I think about suicide all the time.
But there’s no need to panic on my behalf and I’ll tell you why.
My father never took his grandkids fishing. He never helped them put together a homemade radio. He wasn’t there when I brought my adopted daughter home for the first time or when my son was born. He didn’t dance with me at my wedding, or snap photos at my graduation.
He never did any of these things, because when I was sixteen years old, he took his own life.
Since then, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the subject of suicide. About what he must’ve felt to make such a decision. About what that choice has meant for his friends and his family.
Suicide leaves family members a legacy tainted by a nearly unspeakable act. and survivors are left to assemble a puzzle with half the pieces gone. For those left behind, every good memory comes encumbered with the crime. Think of Robin Williams, for example, a man whose life was dedicated to making us laugh: now his every credit is accompanied by a sad footnote.
Suicide leaves a lifetime seeded with landmines. For me, simple, well-meaning questions like, “Where do your parents live?” and “What does your dad do?” leave me with the heavy lifting of a painful truth.
My dad doesn’t do anything.
I rarely talk about it, and never bring it up on my own. When pressed, there is always that long awkward silence when I’m forced to brandish the grisly truth. People shift uncomfortably, not knowing what to say. I always used to wish I’d remembered to lie. “My dad? Oh, he’s retired. He has a condo in St. Augustine.”
But I can’t lie.
And I’m not going to hide.
As the author of a book that touches on the subject of teen suicide, I have been remiss in speaking about this publicly. Suicide is the third most common cause of death in young people. At the time I wrote HitList, it seemed I could hardly turn on the news without hearing of another tragic death: the burgundy-haired beauty with almond shaped eyes that was slut-shamed online. The ethereal boy who came out on Facebook, only to be harassed and bullied by his former friends.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be the parent of one of those kids—to lose the person who matters most. In writing HitList, one of the things I hoped to do was show all faces of the tragedy, in order to encourage a dialogue and to discuss ways suicide might be prevented.
An editor at one of the big five publishers praised the writing in HitList, but declined to publish on the grounds adult readers might find suicide “unpalatable”. And it is. But denying the reality shuts down a dialogue. Because talking about suicide is an important step in preventing it. We cannot fix the things we deny, or prevent the things we refuse to discuss. Suicide is not a dark secret to be borne alone, but a real, preventable tragedy that is happening all the time. Every thirteen minutes someone commits suicide.
In the United States, September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a campaign to promote resources and awareness in suicide prevention. You can do your part by knowing the warning signs of suicide:
- A person threatens suicide, seems preoccupied with death or actively seeks out things that could be used in a suicide attempt.
- A person is suffering feelings of despondency or hopelessness, or makes statements like “I’m nothing but a burden” or “It’d be better if I was never born.”
- A person experiences a sudden change of behavior, for example, a period of depression is followed by a sudden sense of calm.
If you’re concerned about someone, reach out. While many people worry that broaching the subject of suicide might cause someone to be suicidal, in reality, talking openly can save a life. If you happen to be wrong, all you have done is shown the person how much you care. And if someone opens up to you about their pain, listen, be non-judgmental and do whatever you can to help them find the help they need.
My dad didn’t reach out and left no note. This was ages ago, in the midst of the 80s farm crisis and his small business relied on farmers. And it must’ve seemed futile and he must’ve felt like a failure. He never got to see that his business legacy survives to this day and his inventions and name live on.
Whatever it that got him to that point hardly matters now. And that’s the thing about life—it passes. Many of us—maybe most of us—have crashed against a wall of despair, failure, embarrassment or shame; suffered feelings of futility or overwhelming sadness, or gone through dark times of persistent hopelessness. But on the other side of that wall—and the other side is always there for those brave enough to climb it—is life. Sometimes punctuated with helpless laughter, footnoted with brief bouts of glory, occasionally boring, but faster than you realize—Life.
If you’ve lost someone you love to suicide, remember them today in love and kindness. And if you ever, Ever, EVER, EVER find yourself contemplating suicide, reach out. You matter more than you’ll ever know. Though the pain in your path may seem unbearable, you won’t know all that you can become if you don’t carry on.
I miss you, Dad.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://www.afsp.org/
Every Day Matters: http://www.everydaymatters.com/suicideprevention/
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/suicideawarenessmonth/hp