Radio Show

Grieving a Loved One’s Loss to Suicide


Bishop John Dolan and Deacon Ed Shoener discuss their Catholic resources “When A Loved One Dies by Suicide: Comfort, Hope and Healing for Grieving Catholics” and “Responding to Suicide: A Pastoral Handbook for Catholic Leaders.” 

Deacon Ed shares why suicide is a personal matter for his family. “My daughter Katie, a beautiful, wonderful, vibrant girl, struggled with bipolar disorder. When she was 18, she attempted suicide, subsequently we found out she was living with mental illness, and she died by suicide at 29. She led a good life, but the illness eventually caught up with her. But I’ll tell you, God can use anything for good, even the tragedy of suicide. I hope these books that Bishop and I have written, and these ministries, can bring hope and comfort to people who are living with these illnesses and their family members. People affected by suicide have a lot to offer us, it’s not just us ministering to them. They can minister to us. They have a great deal to offer us with their deep understanding of empathy and suffering.”

LISTEN: What Happens to the Soul of Someone Who Dies by Suicide?

“What we hope is that these books can bring comfort and healing to people that are in such terrible grief. Heaped on top of losing someone is the stigma and even discrimination that goes along with suicide. Losing a loved one is always hard. When it’s by suicide, it can sadly it can make it even harder.” Bishop Dolan explains that he hopes to clear up misconceptions about what the Church teaches about suicide.

Bishop Dolan shares how suicide has impacted his life and how he ministers to others. “We wanted to share with people who are suffering from loss that they’re not alone. And it comes right from the top, from people who are preaching. That we as bishops and deacons and priests can suffer as well. In my case, when I was just 13 years old, my older brother hanged himself in prison at 19. When I was in college, my sister died by suicide. Then, her husband died by suicide as well … We were all waiting for my sister Teresa and her husband to come to us for Thanksgiving Day. Instead, we found the police at our door. So it affected us greatly, obviously, as you can imagine.” 

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“There was this notion that those who died by suicide weren’t given a proper Christian burial or they might be in hell, but thankfully we were moved beyond that. I remember thinking, I wonder if my brother is in heaven. And the Church teaching is that we pray for people who die by suicide in the same way that we would pray for any other soul that has gone before us. And it goes again to that level of culpability, which was something very helpful for me over these years to really understand. I really thank God for Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict for writing that whole piece in the Catechism on levels of culpability. This [suicide] isn’t as cut and dry as making a right and wrong decision. There are levels of culpability.”

Bishop John and Deacon Ed also explain that “Responding to Suicide: A Pastoral Handbook for Catholic Leaders” is a handbook on how to minister to those affected by suicide. It is a necessary ministry, and the book provides the tools that priests and other leaders in the Church need to walk with others through their grief.

If you or a loved one is ever experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Line +1(800) 273-8255. And consult these resources if you are concerned for yourself or another.