Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Pain of Suicide - A Professional's Perspective

I hate suicide. It is my number one professional enemy and I just hate it. I write this instead of the Christmas oriented post I've been turning over in my mind because yesterday we had a young woman die of apparent suicide. None of us had met her before. I don't know if she was sad, or depressed, or receiving help. All I know is that her family found her and brought her to our hospital but it was too late for us to save her and she died. Along with many other people, I was trying to help them yesterday because we didn't have a chance to help her. And then I was trying to help all the helpers, because this hurts us too. 

There really is not anything you can say to a family except "I am so sorry. I am here if you need to talk." So that's what I said. That's what we all said. They were so shocked, so horrified, so devastated that I don't know how to convey it. They were beyond tears and screaming, just blank and numb and you could see something inside them had been completely crushed. And I thought - how could you have done this? What happened that you didn't know how much your family loved you, wanted you? How could you not realized what a terrible thing you are doing to them? Why didn't you ask for help?

And I am so sad, so angry and yesterday all I could do was come home and cry and hug my own precious daughter and pray. Some of the other staff I talked to did the same thing. Just cry and go home and love your own family and pray. Pray for me, and my family, and for everyone I work with, and for her family, and for her. Pray for G-D's healing presence with us all in this terrible, terrible event.

I have worked with so many people who have survived a loved one's suicide. It is so hard, so confusing. Along with the dreadful loneliness and sadness, the sheer weight of missing this other person, is this poisonous blend of anger and guilt and shame. How could he abandon me? Why couldn't I save her? If only I had done this differently. Why did she do this? It's not their fault, and I tell them that. People make choices and sometimes they make really bad choices. You can't save them from their own choices. I tell them. I tell myself. It helps, but not enough.

I often hear people who are suicidal say "my family would be better off without me" and I tell them no. No, they wouldn't be. I have walked with too many families after someone has committed suicide and I know that they are not better off. And they don't "get over it," not really, not even with help. They learn to go on, but it's a permanent ache, an unfillable emptiness, a wound that scars but still hurts when it is touched. 

I don't know all the people who read this blog. I don't know what pain you may be holding or what terrible situation you may be facing. But I tell you that your life is precious. You, yourself, simply for who you are, are precious and unique and irreplaceable. It doesn't matter what you have or haven't done, you are worthy and valuable, just because you are. Even if you can't see it right now, your life matters. Please find the courage to reach out, to get help, to keep going. 

Some places to start are http://www.afsp.org which is the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and 1-800-27-TALK which is a national crisis hotline. You can also get help in an emergency room, by calling 911, or through any medical provider. If you are a friend or family member or even a casual acquaintance of someone who you are concerned about you can help just by asking. Asking "are you thinking of suicide?" doesn't make people suicidal, it frees them to talk about the problem and ask for help. If someone seems down, or their behavior has changed, or they are giving things away or talking about harming themselves or saying they would be better off dead then please take them seriously and ask the questions. Then help them reach out and get that emergency help, and stay with them until help arrives.

There is hope - pain can be treated, life can improve, new joy can be found. If you are so desperate that you want to die then it's time to be desperate enough to make huge changes. Find another way, please. Please, please don't kill yourself.