but my father was not a believer, unlike my mother.
So what form did the funeral take? You had some music and some readings and people spoke?
Yes, music, readings, my brother gave the longest speech I suppose you’d call it, it was really celebrating different aspects of his life, I don’t think anyone else spoke; I wasn’t brave enough to speak. I think I would’ve cried. I don’t think my youngest brother spoke, but then we went back to a hotel for a reception, a lot of people there and again I don’t think I remember being, I don’t think I was very upset, and I don’t think anyone else cried really. I think the people, he had quite a, a community that met with him on the beach, where he was a beach hut owner for 30 years, and I think they were shocked and surprised that he’d chosen that particular method of death, more than, you know more than us who knew him well.
But other than that I thought it was a real, it was a proper closure. I don’t think there were any questions as to why he’d chosen to go, I mean, he would’ve died, but died in a, in a far more undignified way, he was not someone who wanted to lie in a hospital.
Stephen said that Gill's funeral was 'desperately sad', but it was a 'lovely day'. The church was...
So yes, that was the Thursday, and I went up with my two brothers. Yes it was a lovely day, I mean the whole time was a lovely day, blue skies now always remind me of that day you know.
But the funeral, a lot of people had inputs, I mean the vicar was fantastic, because he had been through the whole thing many times before and knows what works and what doesn’t work, and it is, you know, it is a performance, it is choreographed, you know, it isn’t something that’s spontaneous. And in fact often spontaneous things don’t work very well. It was all quite managed in terms of you know what’s going to happen when, and who’s going to do what, and it just looked, otherwise it just looks a mess if people don’t, you know, know who’s talking now, they want to know and be very clear, and we thought a lot about the music, and how we were going to come in, and what music was going to be playing then, and one of the really nice things was actually we had a photograph of Gill, using a data projector, projected on to the wall in the church and I know everybody said they really felt that Gill was there.
I mean the church was packed, and there must’ve been 300 people in the church, there were people out the back of the church because they couldn’t fit in it you know. I mean again we’d been to the church with the children. I’d walked through how it was going to be, you know the day before I’d walked through, said well you know this is what’s going to happen, and the coffin’s going to draw up and well they’re going to carry it in, and then we’re going to walk behind, and this is where we’re going to sit, and…, you knowso there were no surprises for them, and of course it’s, you know you can’t prepare them, you can’t really prepare for it at all can you? But you know, as far as was possible.
And was she buried in the churchyard?
Yes, we, I didn’t want her cremated, I didn’t want her cremated for two reasons really, one was, I don’t know, just I felt for the children just seeing her, I don’t know, just seeing her coffin being buried. I’ll tell you this funny story about that actually it was, no matter what you do to prepare, no matter what you do to prepare, you still don’t know how children see things anyway so, yes, but the second reason was because we then would have, because of where we are in the countryside, the nearest crematorium is at least 45 minutes away, so by the time you’ve got everyone there who’s going to go, it’s at least an hour there, and then you know, at least two, two and half hours and the whole thing will have just sort of dissolved. So we really didn’t want to do that, so it was very much, you know, do the funeral service and then bury Gill and then have, I hate the word ‘wake’, I call it a ‘funeral party’, and we had a funeral party for everybody and then we had all the sort of close friends and family come round to the house, and we had literally we had a party, and I’d told everybody not to come in black, I hate black anyway, I just think well it’s, I hate, I don’t want to be wearing black at my funeral, I know I’m wearing a black shirt now, you know, but anyway I wanted sort of, and I knew Gill would’ve wanted it, just to come in your best sort of summer dress, yeah I wanted it to be bright and sort of you know, a real sort of like celebration of Gill, and of course it was sort of desperately sad but she touched a lot of people, and it just made it a wonderful day, you know I think it was, it was just, you know people said the party, because we used to have lots of parties up in London, a number of people said,&nb
Dressing and preparing the body for the funeral
Many people went to see the body of their friend or relative at the funeral director’s before the funeral (see ‘Seeing the body or not being able to do so’). Some people took great care to dress the person they loved in the clothes they thought appropriate for the funeral, and many left jewellery as a final gift.
