Sad as hell

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Survivors of suicide often suffer overwhelming grief over the loss of their loved one.

Survivors of suicide need love and respect

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

This issue I didn’t expect to be writing an opinion piece, but I also didn’t expect the terrible news from Norway on Christmas Day: the news that Ari Behn, author and former spouse of Princess Märtha Louise was dead. At age 47, he had taken his own life.

The news came as a shock to Behn’s family and friends, the royal family, and the entire country.  Throughout Norway and all of Scandinavia, the outpouring of love and sympathy has been overwhelming.

Suicide has always been a difficult, uncomfortable topic.  Even today, the shame and stigma remains, not in the least because it is the most unnatural of human acts. As human beings, our inborn instinct programs us to survive. In earlier times, we held together in tribes to protect and guard one another, and in our modern days, we gather in communities to support one another. Our Judeo-Christian heritage—as most religions—teaches us the sanctity of life. Yet, in a last moment of isolation and despair, an individual may choose to end his or her own life.

For those left behind, the sense of grief can be overwhelming. When suicide is sudden, they are not prepared to grapple with the question of why.  Even when the warning signs of depression have been present, they may ask themselves what they could have done differently to save their loved one. Feelings of anger, rejection, and abandonment may also surface, and survivors may suffer guilt and remorse in their bereavement. The grief process can be complex, traumatic, and lonely.

Survivors of suicide need compassionate support from the people who love them, family and friends who listen with empathy. It is important to respect the survivors’ privacy and not ask questions to make them feel uncomfortable or uneasy. Helping those left behind find appropriate therapy is also important. This may be a suicide support group, a pastor or grief counselor, or in many cases, a qualified mental health professional.  Most importantly, suicide survivors need to feel that they or their lost loves one are not being judged in any way. They need to feel comfortable and safe, as they embrace their memories.

A prominent figure in Norwegian life, Ari Behn will be remembered as an author, artist, and member of the royal family. He was colorful and flamboyant, not typically Norwegian in his style. He was also not a figure without controversy.  When he met his future wife, he was best known as the author of a book of short stories, Trist som faen  (Sad as Hell), but before marrying, he created a scandal when he was filmed partying with prostitutes in Las Vegas.  In 2017, he was again the center of controversy with he accused actor Kevin Spacey of groping him after a Nobel Peace Prize concert.

But while Behn’s lifestyle was often considered inappropriate for a royal,  most speak of him as kind, and warm, a beloved individual, who helped “open up” society, infusing royal life with new impulses and energy.  In an early statement, Norway’s king and queen said he had been “an important part of our family for many years and we carry warm and good memories of him with us.” 

On a personal level, it has often been difficult for me to talk about the suicide in my own family, but I feel that this is perhaps an important moment for me to speak out.  When questioned about my father’s death, I am even at times met with shock and disbelief, and after so many years, I still struggle. At times, I have simply chosen to answer: “There are some things so terrible, that you just cannot even talk about them.” It is true that some sorrows are so deep that you never get over them, but with time, you mature and grow in your grief. It is a clear choice to embrace life and everything it has to offer.

Ari Behn leaves behind three young children, his immediate family, and an entire people.  They deserve love, respect, and support.  It is a terrible loss—sad as hell—but in the end, this devastating tragedy may open up understanding for the difficult challenge that the survivors of suicide must overcome.

If you or a loved one needs support, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the January 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.