September is Suicide Prevention Awareness month. For weeks now, I’ve been trying to figure out what I could say about suicide; how I could possibly relay the immense impact it has on numerous people. My life has not been affected long term by suicide despite knowing many acquaintances, friends, co-workers, and extended family who thought it was the only way to stop their pain. I’ve reached out to some whose lives have been rocked by this kind of death. My hope is that I’ll give their thoughts and feelings as much of a voice as I can.
We all know people who, whether directly affected or not, have taken the stance that nothing about suicide makes sense, that it is selfish and simply transfers the pain to loved ones. It obviously causes ripples and shock waves throughout family and friends, and for the most part, those affected want and wish for understanding beyond the act itself.
The majority of those remaining want others to know that their loved ones were NOT being selfish.
They were ill.
They thought they were doing what was best for everyone, and their minds literally could not change those thoughts. That is what mental illness can do; it disrupts rational thought.
Those left want others to know they did all they could with the knowledge they had, and that blaming or shaming those close to the deceased only adds to everyone’s pain.
I wish people understood that it’s not a ‘choice’ made by a healthy mind. It’s an ill person whose brain no longer thinks or works correctly. -Julie Mjelve, co-founder Grieving Together, lost husband to suicide
Those of us on the outside cannot comprehend the insidious layers suicide brings to the grief equation. Anger at the person, at a failed healthcare system or counseling, and at friends & family either before or after, can exist with any death. But when suicide is involved, guilt and anger branch off in directions where a different kind of ugliness exists. That ugliness folds into society’s skewed perception of suicide and mental health issues. There is the unfathomable shock of physically finding their loved one immediately after they’ve died (yes, that is hard to read, but it happens). There can be guilt over wondering what they could’ve done differently that might’ve saved their person’s life–the bombardment of “what ifs.” Addictions can present as a way to cope or subdue mental illness. They can contribute to the velocity of being sucked into the darkness of no-way-out or to the death itself. Kind, sweet, caring people are suffering, they are hurting inside and think they are out of options. They think nothing can be done to stop their pain, yet they rarely LOOK sick, which adds to the shame and misinformed perceptions.
Some of the people I polled said there is a lot of waiting when living with someone with mental illness. They vigilantly and fearfully wait for a kind of tipping point that starts with the “usual” daily struggles to where there is a danger to the one suffering or to others.
They admit they don’t know when or if that tipping point will occur. So they continue to wait, always anxious and second guessing themselves, hoping they will see the signs and stop death. The tentacles of shame and hiding can extend to all those around the sufferer. This is a side those on the outside do not always see.
I think if we treated (suicide) like a result of a disease rather than a choice the person made, there would be less stigma. I have begun to think of it as “depression killed (my friend)”, not that he chose this path. – Bob Filipczak, lost friend to suicide
Our culture wants explanations even if they are wrong. We are most comfortable with tidy compartments where answers are stored for future reference. It’s easy to compartmentalize comfortable feelings; it’s very difficult to do it with the uncomfortable prickly ones. The prickles confuse us, and we concentrate more on getting away from them than finding an appropriate place for them. Mental illness and suicide, and living with and beyond both, are thorny subjects. Shining a spotlight on this is uncomfortable. But even illumination may not bring comfort to those caught in the shockwaves of the act. Let’s add compassion, empathy and understanding to the mix for our friends, our family, our fellow human beings.
Take Time – Acknowledge Your Loss – Grieve Together – Mourn Together
Katherine Webb copyright 2017