The Healing Power of Poetry in the Wake of Suicide
On September 10th, The International Association for Suicide Prevention will acknowledge World Suicide Prevention Day. It is an opportunity to bring global awareness to this devastating tragedy that affects too many families around the world.
Loss is a natural and regular part of life, and yet the ability to comprehend how a loved one could be here one minute—so full of life and energy—and gone the next, is still a shocking and painful idea to accept. When the cause of death is suicide, the emotions are even more complicated and difficult to work through.
So what can a grieving person do to help process the painful emotions? In a new research paper entitled “Loss: The Ultimate Philosophical Problem,” Daniel G. Scott explains how writing and reading poetry can help a grieving person express and work through their feelings, as opposed to trying to stifle or numb them. His aim is to engage loss as a spiritual challenge.
In death, says Scott, we are pushed up against the edge of being human. He notes that, throughout history, people have found comfort in participating in rituals and in communal acts of comfort. He believes, however, that there is wisdom in “containing” loss—not trying to make it disappear but giving it expression.
“Poetry is a way of inquiry,” says Scott, “that allows one to enter experience and meet the intensity of events. Loss pushes us up against the unknown, the not yet known and sometimes the unknowable: that which is felt to be beyond comprehension.”
Poetry offers a way to clarify and magnify how it feels to be human. “Loss is part of being human,” says Scott. “It is never neutral. It can be astonishingly cruel to those who are ambushed by accident, by violence or by suicide. The last of these three can be the hardest journey.”
His paper includes numerous poems that express different types of loss. Below is a section of Scott’s poem on suicide.
it is not over, his end
an end with no end
how you live around
the emptiness, he
used to fill
the corner where
his ashes sit
the candle you light
when the family gathers
a flickering remembrance
you have to blow out
at the end of the day
the sentences you stop
where you might make
his absence an intruder
you cannot let go
Daniel G. Scott is an associate professor at the University of Victoria, Victoria BC Canada and the director of the School of Child and Youth Care. His paper is published in the International Journal of Children’s Spirituality.