The person who commits suicide puts his psychological skeleton in the survivor's emotional closet…he sentences the survivor to deal with many negative feelings.
(Shneidman 1972: x)
The therapist plays the role of witness and ally, in whose presence the survivor can speak of the unspeakable.
Suicide bereavement is often 'an unspeakable loss' (Worden 1991:96), and because death through suicide falls into the unthinkable category, 'we tend to deny the unthinkable' (Lendrum and Syme 1992:34). For the survivor, communication with others can be difficult at best and sometimes impossible. Yet the impact of the death and its meaning for the bereaved individual need to be faced if the survivor is to move on. Counselling can offer a place-a safe space-where the unspeakable may be spoken and the unthinkable thought about with another person. It offers the survivor the chance to work through the particular legacy of a self-inflicted death and hopefully find meaning in what can often seem to have been a meaningless act. The breakdown in communication with others in the survivor's life can begin to be repaired in the counselling relationship.
* This chapter is based mainly on my experiences of counselling people bereaved by suicide and also draws on relevant counselling and psychotherapy literature, but I have endeavoured to make it as accessible as possible so that it may be read not only by counsellors and therapists, but by others who may be wanting to understand more about the sometimes complex emotional legacy of suicide and how they can most appropriately and helpfully respond to survivors. I have included numerous vignettes to put some kind of 'clothing' on the psychological concepts and, hopefully, bring them to life. However, I have deliberately said very little about how I have worked with these issues since individual counsellors and therapists will have their own ways of working.