Margaret wanted her daughter to be dressed in colours she liked and to feel warm and protected...
And it was very important to me how she was dressed and everything, in the colours that she liked, the silver, and she got a full-length coat. And like a, not suede, like suede effect, it was suede actually, with fur lining.
Not real fur, obviously. And silver velvet trousers. And I can remember, she always wanted to wear something of mine. Even though I would buy her a dressing gown the same, she would want to wear mine.
So I took my socks off and put my socks on her.
Did you do all that at the funeral parlour? Is that where you did that?
I gave those things to the man to put on.
And then my engagement ring, it was a fire opal set in diamonds and that was to come to her, she knew that. And the last time we were together she said, “Oh mum, I’m so glad you’ve still got that ring.” And there was part of me at the time that thought, “Oh just give her it.” And then I thought, “She’ll only give it away within the week.”
You know. And I want her to have it …
… but the, you know, the way that she is at the moment, she would give it away. So, her hands were bigger than mine so obviously that was to go to her. So that was important to me as well, that she had that. And there was a little diamond missing so I took it into the jewellers and said, “Could you have this ready for tomorrow because the funeral directors wanted everything she was to be dressed in and they did it for me overnight. They were very good. And they, the funeral directors said, “Well it’s actually, we’ll have to put it on her little finger”.
You know. No. Is that right? Her hands were bigger. It was on her little finger.
Probably the little finger …
Yeah, it’s on her little finger.
Did she have an open coffin?
The one thing I didn’t think to choose was the colour of the lining. I chose the, the wood that I thought she would like and everything but I didn’t choose the colour of her, the lining. And I would have chosen ivory or cream and it actually was white. I’ve got a lovely photograph, it may sound, it may sound quite bizarre but it was very important to have a photograph of her in there, and of me with her.
Well, not so much me but my hand on her forehead. On her brow. And so there is a photo of that. I asked the funeral lady to take that.
Was it an open coffin at the, at the service? At the funeral?
The lid was on.
But it was for you.
But people could see her when she was in here. They could go and see her in the chapel of rest at the funeral director’s when she came here. When I say here, I mean, I don’t mean in this house…
I mean, locally. It was hard choosing the things because when I went [shopping] it was just before Christmas and when I went it was so important that I got the right things for her. There would be her …
... and I thought I want her to feel warm and it’s important to me that she feels protected. So I got a full-length coat.
There was another one that was slightly lighter that she would have loved to wear, it’s a jacket and that also was in a slightly lighter colour, almost a cream, whereas the one I’ve got is in a like a very light tan, with a cream, creamy brown lining. I’ll show you the photo.
At home, the day before the funeral, Kate adorned Izzy with her wedding veil. Three months later...
Did you actually go and see either of the girls’ bodies after they died?
Oh gosh, yes.
Was that a good thing to do?
For me oh absolutely for me, totally. I dressed, I put my wedding veil on Izzy and quite a bit of jewellery and all her bits and pieces. And we had a coffin. The coroner said to me because Izzy had been there for a few days she … there was quite a bit … she was decomposing. And they advised us not to see her. And I said, “No.” But my sister who, who organised all the funerals, said, ”Don’t worry, don’t worry, Kate we you know, we will make her presentable.”
So you did look at her?
Oh yes she had lots of makeup on.
And we had her home the night before and we had an open coffin. And because there were so many of her friends who couldn’t … we had the church service in one part where we live and we had a horse drawn carriage and the actual cemetery was a few miles away. And we knew with Izzy’s friends they couldn’t get to the church and then get to cemetery. So the night before Anna’s Izzy’s funeral, we had her in the front room. We had lots of candles and flowers. We closed the coffin and we invited them all round and they were all outside the house about thirty, forty of her friends. And the minister came and we pulled the curtains and we just said prayers.
