A Special Scar: The Experiences of People Bereaved by Suicide

By Alison Wertheimer | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Meeting the survivors

When planning this book, I hoped to be able to interview between forty and fifty people, although several people had expressed doubts as to whether that number of people would be willing to talk about such a difficult issue as suicide. In fact, nearly a hundred people contacted me; there seemed to be no shortage of people wanting to talk about their bereavement. In the event, I saw fifty of them, and it is their stories which are told here.

I have used the word 'stories' deliberately. Although I set out with a tape-recorder and notebook, I decided that, as far as possible, I wanted people to be free to relate their stories in the way that they felt most comfortable. I had a subject guide to hand, but even this was frequently discarded as people began to tell their stories-on some occasions for the first time. I saw my role as listener rather than interviewer, and my decision not to undertake formal, structured interviews reflected Cain's comment that, 'given the clamorous needs of many survivors for psychological assistance, survivor research will often acquire a strong action research flavour' (1972:24).

Contact was made with survivors through a number of different channels. The single largest group contacted me as the result of letters circulated by two national organisations: CRUSE Bereavement Care; and The Compassionate Friends, a self-help organisation of bereaved parents. Other survivors responded to a letter in the now-defunct weekly magazine New Society. The remainder were identified through personal contacts, and through other survivors.

It was not my intention to conduct a formal and methodologically rigorous research study and the fifty people interviewed were not selected in any systematic way, so how representative are they of survivors in general? Do they represent a range of survivors in terms of their circumstances, reactions and coping abilities, or are they a group with particular problems? Only a small proportion had used specialist sources of help and unlike some of the groups of survivors studied by Cain (1972) and his colleagues, they were not part of a clinical group, identified through a hospital or other treatment setting. The common denominator was a wish, maybe even a

-35-

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A Special Scar: The Experiences of People Bereaved by Suicide
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword xi
  • Preface to the Second Edition xiv
  • Acknowledgements xvii
  • Part 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Suicide: an Introduction 3
  • Chapter 2 - Survivors of Suicide 17
  • Part 2 - Aspects of Suicide Bereavement 33
  • Chapter 3 - Meeting the Survivors 35
  • Chapter 4 - When the Suicide Happens 39
  • Chapter 5 - Looking Back 53
  • Chapter 6 - Why Did It Happen? the Search for Understanding 66
  • Chapter 7 - The Inquest 79
  • Chapter 8 - Funerals 90
  • Chapter 9 - Facing Suicide as a Family 95
  • Chapter 10 - The Impact of Suicide on Individual Family Members 108
  • Chapter 11 - Facing the World 124
  • Chapter 12 - Looking for Support 136
  • Chapter 13 - Facing the Feelings 149
  • Chapter 14 - Finding a Way Through 166
  • Part 3 - Responding to People Bereaved by Suicide 179
  • Chapter 15 - Meeting the Needs of Survivors 181
  • Chapter 16 - Groups for People Bereaved by Suicide 196
  • Chapter 17 - Counselling People Bereaved by Suicide 215
  • Postscript 237
  • Appendix 1 239
  • Appendix 2 244
  • References 247
  • Name Index 257
  • Subject Index 261
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