[dropcap]S[/dropcap]uicide is one of those words that, when spoken, immediately invokes a feeling of deep sadness and a sense of taboo. When we hear of such a tragedy happening, I think we can all agree that we would each feel a profound sense of compassion toward the loved ones left behind. We feel bad. We feel painfully aware of the delicate nature of the human spirit. We feel relieved that it wasn’t our loved one that was lost. September is, in the world of social media, “Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.” Ironically, it was also the month in which I had a unique look at suicide from an inside perspective. While I can assure you that this new perspective did not come wrapped in scientific findings or tied up with neatly organized statistics, it has been one of the most educational experiences of my life.
This past month, I lost a family member to suicide. A young, vibrant family member who, for some reason, lost the will to stay on earth and serve whatever purpose he was here to accomplish. A son and brother who was dearly loved and cherished. A grandson, nephew, and cousin who is irreplaceable. A friend who would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it and could always be relied upon. A human being who had much to offer to the world. The obvious question is, “Why?” Why do things like this happen in good families to loving people? Painfully, in this case that is the one question that can never be answered. That answer died with the author of the question, leaving a devastated family grasping for understanding. Strong men and women were brought to their knees with grief, crushed by the weight of guilt and profound sadness. Still they have no answer to the question.
In the weeks since this family tragedy took place, I have been personally notified of a handful of similar instances in other families. I find myself very frustrated with this new apparent “trend” that seems to be revealing itself. In fact, a local grocery store employee in the town where my family mourns told me with dismay, “Not a month goes by between suicides in this area. And they are always young people.” How is it that the youth of today feel that the only way to overcome their difficulties is to die? Determined to gain a greater understanding of this issue, I started to talk to people. I spoke to people with real-life experience with suicide. I spoke with someone who failed in a suicide attempt. What I learned from her has changed my perspective for good. She shared with me the emptiness that she felt – an emptiness she had difficulty putting into words. It was an emptiness so profound that it was physically painful. She described how she could think of nothing and no one else, only about finding a way – ANY way – to make the pain stop. There was no thought of how her death might affect her loved ones. No consideration to the trauma she would be responsible for when her mother received the call. According to her, really no thought at all outside of the numbing pain of a broken spirit that no one could see. After her physical recovery, my subject was evaluated psychologically and diagnosed with severe depression, a very manageable disorder in our society of therapy and medications. To this day, she remains acutely aware of her own emotional stability as well as that of those around her.
Though we are all aware of its existence, most of us lack an understanding of the human spirit. This is likely due to the extremely complicated and diverse nature of human emotion. In a society that has become obsessed with equality and being offended by nearly everything, we have somehow lost touch with human emotion. We rely on technology and social media to “keep in touch” with one another rather than make personal contact. We are losing sight of the value of human interaction. We have determined that to be vulnerable is to be weak. We value false strength over honesty because it’s just less personal and less work. All of these things add up to a deficit in qualities that make us human: compassion, dependability, love. As tends to be typical, tragedy insights new perspective and pulls us back to our roots, causing us to cherish those we hold dearest to us. Check in personally with those you care about. Meet up just to make contact. Take the time to ask, “How are you?” Probe for a truthful answer and then…listen.