Funeral services for Norwegian author and artist Ari Behn were held at the Oslo Cathedral on Friday, attended by the entire royal family, government leaders and more than 800 others who lined up outside to get in. His suicide on Christmas Day has transformed how Norway deals with suicide, leading to more openness and an end to long-held taboos.
Behn was married to Princess Martha Louise for 14 years, and the oldest of their three daughters made perhaps the biggest impression at his funeral. Maud Angelica, who also is the oldest granddaughter of King Harald and Queen Sonja, not only delivered a highly personal account of her father and how much she already misses him, she also issued a public appeal that “there’s always a way out” of the psychiatric problems that can lead to suicide.
“I just want to say to all those who have gone through mental illness, had suicide thoughts or many other problems, that there’s always a way out, even though it doesn’t feel that way,” Maud Angelica Behn, age 16, said while standing behind her father’s casket and fighting back tears. “There are people out there who can and want to help you … it’s never a weakness to ask for help, it’s a strength.”
She also directly addressed others who suffered from mental health problems like her father did: “There are so many people out there who are so eternally glad because you’re in their lives, and who need you, Never think that it’s better if you die. I can promise you that’s so very wrong.”
‘We were proud of you, too’
Behn’s teenage daughter reminisced about how loving and supportive her father was, always using “strong, fine words, and getting us children to feel like we could become and do whatever we wanted. That gave us such strength and joy, that you believed in us so much. Tusen takk (thousand thanks) for that.” She also noted, as she addressed her father post mortem, that “you always said you were so proud of us, but I hope you knew how proud we were of you, too.”
She made it clear, however, that she and her two younger sisters (Leah Isadora, age 14, and Emma Tallulah, 11) had no idea that their father was in such despair. “We know you were often sad, but you said you were getting better. You must have kept things secret, and tried to hide how much pain you were in, so as not to worry us.” His death came as a shock: “We had no idea you would leave us so early in our lives. We thought you would be here and lead us down the aisle in church when we marry, see what we do with our lives, see what kind of people we become, see how we improve in art, make-up and riding, and become grandfather to our future children. But no, that won’t happen.”
Suicide ‘must never be glorified’
Behn’s brother Espen also addressed Ari Behn’s suicide head-on. He hailed his brother for “always being there for me,” and protecting him. He added though, at the funeral service aired live nationwide on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), that “taking one’s life should never be glorified. This situation is unmanageable. After I got used to the shock, I though about others left behind who have experienced the same. It must be difficult not to blame onesself, but I urge everyone who has experienced this (suicide), to let go of the painful feelings and rather find space to live with and handle the grief.”
Behn’s funeral was attended by King Harald and Queen Sonja, the king’s sister Princess Astrid, Crown Prince Haakon, Crown Princess Mette-Marit and their three children, and many others including Prince Daniel of Sweden, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister Erna Solberg and three members of her cabinet, several former prime ministers and party leaders including Jonas Gahr Støre of Labour.
The new openness
Amidst all the tributes, music, psalms and sermon by Oslo Bishop Kari Veiteberg, professionals who deal with suicide continued to praise Behn’s family’s openness and the royal family’s public support for it, as exemplified by King Harald’s traditional New Year’s address to the nation. Psychologist and author Peder Kjos thanked Maud Angelica for her “exquisite and important ” remarks. Others called her remarks the “strongest and most reflective” ever given by a 16-year-old.
“I had the impression that her message went beyond her own sorrow,” Terese Grøm, secretary general of the national association for those left behind after a suicide, told NRK: “She was so clear that if you’re struggling, there’s help to find. There’s another way out than taking your own life.”
Grøm stressed that it was important how Maud Angelica pointed out how suicide isn’t anyone’s fault, and that no one can be blamed for a suicide. “I think that was important for many families and friends of a suicide victim around the country to hear.”
Prime Minister Solberg called Behn’s funeral “extremely moving and strong,” adding that Maud Angelica was “incredibly strong, to manage to speak so clearly such a short time after her father took his own life. It shows that they are girls who have received strength and love while growing up.” Solberg was also glad that Maud Angelica pleaded with everyone else to seek help when it’s needed.
“We know that the feeling of being a burden for their surroundings can be very strong,” Grøm added. “She (Maud Angelica) was so clear how that’s not true. Only sorrow, pain and loneliness set in among those left behind. I hope those are words that many people out there hear.”
Tove Gundersen, secretary general of the national council for mental health, agreed. “The message delived by Ari Behn’s daughter Maud Angelica will stand as testament of the fantastic openness the family has shown in connection with suicide,” Gundersen told NRK. “Openness forms a foundation for a new way of talking about suicide in Norwegian public life.” Reaction on social media quickly confirmed that, as tributes continued to pour in, now also for Behn’s daughter who ended up comforting others in the midst of her own grief.