I am obsessed with suicide. Completely and entirely preoccupied with it. I read every scholarly article. Every editorial article. Every story by a family member left behind by a person who died by suicide. I read the stories of suicide activists, many of whom die by suicide during the peak of their advocacy. I have been hopeful that like any other subject I find myself ignorant in, the answer will reveal itself if I just consume enough information. But it doesn’t.
Some mental health professionals attribute it to unrecognized or uncontrolled mental health issues. Others liken it to addiction, where a person can’t shake the desire to end their life. One terrible asshole (a professional in nothing but conspiracy theories, from what I can tell) attributed it to population control. Really, dick face!? Screens and screens of text, and pages and pages of articles, and I have resolved that I will never understand the pathology or decision-making process of a person’s choice to die by suicide. And there really is no answer- but it is a motherfucking epidemic.
In early August, my family lost one of the brightest members of our clan; my niece. She was 22 years old when she took her life in front of some of the people who loved her the most. We were stunned. We still are. And not a one of us saw it coming or had any idea that this was a choice she was tossing around in her brain space. My niece was a young person who was living truthfully in her own skin (I think and hope). She was surrounded ALL the time by her family who loved her and adored her. She was making her way professionally and was always looking forward to the space she could grow into. She had a shit dad, but she was spared most of the terror he thrust upon his children being the youngest of three, and a mom who took up his void and filled it with better things. She had some heavy crap (don’t we all?), but she was loved- and she was making her way. She took her life, though, and the “why” overwhelms us.
Grieving has been hell. It sneaks up on me at inconvenient times and hits me square in the chin. My grief likes to show itself when I am driving into the sun on my way to work every day. Something about the warmth of the sun as she lifts herself over the mountain makes my heart hurt- a deep and unimaginable hurt.
And the people in grief- Jesus Christ, the “well intended” people:
My yearly PSA, and I will say it loud for the people in the back- if one more person says to me that “everything happens for a reason” or “it was just god’s plan”, I will experience the back of a police car for the first time. JUST STOP with that nonsense. It’s bullshit and judgy and dismissive and condescending and contrived. If you are ever compelled to form those words to use with ANYONE (literally, anyone) just STOP- and DO NOT say them. Just don’t.
The questions we get- they’re the absolute worst. “Did you see it coming?”…”There must have been signs, you just didn’t see them.” “Was she on drugs?”- really, jackwagon?! Yeah, we all saw this coming and just took a knee and let it go. NO. We had NO idea. We had NO idea that at that moment and in that space, on that dark Summer night, in front of people who loved and adored her, that she would be SO overwhelmed with pain that she would end her life and leave us all destroyed. No, we didn’t damn know.
And that’s the thing about suicide- you can spend your every moment looking for signs in the people you love and trying to stop attempts, but I think maybe it’s not always stoppable. It feels bigger than those of us looking for it.
I regularly marvel at the drive of a determined human being- a long distance runner, an ironman, a mother giving birth, a person suffering a debilitating injury and learning to walk again. There is something on the other side of that determination that flips a switch in their brains and hearts and makes them go for it. I wonder if it is the same chemical reaction that shepherds a person considering suicide to complete their suicide. I have seen it in terminally ill people, who have thoughtfully considered their options, and are choosing to end the pain of their illness with the relief of suicide. I can’t find logic that argues that a person suffering mental and emotional pain isn’t just as entitled to suicide as the terminally ill person. The person who chooses suicide, in any case, I am sure is driven and determined, and it seems like those that are left behind are insignificant in the choice- and that really sucks.
Those of us left behind beat the shit out of ourselves. I am still kicking my own ass: I should have been around more. I should have reassured her more. I should have mentored her more. I should have….I could have….If only I had… Then, the pendulum shifts to being angry at her for leaving her adoring family like this- with all these fucking questions and all this shit to put back together. Things are not better without her, and I wonder if she thought they would be.
I’ve no words of wisdom or inspiration to impart here. I’ve nothing of impact to leave you with, except: Suicide is an epidemic. It does not discriminate itself by socioeconomic group, gender, age, race, level of education, or *insert category here*. Suicide just takes people we love and leaves broken hearts. The stigma around suicide is strong, but it does not rate compared to the number of completed suicides- so get comfortable with it. A subject being taboo, doesn’t make it any less real- and this one is very real. I warned you I would get loud about this…and today this is what I’ve got.
Look at your people, square in the face, and ask them how their hearts are- then love the fucking hell out of them.