“Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see...
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please” Music theme from M*A*S*H
Those who take their own lives, those who commit suicide, do not take that action to upset, irritate or frustrate other people. They do not do it to leave messages behind nor to teach other people a lesson. Suicide is driven by pain and that pain can be physical, such as in the case of cancer and other terminal diseases. That pain can also be emotional/mental and it can be a combination of physical/mental/emotional circumstances. We can probably never really know how much pain another person is in and we can probably never translate our healthy state to their state of agony and claim that we understand it; we don’t, nor can we. Suicidal people become suicidal when they have lost two things: Hope and fear. They lose hope when, to them, there is no solution and none to come--ever--in their minds. A total loss of hope leads to a total loss of fear because--to them--there is nothing left. Some suicides send out a message and when they do, they are asking for help. These are people who are not sure, hesitant, and hoping that the thing that causes the pain will change. They still have hope and because they are trying to ask for help, their attempt is clumsy and we often rescue them, for a while. Most completed suicides are not a first time attempt. Completed attempts are usually the result of people who tried more than once and got better at it, and in the process, lost more hope and more fear. We can not talk to those who completed a suicide so research remains sketchy and we learn only from those serious attempts who survive, and at some point become willing to talk about it, or to write about it. And if you are successful at interrupting a serious attempt, do not expect them to be grateful to you for stopping it. You view it as saving their lives, they view it as you interfering and they are angry with you. Is that hard to understand? It should not be. We are thinking with our mindset, they are in a completely different, and foreign to us, mindset. We see it as wasting a life; they see it as ending pain. A life is ended, yes, but so is pain and it is extreme pain. Why is it so difficult to get help? For one thing, it is our upbringing. Most of us are taught from early on that suicide is a sin and we are often even told that we will go to hell. Some churches will not allow a suicide to be buried in their cemeteries. Oh, and it’s embarrassing. It creates a stigma. Right. Someone driven to suicide is not worrying about what the family thinks. We often just try to hang on so hard, to keep the person alive and we ask standard questions: Why? Why didn’t we see it? Could we have prevented it? We can never know why unless the person tells us and often they don’t know why. We didn’t see it because we don’t know what to see, for one thing, and we have a problem believing and accepting it. Could we have prevented it? Probably not, not for the most serious cases. Suicide has such a stigma about it that we can’t talk about it. If we tell someone we have had thoughts, they feel compelled to tell someone and in many states we can wind up in some kind of protective custody, and with a label. In Oklahoma, if you check the box on the form for a new doctor saying that you are suicidal, the medical professional has to report that to the state and you can possibly wind up in a difficult situation and it can become public and lead to problems, such as involuntary hospitalization. When we see people with a cast on their arm or a with a broken leg, we open doors for them, we carry packages out for them, we stand back and let them pass. There is nothing we can see that tells us that someone is in so much pain that they may not survive it. We never know how fragile the state of another human is. I worked with a man who was well liked but went through a strange period where he did not feel liked. He said that to a few people but always with a laugh so that it was taken as a joke. On a Saturday evening as he left the pool hall early a friend asked him what he was going to do and he said, “I think I’ll just go home and shoot myself.” He said it with a laugh and that was how it was taken, a joke. But he did just that. He went home and shot himself with a .22 pistol and died from it. I attended his funeral later in the week and everyone was saying all of the standard things we say to get ourselves through it. Why? Couldn’t see it. Could we have done anything? What could we have done? None of us who knew him knew that he was in depression, that he had great pain. I knew him only casually and only from work so I never felt any guilt about him but there have been others that I had those same thoughts. Those of us who lose someone because they take their own life have to let it go. If we spend all of our time agonizing with our questions, we will drive ourselves crazy. If we did not directly impact them and make them take their own life, then we could not have helped. We can look back in sorrow and try to see what happened, and we do that, saying that we can prevent the next one. We can’t, because the patterns are similar but different. Who could have foreseen the death of Robin Williams? Here was one of the funniest men on earth and yet his pain was so intense that he could not stay here with us. It was like the story of the song “Vincent.” “On that starry, starry night, You took your life as lovers often do but I could have told you Vincent [Robin] This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.” My son died in 2003. He had been diagnosed with type I (juvenile) diabetes at age 14, which meant he had developed it while he was still 13. We did everything we could with his treatments: insulin, monitors, diet, doctors, and he functioned well for a long time. Over time, in spite of everything we did, and he did, his diabetes claimed more of his body and his life. His eyesight began to fail, eventually leaving him blind. His kidneys slowly failed, which resulted in him being placed on dialysis. He eventually decided to end his dialysis treatment knowing that it would end his life. Is that suicide? It depends on how you want to interpret it for fools who understand nothing and are narrowly defined will jump to a quick “yes”. But consider the pain he suffered as he watched himself slowly die. He had long and strong discussions with his doctors. Will I get better? No, Stephen, you know that. Can you give it to me straight? Yes, but..The young doctors fought so hard to want him to live, not for him, but for them. I should mention that he had had a heart attack which removed him from the transplant (kidney and pancreas) lists. Hope dwindled for him while his pain, both physical and emotional increased. Suicide is painless he said at times, meaning that the pain would stop. A young musician died recently and everyone asked the questions again. Why? Until we get more honest, more open, more willing to address and acknowledge mental and emotional illness, we can’t answer any of the questions. But know this. You didn’t cause it, and if you don’t blame yourself for someone shooting another person, don’t blame yourself, or anyone else, for someone else taking their own life.
When you lose someone you deeply love, especially a child, the pain of loss can be excruciating, overwhelming, and even difficult to overcome. By difficult to overcome, I mean that it becomes difficult for us to want to stay here ourselves without the one we lost. Things that seemed important yesterday now have no meaning and you wonder what it was all about. Pain never fully leaves us after the loss. Pain does not heal, ever, but time and distance from our loss can help. Pain changes its form from an excruciating black nightmare into some kind of acceptance and we gradually are able to move from an incredible numb feeling to being able to function--again, in some way. I lost my son in 2003 when he was 36 years of age. Time has not healed my wounded spirit but time has made it easier for me to live with. There are things I do that I have always done such as love and care for animals and to give to others what and when I can. Losing my son did not change that. His loss did not start me on a path to try to improve other people’s lives. It did start me on a path to try to let other people know my feelings, to try to let other people understand how we all share the same feelings about the important things in life. The important things are not houses and cars and jobs and all the wealth we possess. The important things are family and friends--and love. The earliest part, right after our loss is the hardest part, the struggle. It’s hard to stay here when you hurt so bad. I have a friend who told me how much he hurt when he lost his son and for days he thought about taking his own life. What kept him here? As he began to see through the fog he saw that there were other people here who needed him, so he stayed--for them. The years have gone by now, many years, and the good he has done for other people is without measure. But none of the people, young and old, whom he has helped, would have been able to have helped others if he had chosen to leave us. He and I still grieve for our lost sons, and sometimes we grieve together. But we also celebrate that we had those sons and what has been really important to us has been those sons, and our friendship, and the people he and I have known and loved together. Time helps, that is all we can expect from it.