What Happens at an Inquest into a Suicide?

The following is my account of my experience of a suicide inquest. I have only ever been to one of these things and I am not looking to make a habit of it but I hope my experience will help you if you are in a similar situation. All experiences will be different please bear this in mind when reading – different countries and laws will also bear weight on what you experience. I write the “hardest to write” posts with the same tone as most of my posts and I hope you can forgive this – I like to deliver the information but stay on the positive side of everything. I am so sorry if you have to attend an inquest – I am sending you love and hope…

We had a six month wait for the inquest into my husband’s suicide. Taking into account all you know about death, grief, losing a partner, a son, a father, a brother… compound that with a six month wait for this THING. This legally necessary proceedure. The wait was like a storm cloud threatening to burst. No one really knew what to expect or what was expected of us. Only that it felt unnecessary to our grief.

The inquest seeks to determine WHO died, WHERE they died, HOW they died and WHY they died. The powers that be will tell you beforehand that they are not looking to apportion blame upon any party. But in a situation where blame and grief come together in a maelstrom, people close to the deceased all gathered in one room – emotions can run rife.

We arrived, (the family members), and were made to wait with members of the public who are all able to attend. This can be a tricky situation if you are made to wait in a closed off room with people who blame you for what has happened or who have not been as close to the deceased to have realised just how many times previously they had attempted to commit suicide, (during the time I knew my husband I would say he tried several times in different ways), but this was still a huge shock to many of his friends that ending his life had even been a consideration. Waiting in a small padded room in the somewhat scary legal setting, with emotions and grief bouncing off the walls, can be uncomfortable.

We were led through into the inquest room – the public sit behind you in the gallery and the family sit at the front facing the coroner. People who are called to give evidence stand up at the front and give it. For us this included the Policeman who attended the scene and came to tell me the news and the Doctor who carried out the Postmortem. I had read the Postmortem report beforehand, (they don’t make great reading but if you can prep yourself before you hear them tell you about weighing your loved one’s heart then stitching it back inside their body – it is not so triggering on the day). This Doctor looked like he spent many hours with corpses in rooms with no light. He looked like a pale, blanched worm that had drowned and was being reanimated. I wondered if this is how you look after years of cutting up dead people. I know someone has to do this and we need them to. But still. Apologies to this Doctor I know you are a man with a life outside of your work, but these were my first impressions.

The coroner in our city is a woman as formidable as Ann Robinson on The Weakest Link. She was most thorny and tiresome. Apologies again. Someone has to do this job. These are the impressions of a deeply grieving widow still reeling from just WHAT THE ABSOLUTE FUCK. You must remember that this took place four years ago and I have done much in the way of processing since this took place. For me I felt most heartfelt for my Father -in -Law – to attend anything like this on a scale of your only child – must be hell on earth. I wished us all out of the room and this squirmingly awkward evil. And yet – there was more to sit through. A couple more miles for the grieved to run until the court felt satisfied, it’s questions answered.

We were asked to identify pieces of evidence like the suicide notes, the handwriting. One of the things I was shocked and saddened by is that the original notes have to be retained by the court. You are not allowed to touch them they are wrapped in plastic. You can have photocopies. And if you are lucky like myself if you ever need other copies the office will provide them but then miss certain bits off. Anything that your loved one left as a parting shot you can’t have. I mean, I took the blankets the paramedics wrapped him in covered in his blood. I took those. I’ve still got those. But the last thing he ever wrote – I’ve got flimsy xerox, secretary edited versions taped up in a box under my bed. I guess it’s the law but it seems harsh. When the natural early on reaction to losing someone is to try and keep everything they ever touched or laid eyes on. Christ I even kept his last piece of bread and then froze it so I could keep it longer. Grief makes us do the most primeval of things. (NOTE: I DON’T HAVE THE BREAD ANYMORE!)

The whole inquest was over pretty quickly within two hours. My feelings were as they are now that it is a necessary evil of the legal system. Much like trying to arrange a funeral in the early days of grief – we could all deal with it better at least a year down the line. But bodies must be dealt with as suicides must be accounted for. The best you can do is to go along with what the powers that be require and do not be afraid to ask questions when prompted. It will be your last chance to ask certain people associated with your loved ones passing, anything you may want to know. So prepare your questions in advance, take whoever you can for support and make sure there are supportive people around when you leave.

And good luck. If you are preparing for an inquest into a suicide you have my best wishes and support.

Heather Xx

6 thoughts on “What Happens at an Inquest into a Suicide?

  1. Wow, that is harsh. I already think that true grief rituals in America are filling out paperwork after someone dies. I am so grateful that you can write about this suicide inquest now with a clear eye and even apologies for the eyes of a woman in widow-shock post suicide. This is something I never had to deal with even as a psychotherapist for many years. And I am profoundly grateful that I never had to attend one on my watch with the deep journeys I have have traveled with so many . My blessings and thanks to you for writing this down for others to share your experience and insights.


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