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Coping with Suicide

Coping with Suicide

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Question:

Recently, my nephew was found dead in his room. We know it was suicide. His father—my sister’s husband and my husband’s brother—was against his choice of fiancée.

We’ve told everyone it was a heart attack—he had heart problems before. My sister is not coping well—she seems to be in denial. Nobody wants to discuss this. Please give me some advice.

Response:

This is not something you can just forget about and get on with life. This is something that must change the course of life, or it will be forever sending life in circles.

Tragedy is an implosion of negative energy, draining away all warmth and light, sucking the spirit out of our lives like a monstrous leech. And yet, we have the power to grab that energy by the reins and turn it around into a power for good—a greater good than any positive energy could have provided.

How do we do that? Certainly not by stewing over our remorse and guilt. Nor by attempting to keep it stuffed under our pillows. But if your nephew’s early demise will lead you to be a more caring person, and your sister to be a more caring mother, then he did not die without meaning.

Really, nothing is without meaning. We believe in one benevolent G‑d who directs all of heaven and earth. If so, we also believe that every event of life is meant to propel us forward. G‑d does not allow tragedy in His world just for the heck of it. Everything must have meaning, just that the meaning can be known only from the final result. That final result is in your hands.

Here is the best therapy for you: There are people in your family—your children, your sister and others—who need your care right now. They need a soothing voice, a warm heart, a word of encouragement, a dose of optimism. Most of all, they need an open ear into which to pour the bitterness of their souls, and a shoulder upon which to cry. You will become that person. Even if you did not have the capability to do so before, that does not matter. You will channel the horror and guilt over your nephew’s death into your own transformation. And there, all the bitterness will become sweet.

What can you tell your sister? To tell you, I would have to imagine myself as her—and, honestly, I am afraid to even begin to do that. All I can say is that G‑d must have given you much strength to be able to deal with this. Listen to her, listen deeply, and the words will come.

We mourn death because we cherish life. That is why we place a limit to the days of mourning—seven days of intense mourning and one month of remembering, and then life continues, yet higher. We don’t destroy life by mourning the past. We learn from death to count our days as one counts jewels. For the only vantage point from which we can measure their value is from that of the very last one. That is when we will ask, “What did I do with the life G‑d gave me? Was it a worthwhile gift? Was it all worthwhile?”

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Anonymous October 12, 2016

This is a beautiful article. Thank you. Reply

Isabelle Colorado November 3, 2014

Thank you G-d for peace I am not Jewish, and I believe I was led here by G-d. I lost my youngest son in such a tragedy. I witnessed it and have been suffering in grief, guilt and wonder for him for over 2 years. G-d has tried to tell me such things as mentioned above, as I try to cope to understand and I have not listened. Yes, I know now that my son was sick mentally and I understand what I must do to go on. This subject is kept in the dark and hidden, yet it is one that can be so painful
Please if anyone who reads this is thinking of ending your life. Try hard not to take that action and get help. Life is a gift and not ours to give it back, especially if we know better. I am so sorry if I offended anyone here. G-d is wonderful and I love him dearly. Reply

Anonymous December 16, 2013

Burial in Jewish Cemetery after suicide? Can a person who has cancer and commits suicide be buried in a Jewish Cemetery? Reply

Anonymous Mn May 7, 2013

Suicide At the funeral of a cousin, the Rabbi said as part of his eulogy, "let her entire life not be judged by this one action." I like that and took it to heart. Reply

Howard Jerusalem, Israel February 10, 2013

Stigma of Suicide As a survivor of suicide in the family, and as a brother of another family member with chronic bi-polar disorder involving multiple suicide attempts, I appreciate this discussion. Rather than judge the family written about here for misrepresenting the cause of death, it is telling to consider what is behind it. One of the unique sorrows of a family mourning a loss from suicide is stigma. Our people is certainly no exception in stigmatizing people with mental disorders - rooted in halacha that traditionally was intended to safeguard the value of life, but has ended up compounding the misery - i.e. whether a suicide can be buried in a Jewish cemetery, whether regular mourning practices can be observed, whether to say kaddish, etc. I very much value Chabad's efforts in the last years to help break the ice of silence regarding mental disabilities, most recently with this essay by Rabbi Freeman. It is only by first acknowledging what is right under our nose that we can deal with it. Reply

