A couple of decades ago an elderly friend’s son who was in his late forties committed suicide. She commented that she was sorry that he would not live to know the joys of old age.
I understand what she meant now more than I did then. There is a perspective that comes with age. Life doesn’t get easier, but you realize that things you thought were important, aren’t, and you savor more the things that are important.
People who committed suicide used to infuriate me. Idiots, I thought. I struggled with depression, but even in my hours of deepest despair, suicide was never an option for me. No one has permission to throw away their precious life.
But there came a day, a few years after my husband died, when I felt so tired, and like the pain had gone on for so long, and I wanted the pain to end. For a split second, suicide bloomed in my mind as a solution.
Whoa, Nelly! Scared the crap out of me. I went to my church, and my priest happened to be there, and dropped everything to listen to me. I thank God for him and his response.
I went into therapy after that wake-up experience, and therapy did me a world of good. It’s good to be told that you’re going through something that’s not unusual for an exhausted and grieving person.
After that my attitude toward people who commit suicide changed. I realize now that they are so, so tired of carrying their burden, and suicide seems like a way out.
What gets me, in retrospect, is that the impulse hit me so out of the blue, and how good it made me feel in the moment. There it was, a visceral response to years of living beyond my tolerance for physical, mental, and emotional pain.
I was fortunate. I knew I did not want to do that, and I knew I had resources. I got help.
When someone has killed themselves, people ask why, and there are never any satisfactory answers. Even when there is a suicide note explaining a suicide’s rationale, no one says, “Oh, well, now I get it.”
Instead people search their hearts and souls for answers, and blame themselves or other people, and still they are left with terrible grief and mystery. Why? Why didn’t you reach out to me? We could have made it through this.
Even people who study suicide don’t really understand. Some suicides plan the method of their demise ahead of time, and sometimes they kill themselves on an impulse. Some suicides, we learn, had some form of mental illness or struggled with addiction or some physical illness for years. Others, we learn, seemed to be fine. No one had a clue.
Suicide is epidemic among our war veterans. Twenty-two suicides every day is the number I hear quoted. War is all hell.
Not two months ago two famous people, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, committed suicide within days of one another. For a week or two there was a lot of talk about suicide prevention, and then the news cycles moved on to children in cages, tariffs and trade wars, the World Cup, and Trump being a jerk in Brussels and England.
This is the world we live in, and it takes courage to live in this world. If you think your life is hard, you are correct.
If you see someone who looks like they are hurting, ask them how they are, and then listen.
If you have a suicidal impulse, or you are thinking of suicide, talk to someone you can trust – a friend, a parent, a teacher, a pastor or priest, a counselor, a family member, someone! And if you don’t have someone at hand to listen to you, here’s the number to call: 1-800-273-8255, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours every day.
I called that number to see what happened, and here’s what you can expect: you get a recording (oh, great, I thought, but don’t hang up) that tells you that you’ve reached the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Veterans’ Crisis Line, and same as when you are calling a doctor, you are told that if you have an emergency, hang up and call 911.
Then there is some information for Veterans who are calling, and then you get the usual message that everyone is busy talking with other callers and you are put on hold with music playing.
DON’T GIVE UP. DON’T BE DISCOURAGED.
I stayed on the line to see how long it took, and my call was answered by a nice man named Mason in under two minutes.
Put that number in your contacts. Write it on the wall if you have a land line.
Stick around for the joys of old age, dear hearts. Connect with one another, and be encouraged.