I use it myself. "He killed himself." "She committed suicide."
There is an intentionality implied in the language we use that is, to my way of thinking, completely inaccurate, and makes a significant contribution to the anguish of surviving family and friends.
For weeks after our son died, one of my most oft-repeated questions was, "How could he do this? And its variations: "How could he do this to me? To us?"
It took me a long time to understand that he didn't.
A friend whose son also died by suicide at age 24 told me, over and over again, about the "tunnel vision" that immediately precedes such a death, in which the person who is, literally, a victim himself, loses sight of everything in his life except the need to eradicate the intense pain in which he is submerged.
Ron Rolheiser helps us to understand with this:
". . . the propensity for suicide is, in most cases, an illness. We are made up of body and soul. Either can snap. We can die of cancer, high blood pressure, heart attacks, aneurysms. These are physical sicknesses. But we can suffer these as well in the soul. There are malignancies and aneurysms too of the heart, deadly wounds from which the soul cannot recover. In most cases, suicide, like any terminal illness, takes a person out of life against his or her will. The death is not freely chosen, but is an illness, far from an act of free will. In most instances, suicide is a desperate attempt to end unendurable pain, much like a man who throws himself through a window because his clothing is on fire. That's a tragedy, not an act of despair.
and with this, from the author William Styron, who contemplated suicide but was saved by a last-minute sense of the pain he would inflict on his loved ones:
"The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain. . . . and for the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer. . . .
What I had begun to discover is that, mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from normal experience, the gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. But it is not an immediately identifiable pain, like that of a broken limb. It may be more accurate to say that despair, owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhabiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room. And because no breeze stirs this caldron, because there is no escape from the smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion."
Most of us will never endure such pain, although I think that many left behind come close enough, at one point or another, to grasp something of its horrific depth and breadth and to understand that it can lead to a point in which the will, as we usually understand it, is overtaken in the same way that the body can be overwhelmed by cancer cells or physical trauma.
In the first weeks after our son's death, I likened it to his having been run over by a train. It seemed that sudden, that out of nowhere. As we have learned more, it appears that the train was a good deal slower, but just as inexorably powerful.
And so: I try to use the phrase "died by suicide." At the survivors support group I sometimes attend, the leader, a social worker who lost someone beloved to her by suicide, and many of the "old-timers," use the word as a verb: "He suicided." That sounds particularly ugly to me, although I can't articulate a reason. Maybe because it is the only instance in which I have heard the verb expressed. I've never heard patricide, or matricide, or deicide, used as a verb. I guess it implies, to me, anyway, an intentionality that I believe is absent from the act.
There is no, or little, at any rate, judgment addressed in this post to anyone who finds themselves struggling with the language. We struggle with the language because we struggle with comprehending the reality.