Dianne Gaddin Australia February 10, 2013

SUICIDE I would like to quote from Tzvi Freeman - "if you see something in the world that Hashem has left for you to repair, and you don't repair it, it is you that needs repair" - so, please repair the hurt in your family, and don't hide behind the truth as the pain will never go away. Honour his life and remember him with love - lying about how and why he died is a dishonour! Reply

Doriel Springfield, IL February 8, 2013

suicide of friends and family I have known two friends who killed themselves - both young men in their twenties. One of the men was a deeply devout Christian in Tennessee. The small town that he lived in condemned and judged him for every little thing he did. He was too poor and devoted to his mother to leave the town and start somewhere else. He was in love with a woman and wanted to make a fresh start he told me, but the people around him did not respect him and refused to have a positive attitude towards him. The other man had an extremely religious mother, with a son who was having difficulty competing to be successful. Both of these men were gentle souls who were soft in nature, very sensitive. How you can help and move on. Please be more sensitive and less judgmental. Please talk to your family about your feelings. That helps you heal - it really does help. Cherish the good memories and pray for his soul. G_d does answer prayers. Our prayers reach the higher world when they are unselfish prayers. Reply

Susana Garmizo February 8, 2013

suicide I too have had the experience of a suicide in my family. The immediate family of the victim also tried to hide the true reason for the death saying it was a car accident. At the funeral the exwife gave a very moving talk and explained to everyone the truth, that her exhusband had bipolar mental illness and was not treated. Many of our family were very angry that the truth was exposed! I thought that she was very brave. After all there were three children who lost their father . I believe that the pain of that loss did not have to be complicated with having to hide behind a lie to the world. Many people believe that suicide is in fact a weakness of character they do not understand that it is an illness ,a physical illness like cancer or heart failure. I myself was very upset because suicide is the one big no-no in Jewish law. I went to my rabbi and spoke with him. My rabbi assured me that this man would have a place in heaven because G-d does not punish illness. Reply

Haddass E Washington DC February 8, 2013

Have a thought about the whole family denial; Not only it seems that it played a major role in his suicide, but yet the entire family continue lying saying it was a heart attack. What kind of respect do you have for HIM ????
At least honor his memory, and tell the truth. It will be the best you could do for his memory: say that the family was against his love and that he committed suicide. And learn. Learn how to become a better person in accepting that others, included your son or nephew or anyone else is different. And respect him. Reply

Dianne Gaddin BONDI February 8, 2013

SUICIDE It is about time our community learn to understand that suicide is a fact of life and there must be no shame attached. I lost my daughter to suicide and believe she has left me a legacy and that is to talk openly about her suicide. wherever and whenever I have spoken people have come up to me and congratulated me for being so open and honest and it will help their healing. Reply

G. Gabriel Los Angeles, CA February 8, 2013

Grief Recovery As a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, I suggest starting with the loss that has broken the hearts of those who loved your nephew. Doing the work that takes you through the loss so you can move beyond and go on to live your life. It is necessary to address what could have been different, better, or more. Completing any unfinished feelings as you ask for forgiveness, make emotional statements, and apologies. Reply

Anonymous February 7, 2013

SUICIDE ........ kids should not see this Reply

Jenny Wichita February 7, 2013

Suicide: In Hopes to Assuage Your Grief I wanted to say something I hope the family of the nephew of the suicide will find some comfort in. I actually have bipolar, and was suicidal in my teens. I can tell you that when your nephew died... there is nothing you could have done. People who commit such desperate acts usually have more wrong with them than what exists on the surface. They think things are worse than they actually are. It was not really about the fiance. Maybe he needed therapy, I don't know. Anyway, when you mourn his death try to remember the good times you had with him and forget the bad. Maybe G-d has forgiven him and he has finally found peace. Reply

JDV February 7, 2013

Is there any special reason why this woman should not mention the word suicide to family members or are they too young or frail to handle it? For too long, mental illness was kept in the closet and that will only aggravate the problem. The shame of mental illness must end. Reply

