After A Suicide Loss, Remembering The Dash

Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group - Madison, NJ

Posted Mar 31, 2016

While standing at the wake of our son I was approached by an old friend. He knew how much we were struggling with our son's suicide. He began to talk about the differences in religions and customs that we all held. We are Roman Catholic and he is Jewish. As we spoke, he said that deep down most cultures hold funerals and burials as a way to honor the life of our loved one and to help us release them to the afterlife.

One thing he said that day has stuck with me all of these years. He began to talk about visiting cemeteries and looking at headstones. He discussed how when most people go to the cemetery they look at the three most prominent features carved into the headstone:

Our Loved One's Name

The Date of their Birth

The Date of their Death

He said we put our loved one's name on the headstone so that everyone can come and find the memorial to our loved one. We are proud of them and we want people to remember them even after death. By carving it into stone we leave a permanent reminder of our loved one that will stand through all weather and will outlast even the mourners who have erected the headstone.

He then discussed the date our loved one was born. That was a day of celebration for our family had grown and a new life, full of potential was given to us. There were celebrations and it was likely one of the happiest day of our lives. We took the babies footprints to remember their birth, we filed a birth certificate to give them a legal name and we took them home from the hospital to begin our lives together.

Next he talked about the date our loved one died. It truly was one of the saddest days in our lives. It marked the day our loved one left this world for the afterlife. With suicides, the death is often a traumatic event for the surviving family. Different cultures remember the days that follow differently: some hold a wake, some sit shiva, some hold a funeral service, some hold a memorial service, some just cremate the remains and some follow much more fascinating traditions . We discussed how because someone died by suicide we should not ignore the date of their death. They have left us and depending on your faith, they truly have begun their new life in a new and glorious place surrounded by their family that had gone before them.

Finally he said, their is really a fourth item on the headstone that is far more important then the first three.

The dash.

The part of the headstone that so many people forget is the dash between the dates. The dash represents the lifetime of memories, stories and good times that we shared with our loved one. With a suicide it is so easy to focus on the tragic way our loved one died and let it define our loved ones life. But by focusing on their dash and honoring their dash you better remember and define the person we lost to suicide. There are so many good times, pictures, videos and stories to share about them.

The story of our loved ones loss to suicide is sincerely about their dash and all that they did during their time here on this planet. Their death is just an abrupt end to their dash.

No one's life is perfect, but we can chose to remember the perfect moments we shared with our loved ones during their dash.

Honor their dash, remember their dash and share their dash. Everyone's dash is unique and special.

Years later I found out that there is also a poem by Linda Ellis called "The Dash". The poem touches on many of the same ideas that my friend and I discussed. One of the stanzas reads:

For that dash represents all the time

that they spent alive on earth.

And now only those who loved them

know what that little line is worth.

What stood out for me was the direction the poem takes after the death of the loved one. The final stanza of the poem reads:

So, when your eulogy is being read,

with your life’s actions to rehash…

would you be proud of the things they say

about how you spent YOUR dash?

Survivors of suicide loss truly know how brief life may be and the end that can come so swiftly. The suicide of our loved one was a fork in the road that most of us did not want to take, but we were forced into by their untimely death. We do have a choice in where that road will take us by our choices and actions.

So think about your dash and choose to share your love and good times with those around you. They will get to share your dash with others after you are gone.