And my, my … one of my sister’s work for an undertaker’s and she arranged all of Izzy’s funeral. And so I just said to her just do the same for Anna. We had the white horses and the white carriage and the white coffins. And Anna’s buried with Izzy.
You were talking about the importance for you of arranging the funeral and burial as you wanted?
I think… it is important because it’s the last thing that you can do for your loved ones. It’s was the last thing I could do for Izzy and Anna. And I couldn’t arrange their weddings. I couldn’t do that. Izzy has my wedding veil and Anna had my wedding dress. And we all wrote letters and put everything into their coffins. We had them home the night before. And I wanted them home, I wanted them to come home.
Was that a family tradition, has your family always done that?
We did it for my mother when she died in ’98. And we all found it was, it was helpful that we could all say what we wanted to say. And not just a quick five minute in the undertakers when my dad died in 1980. It was a very, you know a quick viewing and then you’re off again. And I think having them home helped us. I know a lot of people it’s not for them, but I didn’t want a quick funeral. I didn’t want a quick service. And neither of the girls wanted to be cremated and I didn’t want to be … I don’t want to be cremated. And it was helpful that we could take our time and have them home and do what we wanted to do. And it helped so much in that finally parting, that final goodbye.
Kavitas father helped to prepare her brothers body. His open coffin was in the house. A priest...
My dad was very helpful in, in terms of sorting my brother’s body out and washing and getting the clothes … all these sort of things.
Is this a Hindu tradition, washing the body…?
Washing the body and dressing the body in a new … I think it’s a new outfit. So my dad had brought this suit, for dressing my brother, and had bathed him and all this.
But the day of his … the coffin in the house was the day of the funeral, yes. The priest was there for ages and doing all his rituals and putting stuff on him, my brother. And I felt really bad about that actually that his body’s being tampered with if you like and I don’t know just sad. And I remember touching my brother, you know, his head, and I just couldn’t believe that, the feeling, it was like a touching a rock really, a stone.
And that’s really it’s sort of you know because he looked normal really. Just looked his normal self you know. So you expect to feel him.
But you don’t you, you feel this you know, sort of stone.
Planning the flowers or decorations, the music, the readings, and the tributes
Most people were heavily involved in planning the funeral, though a few said that they were distraught at the time and so others had planned it.
Brenda and her family decorated the church with flowers. It helped that the church looked...
He [my husband] chose the clothes. He chose the jewelry. He chose the sentimental bits that our son had. I did nothing of that, I left it completely to my husband. It was his way of doing it and he never regrets that. And it’s so important, so important.
Yes. And how long was the funeral after, how many days after…
Because it was an inquest, because of it happening at home, and because of the severity of it, it was nearly three weeks. But the funeral directors were the most wonderful people. We didn’t want a grand affair, we didn’t want any cars. We didn’t want anybody in black. We didn’t want the people, the mourners in dark clothes. We wanted them all to come in ordinary clothes and that was one thing that got my husband through it because there was a lot of planning to do. Whatever he wanted to do I let him do and let him, there was certain things he couldn’t do so I would take over with the help of friends again. My parents just couldn’t cope with any of it, they were really bad but being so busy, and I made myself so busy for those three weeks.
The funeral was just beautiful, it was again so important that the way we’d done it, the way we didn’t have to have all this, what I call very rigid rules and harshness, it was so lovely to do it and everybody came in bright clothes. There was yellows and oranges and greens and it was beautiful. The church was just, no expense was spared on the flowers and again it is so important, it’s important to us and I hope that anybody else listening to this could really be inspired by the beauty of the flowers. It really does help.
People often chose the music and the readings with enormous care - they wanted a perfect funeral.
Jenny wanted Davids funeral to be perfect. She chose the readings and poems and who would read...
Some people chose music that was tragic and seemed appropriate, others chose favourite songs of those who had died, or which seemed to represent the person's life. Lucy, for example, chose “The Gambler” for the final song because her partner had loved gambling. Susan had a recording of her daughter singing songs she had written herself. She played this during the service, so her daughter was heard singing at her own funeral. Melanie chose the hymns that she and her husband had had at their wedding.
