Book Review of “Aftershock: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide”

In the United States, someone takes his or her life every 17 minutes. When a person takes his or her life, others are left in the aftermath of the suicide to come to terms with their own grief at such a tremendous loss. The reality is that survivors of suicide loss come from all walks of life. This includes people who have firmly held beliefs that there is a religious aspect to the taking of one’s own life.

Aftershock: Help, Hope and Healing in the Wake of Suicide is marketed as a book designed to support people in their grief following the suicide of a family member or other loved one. Upfront, it is vital to note that this book is written to reach out to a very specific audience. It is written for people who fairly can be categorized more fundamentalist Christians who’ve lost a family member or perhaps a member of their religious congregation to suicide. In short, although this book is included among others dealing with grieving after suicide, it simply is not intended for everyone. It intentionally is tailored for a specific audience, as noted here.

The Concept of Sin and Suicide

Many religious organizations have abandoned the long-held belief that suicide is a significant sin. Even some of the Christian faiths with more traditional doctrines have moved from the concept that a person who takes his or her life has committed a grievous sin. While this has been the trend, there remain people with honestly held Christian beliefs that are part of religious communities that connect sin and suicide.

Aftershock: Help, Hope and Healing in the Wake of Suicide is written from the perspective of a writer that does accept (at least to some degree) the concept of suicide as being a serious sin. Indeed, the author uses the term “self-murder” to describe the act of taking one’s own life. The book is designed to aid people of certain faiths that are struggling or attempting to face a religious tenant that associates sin on some level with suicide.

Religion, Grief, and Suicide

Based on the purported interrelationship between suicide and sin, the book does address issues surrounding not only grieving after suicide but also discusses religious faith and the doctrine of sin in the aftermath of a loved one dying by suicide. The author contends that part of successfully grieving the suicide of a family member necessitates in part an examination of the religious impact of such a death.

As part of the healing process, the book sets forth how survivors of suicide loss can come to terms with the connection between sin and suicide. This includes a focus on coming to a recognition that survivors of suicide loss need to free themselves from self-imposed guilt that they are somehow responsible for causing a person to commit the sin of “self-murder.”

A major element of the process of overcoming guilt associated with the sin of self-murder is prayer. The book focused on both the importance of individual and collective prayer in order to come to a realization that survivors of suicide loss can be released from the guilt associated with a loved one dying in this manner.

Noting this feature of the book, other elements are similar to what is presented in more secular texts about grieving after suicide and embarking on a healthy bereavement process. The book does address dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, and shame. The discussion of shame, however, does have a notable overlay of religiosity.

Once again, the book does focus on prayer as part of a healing process following the death of a family member or other loved one by suicide. The book also recommends Christian-based therapy or counseling if a survivor or suicide loss becomes mired in grief and cannot seem to move onward through a healthy bereavement process.

LGBTQ Victims of Suicide

Aftershock: Help, Hope and Healing in the Wake of Suicide does address healing from the suicide (self-murder, as the author, calls it) of a member of the LGBTQ community, particularly an LGBTQ youth, it does so from the starting point that same-sex attraction is both a choice and sinful.

The commentary associated with grieving and healing after the suicide of a loved one who took his or her life and was a member of the LGBTQ also focuses on sin. Here again, the focus is on the so-called sin of self-murder, but also that of same-sex attraction. The book does stress that survivors of suicide loss involving an LGBTQ community member must focus on praying to overcome any guilt from which they are burdened.

About the Author

The author of Aftershock: Help, Hope and Healing in the Wake of Suicide, Dr. David Cox, has a bachelor’s degree in religion, a master’s degree in divinity, and a doctorate in ministry. He has no specific educational background in grief counseling or therapy, including in regard to people grieving after suicide. With that said, the focus of his doctorate in ministry was on suicide intervention. A major thrust of his ministry has been in regard to suicide intervention and suicide postvention.

His efforts in this area brought him to the national forefront when he testified at the Susan Smith murder trial in 1995 on the effects of suicide on surviving children. Smith is the mother who drove a car containing her children into a lake, taking their lives. He has also founded a local chapter of the more “mainstream” Survivors of Suicide (SOS) support group in his hometown.

Summary

Aftershock: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide has a broad readership. For this reason, when discussing some of the more widely read books on healthy bereavement and grieving after suicide, it demands recognition. With that said, in fairness, there must be a caveat that this text truly is designed for that segment of the community that does hold fundamental Christian views. With that duly noted, that community endures suicide losses each and every day and their unique needs are recognized by this text.