As is the case with every passing year, during 2018 a number of celebrities took their lives, resulting in grim headlines after their deaths. Four celebrity deaths by suicide garnered particular attention in 2018:
- Anthony Bourdain: The travel adventurer, master chef, and television personality Bourdain ended his life by hanging.
- Kate Spade: Fashion designer and entrepreneur, Spade ended her life by hanging.
- Avicii (Tim Bergling) A musician and DJ, Avicii killed himself with a broken wine bottle.
- Mark Salling: A one-time television actor, Mark Salling took his life by hanging.
These people garnered headlines. An estimated 47,000 other people in the United States ended their own lives in 2018. The number is likely higher because some suicides aren’t reported as such. Most of these tragic deaths never make the news; however, they deeply impact the lives of those who are survivors of suicide loss.
In my capacity as an owner of a biohazard remediation company, a family business I own with my wife, I am called upon to assist families after they have lost one of their own by suicide. The grim reality is that some people elect to end their lives using particularly traumatic means like a firearm or knife or some other blade. When a person dies in this manner, the death scene can be brutal, contaminated by blood, bodily fluids, and other biological material.
During the past year, we received a phone call from a distraught woman whose husband had taken his life earlier that day, on a Saturday morning. The reality is that when a person faces the death of a loved one by some type of traumatic suicide, that individual needs to reach out for help in dealing with the death scene immediately.
The alternative to reaching out to a suicide cleanup specialist like our company is a person undertaking the task of cleaning up after a loved one’s death on their own. I’m not a medical or psychiatric expert. However, through my work, I’ve assisted people during very challenging, traumatic moments in their lives.
A survivor of suicide loss shouldn’t take on the responsibility for personally cleaning up the aftermath of a family member’s suicide. Not only is such a task technically challenging (and can involve exposure to dangerous bacteria and viruses), personally cleaning up after a loved one’s death by suicide can be emotionally overwhelming. The reality is a survivor of suicide loss is already dealing with immense grief; it doesn’t need to be unnecessarily magnified with the tremendous additional burden of performing the cleanup process personally.
I went directly to the home where the death occurred after I received the phone call from Cathy. (I’ve changed her name in order to protect her privacy.) Cathy was waiting for me on the porch, explaining that the coroner and police had left a short time ago. I looked a her, noting that her expression was one of bewilderment more than anything else about what had happened and what was happening around her.
I remained on the sidewalk until her husband’s remains were in the coroner’s van and the coroner’s team got into the vehicle and left the scene. Cathy stood on her driveway and watched the van carrying her husband’s remains drive off. I walked towards her, hoping she would see my approach before I got too close to her.
She did and called over to me, with a protective sharpness in her voice: “Who are you?”
I stopped walking towards her and introduced myself and said that she and I had spoken a short time ago. She nodded her head and motioned for me to follow her into the house, a well-appointed residence in an upscale part of Los Angeles County. She led me into the kitchen and offered me coffee. I’ve oftentimes found that people facing traumatic and tragic situations grasp for a shred of normality. Offering and serving coffee is a simple example of the normality of life that was otherwise thrown into chaos.
With our coffees, we took a seat at the kitchen table.
“I didn’t know that services like the one you have existed …until this morning,” Cathy said. “I never imagined being in this situation. I never gave any thought to who takes care of …” Her voice trailed off.
As if trying to purge herself of something horrific (which the situation at hand was), Cathy explained that she’d left home to run to the grocery store to get coffee creamer. “We were out.”
During the short period of time she was away from the house, her husband took his life in a home office they shared. He left a hastily typed note on the desktop computer in the home office. She explained that her husband had been laboring under depression for some time. She added that he sought professional help and had been seeing a therapist. He had been taking meds as well. “But … here we are, she said.”
As it turned out, Cathy and her husband were both attorneys. As a couple in their mid-thirties, their careers were on a solid course. They had been trying to have a child for a short time, unsuccessfully. They were planning a vacation in a couple of weeks to Italy. At that early time following the loss of her husband, she struggled to understand what occurred.
She asked if the cleanup could be done immediately. I assured her that was possible.
“I don’t want to see the office again right now,” she said. “The next time I go in there, I want any evidence of what happened gone.” Her objective was something that is shared by many people in a similar position.
I went over some general information about the suicide cleanup process. She responded with: “You were the easy call to make this morning … unexpected, but easy. I’ve not talked to anyone else, except my best friend, who I reached out to directly after calling the police. She’s on her way over, driving up from San Diego. Now, I have to call our families, our friends.” I actually understood what she was saying, having heard similar remarks from other clients in the past.
Without Cathy, I went to the home office, the place from which the coroner recently removed the remains of her husband. He appeared to have been seated at the desk when the end came. By the look of the scene, it looked like he tried to minimize the damage that would be caused by his gunshot. He did this by placing towels around the desk chair.
My team and I completed the suicide cleanup, returning the office to the state it was in before Cathy’s husband took his life in the space. About five months later, I happened to run into Cathy at an area restaurant. We we’re both taking a break for lunch.
Cathy was obviously pregnant. She gently patted herself. “A baby,” she said. “I probably was three or four weeks along … when I last saw you.”
“Congratulations.” I’m sure my voice sounded a bit unsure.
“Thank you. It is a happy thing and it is a sad thing. I’m going to be a mother. But, this little one will never get to know his father. But, it’s a blessing, and we need those in life” Cathy said.