Felicity chose 'Dido's Lament', Henry Purcell's aria from the opera Dido and Aeneas at her...
Maurice and Jane chose Tom's favourite music for his funeral, and a reading from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. They like the line that starts, 'Your children are not your children'.
And the service itself, did you choose special readings or music?
Yes, yes I’ve forgotten the name of the band, he wanted some band there, Pink Floyd, that’s right, Pink Floyd was his favourite, yes and I think yes he had a particular record of Pink Floyd, it’s quite amazing that now they’ve resurfaced again, and I didn’t appreciate them then but apparently a hell of a lot of other people did.
And there were readings yes. I rather like Khalil Gibran about the children, they’re not your children, they’re God’s children. I’ll recommend anyone to read that.
Did you read that yourself?
Yes, well I knew the piece, I, I’d read Khalil Gibran before, and knew the piece and it’s there, yes I always have to have it in front of me to remember it in detail now but, do you know it?
No I don’t, I must look at it.
It’s out there I’ll show it to you.
The person who spoke at Loris funeral adored him. She told lots of funny stories about him and...
The wake, the ‘social gathering’ or the ‘funeral party’
After the funeral there is usually a social gathering, when people can talk and reminisce about the dead person. People usually provided refreshments. One woman we talked to had asked a catering company to bring what they thought was appropriate. Some people said that it was good to meet people and to thank them for coming. A few people said they really enjoyed the ‘party’ (see Interview 31, Stephen’s account above), but others found it very hard to talk to people and wished they had had a quiet time alone.
Barbara and her family provided food for those who came to Matts funeral. She found it hard to...
So you had the funeral which you felt was a bit rushed.
Not enough time to think what you really wanted.
Yes. It was. And having to organise [a gathering with food] and everybody does at funerals, I know when people have died from, but to have to organise a meal and things for people, it isn’t that one begrudges you know it’s just something you don’t feel,
You just don’t feel, you know, well up to.
Because any death is, any death of anybody is a traumatic experience I know, but for young people who’ve been ill, terrible, but for, for a suicide somehow there’s, it’s, I feel it’s harder to come to terms with than any other kind of, there’s no sense of, there can’t be any sense of perhaps relief that maybe some people feel if you’ve had a relative who’s been ill for a long time and in pain, there’s, there’s no, there seems to be no sort of, there’s no silver lining in that respect, and no celebration of life as it were.
Did many people come to the meal that you provided afterwards?
Quite a few people did because it was only you know sandwiches and things like that but quite a few people did because they’d come from quite a, you know, quite a way so.
Well you have to, you know, it’s only fitting to provide people with [refreshments].
I can see it must be hard to talk.
It was, very, very hard yes. I didn’t, didn’t like that at all. I’d rather just’ve disappeared, but there you are.
Susan was happy to talk to people after the funeral, but regretted inviting people to the house before the funeral of one of her sons. It was difficult to make conversation then.
People from the organisation Dignitas asked Gillian and her family whether or not they wanted a...
And I think you told me that you decided not to have a funeral.
That’s right, yes. He, he, we gave power of attorney to Dignitas and they dealt with his body and cremated him. And my brother has his ashes in the south of France. And he hasn’t decided what to do with them yet. And my mother didn’t want them because, you know, ashes don’t mean anything. We’re not a hugely sentimental family.
How was, how was that decision made though? I mean was, was that something that was your father’s wish or that you made.
No, we made at the time as we were with Dignitas and before he’d taken the potion. We discussed it. They asked us. We sort of went, “Oh, oh, you know, oh, well.” Mum just went, you know, “Ashes.” She just went, “I don’t want them.” So my brother said, “Oh, well, I’ll have them then.”
And did, did you get the impression that they, they expect people to have funerals?
No, no, they have the, they ask you, you know, and it’s up to you. And they didn’t say to us that other people did one thing or another. There was no, it’s, “What do you want to do?” It’s totally about the family they have with them. Fantastic people, compassionate, helpful, dignified.
Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated October 2012.