This weekend is one of terrible memories, and beautiful, loving memories, and pain and joy and confusion and grief for my friend. Talking to her today, reminded me again that there is no correct way to grieve, and absolutely no one way to grieve a suicide. The only thing I know for sure, is we need to be and feel freer to talk about suicide. We need to be more open about this thing that robs so many people of their lives and people they love.
We need to stop talking about selfishness, and weakness and giving up. We need to start talking about fear and vulnerability and pain. We will always be afraid of suicide. It is complex and terrifying, and to think about a person being in that place, where it makes sense, where it is the only option, challenges everything we know about life. The thing is, that is even more reason to talk about it, to drag it out of the shoe boxes and closets we hide it in. We need to take our fear about this kind of death and bring it out into the open, where it can be poked and prodded and explored. We can’t let our fears jeopardize the life of that person, in that place, who needs some kind of contact, or some kind of love or lack of judging, or whatever they need.
A veteran died a few days ago, in a particularly horrific and documented way. He posted pictures of his suicide in progress to Facebook. Obviously this just magnifies the terror and pain that his family feel, but somehow he wanted people to know. He wanted people to understand that he could not do this any more. He needed to share what was happening to him. You can never go back and change how things happened, but I can’t help thinking that maybe, if there had been space and understanding, he could have talked about it before he went into an alley and ended his life. If he was so desperate to make people see what he was doing, it makes me think that perhaps he had wanted to talk about it before, but didn’t know how, or didn’t think anyone would listen or understand, or just didn’t know who to go to. After this happened, his friends and fellow marines started posting messages to each other that they were there if anyone needed to talk. They were offering support to each other, at any time, in any place. Maybe he did not know that that was available to him. Maybe suicide was so shameful to him (as it is for many people) that he didn’t think he could reach out. Maybe his death will mean that one man or woman will be able to find someone to talk to. Maybe even in a climate where suicide is a topic not to be discussed, these veterans will provide the service to each other that the government and the military cannot seem to provide.
My friend wanted to know if I thought she whined about her loss too much, or that people thought she talked about the person she lost to suicide too much, and I thought, how can you call your grief process whining? How can you think you are doing this wrong if you are still going on with your life, and still breathing, and still loving people? Even if you aren’t doing all that well, how can your process of grief be wrong? My friend is being open and honest and refusing to put her sister into a hidden box. She is bringing the love and the tragedy out into the world. She is refusing to buy into the shaming and hiding that surrounds so many people lost to suicide. By her actions, she is breaking up the layers and layers of stigma and deception that cover up so many of the lives lost this way. She is forcing us to have a conversation about suicide, one that is long overdue.
I told her that maybe her openness would create the space for that conversation, and maybe just one person will feel like they can talk about what is really going on in their head. Maybe she can make it safe for just one person to open up to someone. It is cheesey and clichéd, but so damn true, that maybe she can prevent just one person from dying like this, and that would be worth more than any thing I can think of. Maybe life is a gift that she and her sister can give to someone else.
Maybe that can be what the veteran gives to us, and to his brothers and sisters in arms. I hope that his family choose, as part of their grieving, to be open, to share, and to work toward advocating for support for people like this man, who needed so much more than was available. I hope that the marines who posted messages of support to each other keep talking. I hope they are willing to act on their suspicions and ask a person they think is in trouble if they are ok, if there is something they can do, if they can be there to listen. If they can’t do this, then I hope that their grieving helps them, because it is not their responsibility to fix this. I just hope that some people will be as brave as my friend, and will make this something that we can talk about, that this becomes something that people can be open about, and that we lose something of our fear that talking about suicide will make it worse.
This is a hard time for my friend, but what she doesn’t know, is that in dangerous times I have thought about her, and the real implications of what I wanted to do, and that I then chose not to do it. I told someone what was in my head, and I got love and acceptance and support, and some pretty swift action, and that somehow penetrated the layers of crap I was under. I asked and I got help, and I know that is ok, and that it can be the start of living. I want other people to know that too, and that they can ask the person they think is in trouble too. I want people who ask and answer to have the resources they need, to help, and to be OK themselves. There is no way to stop this every time. We need to understand the reality that this is sometimes a fatal illness. Some people don’t make it, they are worn too thin, but there are moments, and windows and opportunities, and if we shut up with our fear, we will miss them.
Thank you to my friend, and to everyone who is having this conversation.