There are words for those whose spouses die: “widows” and “widowers.”
There is a word for children, even adult children, whose parents die: “orphans.”
Although tragic, certainly, these deaths often follow a somewhat predictable life pattern: the older ones go first.
There is no word for a parent who loses a child. It is too much of an abomination to name it.
Not that anyone wants to be labeled or boiled down to a single defining word. Not that anyone wants to be branded by their losses or the tragedies they’ve suffered. It just seems odd that, in the course of the evolution of our language, some losses have warranted an actual word, and others have not.
And then there are the tragedies that do have actual names, but we just can’t bring ourselves to talk about them. Suicide, for instance.
Sometimes we are called “survivors of suicide”, but that’s confusing. People look at us and wonder, “Does she mean that she tried to commit suicide and failed? Is she unstable? Is it contagious?”
This inevitably leads to uncomfortable and embarrassing pauses in conversation, when talking, talking, talking is what’s needed. The conversation about suicide needs to come out into the open. When we don’t talk about the things that go wrong in our personal, national, and global lives, we doom ourselves to more of the same. Depression is rampant in our culture, and it is killing us.
There is no death resulting from suicide that did not take root in an absence of hope. Our mentally ill, who are sometimes our loved ones, lose hope.
When people ask me how Julian died, I answer, “He died from an illness called depression.” Sometimes they don’t get it. And sometimes they follow my statement to its logical, horrible conclusion and reflexively reach out to comfort me, to shield me from the hideousness of my loss. “Oh God. You mean your son killed himself?”
Yep. Now, all I have to do is make sense of it and find the right words.