Liora Pier San Jose February 7, 2013

I can relate to the family Two years ago my cousin committed suicide. I appreciate Tzvi's answer. It is true that we mourn death because we cherish life. We wish after the fact that perhaps we could have served his needs differently. But his choices were his, and I cannot take upon myself any guilt. This does not as Tzvi says take a good thing away from the sad event. We needed to admit (not lie) the truth, so we could heal, forgive and learn a life lesson from it. I did stand in honor of him during the Mourner's Kaddish because I acknowlege the Creator gave him life, and He gets the last word. This is gives me comfort and release that I need. Blessings and Shalom to all who survive a family member to died of suicide. Reply

Jose jimenez Norcross, Ga February 7, 2013

suicide I guess you are not addressing the issue that he committed suicide because simply his family did not approve of his fiancee, well, that's very bad because if you still do not want to address this issue then his family will still be in darkness and in denial. As far as if it were to be my family, we discuss it and becaue to be in love is a very personal choice with whoever we want, then we need to respect that choice, and us as human being hsould not let our emotions run high simply because of a family accpetance issue. God loves us all reagrdless, and you can always move on, but life is precious and instead of destroying it, just fullfill your purpose in life. We are all here becaue of a reason. Judaism is based on our love for our G-d and our love to our neighbor and our love to ourselves. Let's fulfill that purpose. Shalom !! Reply

David Chester February 7, 2013

How the Suicidal Person Sees It The tragic result of a suicide, is felt by the family and friends, but all of them are not the same as the person whose loss they surely miss. From the view-point of the suicidal person him/her self, the decision and action to release a tortured soul and allow it to go to a happier place is a good decision. Although the physical action is shocking and most people don't have available a simple, painless and pleasant way for ending their lives, there is a need for us to accept the fact that for many on earth, this decision is sound. Not only young ones, many old and sick people could prolong their lives too, but without their desire to fight for life, they can logically be regarded as suicidal and this release is a natural and sincere thing to do.

So a person who is mourning for this kind of loss, as distinct from a more "regular" kind, is tending to exaggerate the situation and need comfort of the logical kind given above, spiritual guidance and possibly psychological assistance too. Reply

Doriel February 6, 2013

the suicide Lying about the death of your nephew and saying it was a heart attack, makes you and your family deceitful which is evil. In modern psychology they would call that a dysfunctional family. In order to heal, the truth should be told, share and discussed. That is the purpose for sitting shiv. I know this may seem harsh, but the body is the temple of the most high living g_d. It should not be deliberately desecrated, so not only should self-inflicted violence been seen as wrong - I would also say using poisons like alcohol, cigarettes and anything else harmful would be wrong too. I do not advise therapy. I advise that you follow the Torah. You can pray the yerzeit prayer for your nephew every week for a year. Reply

Eliezer February 6, 2013

suicide When you have nothing really to say, say nothing. All I saw in this response was flowery platitudes; "turning negative energy into positive energy" is certainly a nice and poetic thought, but it doesn't talk to the intense pain and the sense of guilt for not seeing it coming, these people are feeling, not to mention the pain of losing a child under any circumstances. The author writes "I would have to imagine myself as her—and, honestly, I am afraid to even begin to do that." If you can't imagine her pain, then how can you speak to it. And if you are actually even afraid to imagine it, then you are not ready and capable of understanding it. This important question should have been given to someone who knows this pain, no one else. Reply

Beverly Margolis-Kurtin Texas February 6, 2013

Missing the point As a former suicide prevention counselor, I worked with hundreds of would-be suicides who were reaching out for help. Those can be helped. Sadly, many suicides are done without thinking. "I have a problem, I am going to kill myself." BANG. In different words, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
There have been times, I feel, when each of us for however a brief time, consider suicide and just as fast reject it because we don't really hurt that badly; we know from experience that things always get better.
The problem with younger people is that they see a dead end, they cannot see beyond the horizon. They feel that nobody else has ever had a problem like theirs so nobody will understand, so they do the deed.
In our shul, we have within our Hebrew school, classes that tell youngsters about suicide, preparing them for the time in their lives when things seem impossible to live with. PREPARATION IS PREVENTION. Reply

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