When someone has taken their own life
There are many practical things we need to do and there are other people who will be involved when someone close to us takes their life.
When we are in shock and we have strangers with whom we must deal we can feel helpless and powerless over what’s happening. Understanding what and who is involved in this process can help us in these early days.
When we are first told of our loss, we are full of questions and need to find answers.
What happened? Where did it happen? Who was there? When? How did it happen? And the most difficult question for us all: Why?
We need to have as many of our questions answered as possible, as we try and take in what has happened.
Some of our questions never get answered properly and we are left wondering and trying to make sense of our loss.
There are people who can help us find answers.
Close family and friends we trust, the Police, the Coroner’s Counselling Service, ARBOR, Lifeline, Compassionate Friends and other support groups and online services are all ready to help.
The Police are usually the first called when someone dies by suicide. They will make sure the body of the person who has died is taken care of and will contact the Coroner to report the death. They are required to do this by law in cases of sudden or unexplained deaths.
The Coroner investigates and determines the cause of death, how it occurred and details needed to register the death. The Coroner also has legal responsibility for the body of the person who has died from unnatural causes or where the cause of death is not known. This includes suicide.
If the Coroner needs to order complex tests (such as testing for drugs, alcohol, medication and poisons) his report may take some time. The Coronial Counselling Service can help you get information about this.
Coronial Counselling Service
The Coronial Counselling Service is part of the Office of the State Coroner. This free service helps us navigate the difficult issues associated with the coronial inquiry process. This includes arranging viewings of our loved ones, explaining what occurs during the post-mortem process, as well as offering advice on helping our children adjust. The Coronial Counselling Service also offers grief counselling and can refer you to other counsellors or support groups.
Visiting the site
Most suicides happen in or close to home. Most of us want to know where our loved one died and we may want to go to see this place. Sometimes the Police will be involved in the visit.
Some of us took photos and left something to acknowledge this special place. Some of us visit this place a long time later. It becomes important to us. For others, this site is not as important to us as our loved one’s burial place. We go there to find comfort later.
Whenever someone dies, their death needs to be registered with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and a death certificate issued. When someone dies of suicide in Western Australia, the death is considered a ‘Reportable Death’ and needs to be examined by a coroner before a death certificate can be issued. This usually shouldn’t take long, but sometimes the coroner may need to order complex tests to determine the cause of death and this can delay the process.
Things such as toxicology (testing for drugs, alcohol, medication and poisons) or histology (tissue sampling) reports may take time to generate. Most certificates shouldn’t take longer than a few weeks, but sometimes take longer if determining the cause of death is particularly complicated.
Your GP can show you the medical report and explain any medical terms for you. As well, your GP can assist with any health issues you may have or that may develop. Ask your GP about services and support you need. GPs can refer us to a qualified counsellor for a number of free sessions if we want professional support.
The Funeral Director you choose will help you make the arrangements for the funeral and help you make the funeral the way you would like it to be.
We sometimes needed to contact more than one funeral company before we found one we felt was suitable and within our budget.
The Coronial Counselling Service can provide information if you have any questions or problems regarding the funeral of the person who has died.
This is a very special occasion for most of us, as difficult as it is when someone we love has taken their own life. The memories we have from the day will stay with us as a reminder of the person we have lost.
Planning the funeral helped us accept our loss. Most of us had the help of a Funeral Director to make arrangements. Some tips we can share:
- Ask a friend or someone close to you to help you arrange the funeral with you. They will support you so you don’t carry that responsibility alone.
- Choose a Funeral Director who listens and who you trust. You are buying this service, so shop around until you find the right person/business.
- Choose a person (an elder, minister or celebrant) to conduct the funeral. This person will set the tone you want and be able to acknowledge your loved one’s life well.
- Tell the Funeral Director and staff what you want (and what you don’t want). If you don’t know, they will guide you and offer options. Ask as many questions as you want.
- Let the Funeral Director know how you would like the person who has died to look for the funeral. A photo can help.
- How can the funeral best honour the person and their life? What would you and others close to the person want to honour them? What symbols and items with special meaning would you like included (for example: songs, tributes, stories, prayers, photos, videos etc)
- What clothes or special items would you like your loved one to be dressed in?
- How can others, including children if appropriate, be involved in the funeral?
- If you are a long way away and cannot arrange a funeral, you can ask to have an unattended cremation and the ashes of the person you have lost sent back to you. The Coroner’s Counselling Service will help you with this.
Sometimes private health, life, sickness or accident insurance will provide assistance in paying for the funeral of the person who has died. If the deceased had insurance, call their insurance company to ask if assistance is available. If you have lost a child and have insurance, your insurance company can advise you. We sought help from trusted people to assist us with seeking information when we weren’t able to do it.
When we lose someone to suicide we are unable to function as well as usual. Many of us are unable to work for some time, placing us under financial pressure we had not expected.
The time following the death of our loved one can be made even harder by financial difficulty. In some cases, we can apply to release our superannuation early based on compassionate grounds or severe financial hardship caused by the death, burial or funeral.
We may need support to get information and consider our financial situation. Family, friends or a financial advisor you trust can help with this. Some of us asked one of these people to take on the management of our bills during this time.
Banks have a specific process to go through when closing an account following the death of the owner. You will need to provide a Proof of Death document, as well as forms of identification for yourself. Most banks will try to make this process easy for you and will guide you through the process.
Phone or visit the website of the bank you need. If you find going in person easier for you, we found it helped to look up what information we needed to bring beforehand.
The Public Trustee can help us with any legal difficulties following the death of a loved one. Issues regarding wills and assets or fulfilling the role of an executor may arise. We found taking someone we trust with us to help was important.
Sometimes these responsibilities may require us to understand legal or financial details that are beyond our grasp. The Public Trustee provides services to assist us in processing these issues.
Possessions and property
We all deal with the clothes and possessions of the person we have lost when we are ready. Some of us did this sooner and some later. For some of us it felt so final we didn’t want to do it. We waited until we felt ready. For some of us this took years.
Others needed to say goodbye by sorting these things. We kept some items that were special. We shared things with others who were close to the one we’d lost.