I was very worried about the suicide aspect of it, and thinking what if there is a God in heaven? What on earth is happening to Alastair now? (Heather)
I just wanted to be surrounded by people. I felt very strongly about that. All the flowers and all the people…it was a beautiful funeral… I thought it was as good as it could be. (Francesca)
People who die by suicide are no longer denied a proper funeral service and burial, but deep-seated, age-old and primitive beliefs about suicide are not easily shaken off. Regardless of whether they hold any formal religious beliefs, survivors may still be worried that their relative has been condemned to some kind of eternal punishment (Clark and Goldney 2000).
Pam and Harry wanted to bury their daughter's ashes in her grandmother's grave, but thought that because Frances had committed suicide, perhaps this would not be permitted (though fortunately their fears were unfounded). Heather, who described herself as a non-believer, was still worried about whether her son was being made to suffer for taking his own life, until she was reassured by her local vicar:
[He] was really good, he said all the right things… He put my mind completely at rest, and said that God wasn't vicious like that, and Alastair would be looked after, and he'd be all right; [and] although I didn't believe, I thought, well just in case it's true, I can rest in that.
Rather than asking for definitive theological pronouncements, survivors may be looking for reassurance that the person who died is not suffering. When the bereaved have witnessed someone's mental suffering for a long time, it may be particularly important to know that the person's emotional pain is over and they are 'at peace'.
Members of the clergy are likely to be in contact with families soon after the death to make the funeral arrangements. What they say and the way