Monday, November 2, 2009

Thoughts on Suicide

I am a member of a circle of moms who have been conversing online for years, and the subject of suicide is one of our topics right now, due to some experiences in addition to my own family's. With some editing to avoid personal exposure, here's some of what I have to say these days:

I don't believe that suicide is a choice, I don't believe in using terminology like "commit suicide," and I find that I probably no longer believe in assisted suicide. That's not to say that I believe in heroic and unwarranted lifesaving methods when a person is close to death, and having observed such situations many times during my CPE experience summer before last, I am in complete sympathy with those who suffer end-of-life indignities and with their desire to put a stop to them. But humanely removing life support systems is quite different from actively ending a life, even if sometimes only in the motivation involved.

I have had plenty of hours (14 months x 24/7) to think about it and I am convinced that suicide is a complication of mental illness. Even a person who seems to have died as he or she lived -- perhaps selfishly and insisting upon control - was suffering from something. Ending one's bodily existence and all of one's connections to people on earth is too extreme a move for me to think of it as anything other than a consequence of serious illness. I doubt that it is even possible for a suicidal person to understand the consequences of his or her actions, to him or herself even moreso than to others. Sometimes I think that our son was selfish for not seeking help somewhere along the way, but then I realize that that behavior is part of the illnesses of depression and of personality disorders. The sufferer has no way of knowing that what s/he is experiencing is out of the ordinary, and most of us have no way of knowing that another person's secret thoughts and terrors are far different and beyond our own.

As far as the methods by which someone dies by suicide: they are all assaults on the human body. Most likely a person is not thinking at all in the way the rest of us do, or perhaps even the way she or she does most of the time, and is not making choices that are designed either to cause or to ease pain for the surviviors. I have gained considerable insight in the last year into how thin the line is between ordinary rationality and something else, into how easy it is to move into a dangerous frame of mind, and into how quickly a person can take an action that is irreversible and produces devastating shock waves that will ripple outward for generations. Our son was was one the kindest, most generous, and most gentle people I have ever encountered; he, more than perhaps anyone, would be horrified by the outcomes, in all aspects, of his death.

I don't mind discussing this subject at all, BTW. I find I am far more comfortable with it than I was before my son died, probably because it is always the foremost thing in my mind and because I have learned so much about it that it is no longer taboo for me. People sometimes tell me that they appreciate my forthrightness and transparency, but those are simply products of my refusal to deny or hide sad experience.

12 comments:

karen gerstenberger said...

Having been led into a world we had no wish to enter, it feels best, to me, to face it honestly. Using the experience and knowledge we have gained to bless others feels like a way to somehow redeem the suffering. It doesn't diminish the suffering, but it gives it meaning, for me. I can see why it's important to share your thoughts and feelings on suicide. It will undoubtedly help others.

Kathryn J said...

As always, your thoughts have made me think - deep, hard, painful, deep and again clueless thoughts about suicide. I'll post the details later but please know that you and your son are in my thoughts daily and often with a sharp intake of breath after which I cannot breathe. I have pulled over to the side of the road and just sobbed - it still catches me off guard 14 months after. I can only begin to imagine the effect on you and your family.

Gannet Girl said...

Kathryn, I walked out of the middle of a class and into an empty room last week to do the exact same thing. Thank you for letting me know.

Betsy said...

Amen. Thank you.

Michelle said...

A friend died of suicide last week...and I prayed again and again for your family as well.

Gannet Girl said...

Michelle, I am so very, very sorry. Many prayers.

Magdalene6127 said...

Thank you for this hard honesty.

And, responding to your comment elsewhere: yes, I agree, it is impossibly hard to do. I hope you are/ will be willing to call me on it when something I say is really just facile, the product of someone who has just not walked this path.

Much love, always.

Carol said...

GG, you know that I too suffered a loss to suicide in my family last week. Thank you for your words here. They make so much sense. And I'm sorry if anything I've said in the past week was hurtful or offensive to you.
As you've written before, you've chosen to take this path in the mourning process and in so doing, you are open, forthcoming, and helping many of us. So yes, thank yous are in order.

Karen said...

You are so clearly right about all of this--no one would move toward suicide if they truly knew how much suffering they were inflicting on those they love. Your son could never imagine what you all would be going through now. I am so sorry for him, for you and for your family.

Thank you for bringing this disorder out of the shadows so we can all understand a little better.

Hugs to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

I sent this to my daughter who has mourned her sister daily for the past two years,2 months and ten days. The sorrow is often overwhelming and then you "get up and go on".
Yesterday we lost a beautiful family to murder and suicide. The whys begin all over again for the people who loved and laughed with them and the family who see their dreams crash and burn. It is a dark time for all. I am sure they covet your prayers.

Anonymous said...

I meant to sign my post. Your comments are a constant source of solace for me and I would like for you to know this.
April

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

What you have written here helps me to understand my brother's death, not by suicide in the conventional sense but by giving up in a situation when he could have sought treatment. I thank you for that.