When I was fourteen years old my uncle took his life. It stunned my adolescent fear of the unpredictability of the world and greatly disturbed my religious practices and thoughts about eternal judgement. I witnessed lots of sympathy for his survivors but not much empathy, at the top of the list, a harsh and heartless response from the church. Because my uncle was deemed “lost” his body was not allowed in the church for the funeral, that image burned in my memory forever. Fifty-seven years later, I am encouraged that we have made some progress in our understanding, but we still have far to go. As with any complicated topic, the less we speak to it, the more illiterate we remain and the greater the opportunity for the myths to solidify as home-grown, dangerous fallacies.
More than anything, death by suicide reflects an illness “that takes a person against his or her will, the emotional equivalent of cancer, a stroke, or a heart attack.” “Suicide is an illness and, as with any sickness, we can love someone and still not be able to save that person from death.” (Bruised and Wounded, kindle loc. 135)
Death by suicide is tragic and specific to each individual, but generally in suicide a person’s resilience is overcome by deep woundedness, not weakness. “The greatest stigma surrounding a suicidal death is that the person is selfish, arrogant, or weak. On the contrary most are deeply sensitive, kind, and loving people, whose pain is unbearable and they desperately need it to stop.”
I am neither a specialist on suicide nor a trained psychologist. I try not to oversimplify or glorify the actions of suicide, but rather I am just a human being who witnesses the stigma and lack of understanding added to the burden of survivors, especially parents who have lost a child to suicide. As such, I appeal to us to become more educated on this typically taboo topic. September is suicide prevention month; this gives us plenty of time to prepare a personal plan to explore the subject of suicide. Ways to increase our understanding may include attending a virtual class, reading an informative book or article, watching a few good TedTalks, or deep compassionate listening to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. With increased insight, we may help prevent a loss or reach out to survivors more comfortably, bridging the empathy gap.
With hopes of finding a compassionate, professional, and informative presentation that begins to destigmatize suicide, I viewed several YouTube videos. There were many good choices, but I chose a 14-minute personal, educational clip that addresses the most painful elements of survivors, loss and anger. Having lost two family members to suicide in a relatively short time, Rachel Brennan discusses the complicated process of forgiveness and how to make sense of such an unthinkable loss through scientific research. Rachel is in the field of clinical social work. Please take the time to view her video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reWmwCJ6VwA
“When you feel like giving up, just remember the reason why you held on for so long.”
– Unknown –
Learn more about suicide prevention at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide/