Death is a mystery. We will never know the exact date and time someone will take their last breath, but when it happens to someone who lived a full life or suffered from a terminal illness I feel less curious about how or why it happened. Is it morbid that I want to know the details or just human nature? Do I silently wonder if it could happen to me or could have been avoided?
I’ve noticed a flood of raw, honest and heartbreaking obituaries lately. Not the kind that simply tell an abbreviated life story—where the family will receive guests and how they want to honor them—but they go into detail about how they died. They talk about the stuff we want to know, but never ask (or at the very least, shouldn’t ask).
It’s normal to want to protect our loved ones and honor the wonderful life they lived, but what happens when addiction and suicide are the cause of death? Is it unrealistic to honor their lives and still talk about the bad stuff? I’ve read the most powerful and inspiring stories over the last year that do both.
A Common Misconception About Addiction and Suicide
There isn’t a single family member of someone who died from suicide or addiction that could have done anything to prevent it. They lived with it, watched their loved one struggle and were there for them on their darkest days. They might have been angry, begged them to see the beautiful souls before them and waited patiently for them to recover or get better, but it was never in their control.
And guess what, the person suffering isn’t in control either. They aren’t choosing drugs or alcohol or depression over the people they love. They have an illness, a wire crossed that makes it harder for them to do what others do so easily. And sometimes this misconception makes them suffer more because they think they can control it and are failing.
The terms we use when we talk about addiction and depression play into this misconception. “Recovery” or “getting better” indicate a finality, a place where they will come out on the other side and never struggle again. But while a person may get to a place where they learn to live with their personal struggles they will live their entire lives WITH it. Recovery is not a final milestone, it’s a place they will be for the rest of their lives.
So why am I going on about all of this? I believe some people may feel ashamed about how their loved one died. They may be afraid of being judged for not doing enough. And sometimes, other people are judging them – thinking they could’ve done more, but nothing is farther from the truth.
Truth in Obituaries
From the teenage daughter known as the “life of the party” to the executive who just celebrated her 50th birthday, some families made the brave choice to share their personal experiences. They understood addiction and depression. They didn’t blame themselves or their loved ones. They acknowledged their struggles but didn’t let it define them. They talked about the good and the bad in an effort to help others.
One father went so far as to invite a recovery specialist to his daughter’s funeral and encouraged the attending youths to meet with them. Staring at the casket of their friend could be the sharp reality they needed to get started and they may not have taken that first step without his help.
Below are stories of a few brave families who wanted their loved one’s lives to be celebrated and their death’s to have meaning. Individually, they set out to raise awareness about addiction and depression and likely they’ve never met one another. I hope by bringing their stories together, their power grows even stronger.