Monday, December 14, 2009

Suicide Sadness

When I check my stat counter, I usually find that at least one or two people have come to this blog via searches along the lines of "surviving child's suicide."

Two young men in circles connected to friends of mine have died by suicide in the past week. I doubt that I would have known about either death had it occurred two years ago, but now I am one of the people who people know, as in "I know a woman . . . ," and so I hear about them.

I am dumbfounded by how many young people die by suicide. I had no idea.

Per a request that came to me, I left a message on the funeral home condolence website for one of the young men. It has not been printed online. Was it too raw? I wonder. I commented on what a wonderful person the young man seems to have been, given the memories posted by those who knew him; I offered a listening ear; and I was honest (quite briefly) about what lies ahead. There are, of course, several messages which contain those dreaded words, those "I can't imagine" words. Interesting, if I am correct, that the website censors are more comfortable with words that push away rather than words that acknowledge.

Both young men were Catholic and apparently there have been issues in both cases in addressing the manner of death in funeral services. I am at a loss. We found nothing but openness and offers of help in our Presby church, and I have found 100% the same from my Catholic friends. In fact, some months after our son died, one of my Presby seminary friends commented that I must have found myself wary of discussing my son's death with the Catholics in my life, and I was very surprised. By that time, practically the only people outside my immediate family with whom I was discussing it in detail were Catholic priests.

I am also dumbfounded by how few in the clergy community seem to know how crucial open conversation is to the process of healing or, perhaps, how to initiate or withstand it such engagement. I suppose it is the withstanding that seems so daunting, and so the initiating does not happen.

Apparently there is a website now via which one can end ones' Facebook career via virtual suicide. I learned that from a longstanding blogging friend; from another, commenting on the former's information, I learned about a concert she had attended in which a piece of narration used the simile "falling like winter suicides." I got into a Facebook debate myself a few weeks ago about a writer's use of the word suicide which many people had found . . . meaningful in various ways. I thought their arguments were preposterous.
One of them responded with words to the effect that my own language was flat rather than provocative.

Perhaps that is a consequence of a very real acquaintance with suicide. It is no longer (if, indeed it ever was) merely a source for a provocative pushing of the the limits of language and imagination. It is a horror which flattens all which follows.

I was wrong about the condolence guestbook. As I was writing this last night, my note was published. It, and this post, became the source of a lengthy conversation, as Gregarious Son wandered in while I was writing and asked what I was doing.

He shrugged as I read the condolence note to him. "What you said is true," he said.

It's difficult even to remember what life was like before I knew some true things about suicide.


Carol said...

Your familiarity with suicide is just one more thing that is going to make you a phenomenal pastor. The most important thing though is your loving, insightful, and intuitive personality. Sending hugs. And you were in the forefront of my thoughts at our Chanukah service on Friday night during the mishebeirach (healing prayer) and when talking about the light in the midst of the darkness.

karen gerstenberger said...

I am sorry that you now possess this terrible body of knowledge; the price we pay for knowing such things is very high. Ironic, since no one I know would seek such knowledge firsthand, yet some of us do receive it, and we do pay for it.

I sense that your tenacity and honesty, courage and fierce love will turn that awful knowledge into blessings for others who walk this path. But I am sorry for what it is costing you.

Thank you again for your honesty and kindness. XO

Magdalene6127 said...

I'm sorry you're in the position of being the woman in "I know a woman who..." But anyone who comes to you will find only honesty and compassion.

Karen said...

When my son passed, an acquaintance who had lost her son the previous year gave me a sympathy card. Inside she had written only these words: "It gets worse." Friends and family who saw the card were miffed that she had written that. I was gratified. I felt she was trying to brace me, preparing me for what was coming, knowing I was still in a state of shock and denial. She was absolutely right, and I am still glad she wrote it. When the "crazies" came, I wasn't taken by surprise. Honesty and acknowledgement of the pain of grief have been among the most healing things for me. People who rush and shush do damage and once I identify them, I go to great lengths to avoid.

All that to say: you did right.

Elaine Dent said...

I humbly learn from you.

Gannet Girl said...

Karen, like you, I think that your friend gave you a real gift, and offered you a way to feel a little less alone, knowing that there are others who know the truth because they have been there.

Daisy said...

"I am dumbfounded by how many young people die by suicide. I had no idea. "

Oh boy, me too. Just heard of one young man today. All I could do was close my eyes and hang my head, thinking of what his family is going through right now.

I would think your honesty is much more appreciated than platitudes. Certainly, I appreciate it.


Betsy said...

This made me think back to a funeral I did about 20 years ago, sort of the opposite of the church being unwilling to deal with suicide. A young man had died, quite clearly by suicide. I was open to talking honestly with his mother about it, listening to her as best I could, but when I tried to raise the topic, she absolutely shut me down. She could not bring herself to acknowledge his suicide, so both in conversation with her and in the funeral, I was in the position of stepping around the truth. I have never forgotten her, and I've wondered if the day came when she could face it (I understood she was coping the best she could at the time), and what I might've done differently/better.