It's a riddle that goes round and round and round in your mind and drives you absolutely crazy for years and years and suddenly you think-I'm tormenting myself. I shall just never know the exact and precise reason. (Pam)
When someone dies, it is not uncommon for the bereaved to question why the person died, to try and reach some understanding of the meaning of the event. According to Parkes, the process of grieving includes the attempt to make sense of the loss, to fit it into one's assumptions about the world or, if necessary, modify those assumptions (1998:78). Finding meaning can play a critical role in adjustment following a bereavement, involving both making sense of the event but also finding benefit in the experience (Davis et al. 1998).
With suicide, the search for an explanation may be particularly important. As Suzy, a survivor of her father's suicide, commented:
I'm sure if someone commits suicide, it's not at all like they died of a heart attack or a stroke…it isn't straightforward; there's an awful lot of things to be sorted out, about why they did it, what was wrong.
In today's largely secular Western societies, while there are probably relatively few people who would see a death as 'God's will', we still tend to cling to a belief that says death is beyond the control of human beings. That explanation may be less plausible for survivors of suicide who are faced with trying to understand a self-inflicted and possibly self-chosen death. Stengel (1973) has suggested that people intending to take their own lives have less need to make sense of death than those who will be bereaved as a result.
The survivor may be left with many different questions. When Alan died, Carol remembers asking herself: