My heart sank today when learned a local family had lost their young son to suicide. I cannot explain the empty hole in the pit of my stomach which opens when I hear anyone has died by suicide. When I know there is a family experiencing this my soul twists in pain. Almost 15 years ago my 16 year old son died by suicide. Just a few years previous to that my best friend took her life.
We all react differently to trauma in our lives but for me the reaction has been fighting with everything I have to make sure there are no parent, siblings, and friends who have to bury someone they love who has died at their own hand. For almost 20 years I have devoted much of my time to learning about suicide prevention, teaching it and working with groups of people who are bereaved by suicide. I can’t save them all but if I can save just one it will be worth it.
We cannot change what has happened to my friend, my son or the thousands before them. Today 11 people in Canada died by suicide. That means over 4000 people in the year. About half that many die in car accidents. 4000 died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Putting all those numbers together gives a picture of where suicide sits in the priority list of the health and security budgets of our country. We don’t even have a national suicide prevention strategy yet and it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that Canada even had a nationally funded body looking into mental health issues. We just don’t talk about it but that needs to change..
My fire and passion for the importance of suicide prevention and care of the bereaved will not be quenched until there is not one more mother who has to cry tears for a child who took his own life or a young woman who has to tell her children their father died or a grandmother who has to explain to her family their father has taken his life.
Today my heart aches for a family who live close to me who have lost a young man to suicide. Their heads are reeling with a mixture of pain, guilt, anger, and confusion. They are trying hard to find someone or something to blame and may even blame each other. They may talk about it openly and honestly or they may be afraid to say it out loud and will pretend he died by some other means.
A month from now they will be still be in shock and while their heads tell them they should be returning to work and getting on with life their guts will still be churning.
A year from now the reality may actually hit them and they will be able, even if it’s just a little, to truly grieve. They could not before because of the horror that played in their heads every waking moment and many of the sleeping ones.
Two years from now people will be expecting them to “get over it” but they will still have the video playing in their minds of the events of this day. It will play many versions of the same story. Some versions will have the good ending where they were able to make some small change in their day or in their history which would have changed the outcome. Other versions are just of the horror.
In ten years they will not have so much agony every day. If they are fortunate they will have gotten some good council along the way and have been able to talk a lot of it out with a professional who cares. They may have been able to move on and the stabbing pain which was so intense will only drive deep on special days. The other days the video will only play two or three times.
When I teach people about dealing with suicide the most important thing I want them to remember is not be afraid of the word. When people learn about suicide intervention they must learn to use the word because beating around the bush doesn’t work.
There is much you can do to help stop this plague of suicide. Learn what to do. Learn what to say. If you can’t do that at least learn who can do something and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask for help. Maybe the person who is contemplating suicide won’t ask for help but there is nothing saying you can’t ask for help for yourself while trying to support them.
Memorize the number for 911. I would much rather have someone hate me for the rest of my life for calling the police than have them dead.
There are many resources available for learning more. I’ve made a short list of links below. Most funeral homes are also a good resource for information about local suicide bereavement groups. For me, that group was a life saver. Those who are bereaved by suicide are twice as likely as others to die by suicide themselves so it very important that they get help quickly.
Many levels of training are available all over Canada from Living Works
Information on a variety of topics around suicide can be found from:
- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
- Mental Health Commission of Canada
- International Association for Suicide Prevention
Teens and parents of teens might benefit from visiting:
Change the way you talk about suicide.
- Stop Saying “Committed Suicide” and other terms you might want to know about suicide.
A final word:
When you speak to someone who has a lost a child to suicide or to anyone about grief keep this poem in mind.
When you talk to me about the death of my child…
Please, don’t ask me if I’m over it yet
I’ll never be over it.
Please, don’t tell me she’s in a better place,
She isn’t with me.
Please, don’t say at least she isn’t suffering.
I haven’t come to terms with why she had to suffer at all.
Please, don’t tell me you know how I feel,
Unless you have lost child.
Please, don’t ask me if I feel better.
Bereavement isn’t a condition that clears up.
Please don’t tell me at least you had her for so many years.
What year would choose for your child to die?
Please, don’t tell me God never gives us more than we can bear.
Please, just say you are sorry.
Please, just say you remember my child, if you do.
Please just let me talk about my child.
Please, mention my child’s name.
Please, just let me cry.