By Brad Hearst
The initial shock of losing a loved one to suicide can be debilitating. We are left wandering in a fog, struggling to find our way as we come to grips with our own grief. When we finally start to find a piece of normality, survivors are often smacked in the face one last time with the financial burden that comes along with a suicide. If a family is unprepared and left without the benefits of life insurance, bankruptcy may be their only escape. Undenounced to some, there are expenses that come along with losing a loved one to suicide that are not associated to more common forms of passing that carry a hefty toll. We will dive into both monetary and the nonmonetary costs suicide carries with it.
Hands down the largest monetary drain that is overlooked with a suicide is cleanup and restoration expenses. It is something no one wants to think or talk about but it’s reality. Cost can range anywhere from $1,100 to over $10,000 depending on the damage that is done. Firearms by far create the most devastation because it’s ability to destroy surrounding structures. In 2010 in the U.S., 19,392 people passed away by suicide with a firearm compared with 11,078 who used other means. That means nearly two-thirds of those that passed away by suicide in 2010 used a firearm.
It isn’t as easy as scrubbing and cleaning. The family must replace what was damaged which creates material and labor expenses. Carpeting, drywall and countertops are just a few of the items often damaged when we lose someone by suicide. Anything in the path of the firearm has the potential to be damaged or destroyed. Often, we forget that for a family this room immediately becomes a reminder of their lost loved one. Making it difficult or even impossible to use. The expenses exceed a monetary value in this instance and continues to rack up a bill for years to come as they work through their grief.
Many of those families don’t want to remain in their home after a loss until the repairs are completed which I don’t think anyone can hold against them. If they are lucky enough to do so, they now have the expense of food and lodging on top of the cost associated to the cleanup and repair. To pile more on top of that the family is now dealing with their grief displaced from the residence they previously were able to find refuge. The feeling of distress, loneliness and helplessness magnifies as you sleep in an unfamiliar bed surrounded by furniture you don’t own. It is important to remember that the cost of suicide can’t always be measured on a monetary level.
Competing for the top expense is funeral and burial expenses. Regardless of the cause of death, anyone who has ever had to plan a funeral knows that nothing is inexpensive. There are hundreds of options when it comes to casket selection, service, burial plot, etc., but generally the least expensive route many people take is cremation. This may be one of the more cost-effective options, but chances are you are still looking at a bill anywhere between $3,000 to $6,000 depending on the funeral home and urn selection. For families preferring a more traditional course costs can easily exceed $10,000 without trying. According to a 2017 GoBankingRates survey, more than half of Americans (57 percent) have less than $1,000 in their savings account leaving families scrambling economically.
By this point in the financial process, families have more than likely exceeded $10,000 in expenditures if they went down one of the least expensive paths. It is safe to say a majority don’t have the funds to cover the expenses and have resorted to begging family and friends for help, taken a loan or second mortgage out, setup payment plans (if possible) or amassed credit card debt. The stress of having to deal with this unexpected financial burden is stressful and continues to impact them for years. Unfortunately for most families there is no easy road when it comes to the price tag associated with suicide.
One may not realize it but there is certainly a non-monetary cost associated to funeral planning and it comes in the form of relationships. The stress of a loss by suicide on a family is difficult by itself. Add in the pressures of trying to afford a funeral that represents the memory of your loved one while trying to balance the personal opinions of everyone in the family is a recipe for disaster. Families are torn apart even if the bonds are strong prior to their loved one passing away. Everyone is looking for someone to blame to help alleviate some of the pain but there is no one person to truly blame. It may ease the agony to point the finger but more than likely it is just going to destroy a relationship you will wish you still had later down the road.
To this day there are bonds I lost after my brothers passing I wish I could have maintained. Unfortunately, emotions get running, stress compounds and for my own sake I had to sever ties. The instability and discomfort associated to these relationships were doing nothing more than slowing down my own grief recovery. Saying goodbye is never easy but with each relationship you end the further you feel you are distancing yourself from your lost loved one. Herman Hesse, a German-born poet, novelist and painter was once quoted as saying, “Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” When it comes to my own situation and many others this couldn’t have been truer.
Life is full of unexpected expenses. We build up debt, pay it off and hopefully save a little along the journey. For some who are fortunate enough to have life insurance the cost of losing a loved one by suicide can be mitigated. For others, it is a battle that will financially impact them for years. The cost doesn’t limit itself to financial restraints either. Additional payments come in the years of grief, stress and lost relationships. From one survivor to another I promise you over time it will get better and you are not alone. If you need financial assistance don’t feel shame in asking for support. If you know anyone who recently lost someone to suicide I encourage you to reach out and offer a supporting hand. It doesn’t matter whether it’s financially or emotionally. Such a simple gesture may save a relationship or even a life. Together we can overcome anything, even the life altering expense of suicide.