I’ve long promised that I would eventually post here on the issue of suicide, and this seems to be the moment, as much as I dread doing so: it is a difficult challenge, one that must be approached with great care and compassion.
What impelled me to do so at this time is the death of Robin Williams, and my feelings with regards to a post about Williams’ suicide by Matt Walsh – another screed of his that I once again (almost) agree with.
Walsh emphasizes in his recent post – “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice” – that suicide is a choice, and there is always an alternative, you can choose life. I [almost] agree – he is right, to some extent.
In his post, Walsh discusses at length how painful suicide is, in so many ways, for those we leave behind: whether we realize it or not. As he and I both know all too well, there are always those who love you dearly, and who will always be haunted and who will always carry a deep, hidden hurt from the suicide of someone they love. He calls suicide a “selfish choice” and again – he is right, to some extent.
Frankly, there are far more survivors than you can possibly suspect of their own suicide attempt(s) or the suicide of someone close to them. I am certain that there are many people you know who carry this hidden pain, and who will move heaven and earth to keep another from experiencing what they’ve gone through – which means they will do everything they can to help you, once they know that you see your own death as the only way out of the deep pain and darkness that you feel you cannot escape.
But, Walsh is also wrong – suicide seems like a choice to those looking on from outside, but for those mired in making that choice, it is not a choice: it is an escape when one becomes convinced there are no other choices. It is a disease that deludes one into thinking that the only way out is to choose oblivion. It leads you to believe that no one else cares, or that no one else can help you.
Unfortunately, the outcome of the choice is no delusion, and – sadly – it leaves no room for changing ones’ mind. It leaves no space for things to get better, no opportunity for you to choose a path that does not dump your pain on to all those who love you, afflicting them for the rest of their own lives.
I’ve seen suicides – young people “revived” with a dead brain but a body that still functions. The body waiting for their family to make the agonized decision to turn off the machines and accept what has been done to them by the one they love. It hideously jerks with each shot of air from the ventilator.
It is not glamorous, it is not fun: looking into the eyes of the mothers, fathers and siblings who are going through the pain, the grief and who are making decisions they will agonize over for their rest of their lives – confronting for the first time that guilt they’ll never expunge: wondering if they could have saved their loved one if they had just said (or done) this or that – or perhaps not said (or done) this or that. My heart bleeds and weeps as I seek to offer some measure of solace and comfort for them: grieving with them, helping them to find a way out of the abyss they are in. An abyss they never suspected they would find themselves in, and one they did not know could be so deep or so black or so hopeless.
The entire family dies with the suicide victim, and must find a way to live again. Some never do.
It is true that there are times when suicide may actually be a viable choice, such as when you are facing a debilitating, painful illness that can only end in death. So, one must choose: prolonging the agony through painful and expensive medical care, or simply accept that this is the end – and perhaps even hasten it since there is no longer any quality of life? That is not a choice others can make for you, but it is also a choice that is not made in isolation – suicide in this context is a decision you make in conjunction with those you love, and with concern for how your choice will affect them. It is not a selfish choice. Even the common term for it – assisted suicide – implies the presence of a loving community that supports you in your choice and helps you through the process. And, that choice to involve them in the decision goes a long way towards healing the pain that might otherwise have been.
The disease in such cases is not suicide, but the terminal illness you are battling. It is not a choice borne out of desperation and made in isolation. It is an acceptance of the inevitable, and a choice to accept the end that is coming anyway, with grace and in peace. From what we know at this point, this is not what happened in the death of Robin Williams.
I cannot say strongly enough that suicide in any other context is not a choice: those who take such a path are convinced they have no choice, and they always are making that choice in isolation – without considering the community of love that surrounds them, and not giving those they love a chance to help. They are often no longer aware that a supportive community exists for them – even though it is always there whether you realize it or not. So, those who die at their own hand are the first victims of suicide, but they are not the last: suicide ends nothing, it fixes nothing. It is not a final solution, it does not “end it all.” Instead, the pain and loss of their death echoes in the lives of those who know them and love them – for many long years to come; and working through them, it will color the lives of many people whom the suicide victim will never meet.
And there is another thing: when a suicide occurs, it often convinces others that they have a kind of “permission” to end their own lives, too. This is even sadder than the first death, because it multiplies the spread of that shared pain that did not need to be afflicted on others in the first place, and snuffs out many lives, often young lives, who had bright futures ahead of them – if only they could have seen it, if only they had the ability to believe it.
Don’t believe the lie that there is no way out. And, don’t believe the lie that the death of another victim of suicide means it is OK for you to consider doing it, too. Don’t believe there is no hope or help. So many around you already know the intense pain of suicide, whether through the death of someone close to them or their own attempts to “end it all.” The pain they carry drives them to help you, and they will – if you give them a chance.
All you need to do is ask – ask friends, ask clergy, ask school counsellors. If you don’t find the help you need at first, keep on asking, and you will soon learn that there is a way back from the abyss. There can be hope again, and you do have choices that will not afflict those you love with that deep hidden pain that you would be leaving behind.
If you don’t know where to begin, start with the suicide prevention hotline’s website (http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org), or call them at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained counsellors in your local area are available (through this phone number) 24 hours a day.
Choose life – most especially for you, but also for those you love.
Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)