“Suicide occurs, not because the deceased was selfish or because their loved ones failed them. Suicide occurs when one’s pain outweighs their resources of strength.”
After our first discussion of Death back in mid-January, one reader stated: “Perhaps it is the way a person dies (long illness, accident, suicide, etc. ) that shakes our world more than the actual act of death itself? ” I agree with Marybeth’s assessment. While permanently saying goodbye to a person we love is always unbearably painful, it seems some losses are harder to accept than others. One of those circumstances is suicide.
The very word “suicide” brings on so many questions; the first, of course, is “why”. There are many factors that contribute to the act of suicide, but rarely is it one event or situation resulting in an individual ending their own life. There may be a trigger, but the reason is much more complicated than one incident. Seldom is suicide chosen without being preceded by a long struggle, often accompanied by chronic depression. For some the desire to die is such a strong compulsion there reaches a point where it can no longer be denied.
When I worked as a RN in an Emergency Department many years ago I witnessed firsthand the victims of suicide, some successful and others who were not. I saw the shock, confusion and heartbreak of families and regretfully at least one doctor who could not understand nor empathize with such a patient. I recall the horror of working on self-inflicted gunshot wounds, pumping stomachs to remove poisons and overdoses and witnessing myriad other ways in which people took their own lives. I never doubted that they were serious, although there were one or two who I thought might have been too immature to fully understand their actions. Many patients were saved, some were not. I recall one man who had shot himself and survived who wept and confided, “I can’t do anything right.” I will never forget his sorrow at being unsuccessful. I’m sharing these few details of that hospital environment to demonstrate that suicide is not an act for attention, but an act of desperation.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) suicide occurs globally every 40 seconds. This translates, tragically, to the loss of 2,160 lives each day. In the US in 2014 (the last year for which there are complete statistics) suicide was the tenth leading cause of death and claimed the lives of over 42,000 people according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Perhaps more disturbing, the suicide rate over the past fifteen years has increased by 24%.
There is so much that can be said on this subject. Sadly most of us have some experience with the heartbreak associated with a friend or loved one ending their own life. Perhaps you have undergone a close or recent loss due to suicide. Aside from listing some resources at the end of this post I feel the most helpful thing to do is to share with you a eulogy I was honored to hear at a memorial service in December of 2014.
This eulogy was given by the daughter of my neighbor and friend, Marilyn Lamb. Marilyn’s daughter, Laurie Lamb Ray, has graciously given her permission for this tribute to her Mom to be reproduced here. Laurie’s words lovingly and sensitively state what we need to hear and understand when one dies as the result of suicide. I believe you will find it enlightening and that it will be helpful if you have the opportunity to comfort someone who has lost a loved one under these circumstances.
Here are Laurie’s words:
I know you expect me to talk about mom tonight, maybe share funny foibles, touching tributes. And, I could. I have hundreds to share. But, I’ll leave that to others. Today, I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room. And, the elephant in the room is suicide. And now that you know I’m going to talk about suicide, I know that you are terribly uncomfortable and would like nothing better than to get up, jump in your car and go home. But you are a captive audience so, in honor of my mom, I’m going to ask you to stay and I’m going use this opportunity to try and help you understand my mom and her suicide.
Yes, my mom committed suicide. And we are all horrified and shocked and so very sad. And, let’s face it, even if we try really hard not to, we all tend to judge her just a little bit. Even the words we use seem a little damning, don’t they? She committed suicide. As if it is a crime akin to murder. We say, How could she do this? To me, to all of us? How selfish. How awful. How could she? And we are puzzled. She looked fine to me. She seemed fine when I saw her at the party just the night before. Well, don’t feel bad, she seemed fine at the party to me too.
But, you see she wasn’t fine; hadn’t been fine for my entire life. My mom had severe chronic depression. I don’t know how many of you know someone with severe chronic depression, but I know all of you have known someone who died of cancer…they fought it, they wanted desperately to live, they took medicine, sought help, people prayed for them and “yes” sometimes they even seemed fine. Yet, at some point they could no longer fight – they had become too weary, too weak and they just could not continue to live. And, that you see is exactly what happened to my mom.
My mom died from a chemical imbalance in her brain. Not a weakness, not selfishness, not a sin against God. A very real, physical imbalance that left her unable to cope and unable to hope for things to get better.
So many of you have asked what you can do to help during this time. I’ll tell you what you can do. In memory of my mom, I ask that you re-file “suicide” from that place in your brain that judges and is horrified, to a place where there is nothing, but compassion and understanding.
Your mom died of cancer? Well, my mom died of chronic depression. And, today she is no longer hopeless. She is with my dad and, even in the midst of my sadness, THAT has to make me smile.
Mom, I understand and I love you.
Thank you Laurie for sharing with us. We are grateful for your kindness and generosity. I would also like to thank Laurie’s Aunt Janet, who graciously agreed to share this message concerning her sister’s death.
The following signs, symptoms and risk factors are from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml
Signs & Symptoms
The behaviors listed below may be signs that someone is thinking about suicide.
1. Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
2. Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
3. Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
4. Talking about great guilt or shame
5. Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
6. Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
7. Talking about being a burden to others
8. Using alcohol or drugs more often
9. Acting anxious or agitated
10. Withdrawing from family and friends
11. Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
12. Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
13. Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
14. Talking or thinking about death often
15. Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
16. Giving away important possessions
17. Saying goodbye to friends and family
18. Putting affairs in order, making a will
(Blogger’s note: It is conceivable there are some victims who do not display outward signs prior to suicide.)
Suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk. Suicidal behavior is complex and there is no single cause. In fact, many different factors contribute to someone making a suicide attempt. But people most at risk tend to share certain characteristics. The main risk factors for suicide are:
1. Depression, other mental disorders, or substance abuse disorder
2. Certain medical conditions
3. Chronic pain
4. A prior suicide attempt
5. Family history of a mental disorder or substance abuse
6. Family history of suicide
7. Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
8. Having guns or other firearms in the home
9. Having recently been released from prison or jail
10. Being exposed to others’ suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities
Many people have some of these risk factors, but do not attempt suicide. It is important to note that suicide is not a normal response to stress. Suicidal thoughts or actions are a sign of extreme distress, not a harmless bid for attention, and should not be ignored.
If you need help:
Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Available 24 Hours a day, 7 days a week.
The service is free, confidential and available to anyone.
All calls are confidential.
You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.
Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or
Use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
For more information, Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
(the source of this contact information)