"We bereaved are not alone. When it seems that our sorrow is too great to be borne, let us think of the great family of the heavy hearted into which our grief has given us entrance and inevitably, we will feel about us their arms, their sympathy, their understanding."
- Helen Keller
It has been a year since I lost my husband, Tony, to suicide. I deal with it every minute, every hour, every day.
I hurt. I question. I laugh. I cry. I pray.
And I learn.
Most importantly, I've learned that I am not alone as a survivor of suicide and that Tony is not alone as a victim of suicide.
In 2001, in the United States alone, 30,622 died from suicide, according to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. That is approximately 83 per day or one every 17 minutes. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for men in the US. It is the third leading cause of death among young people between 15 and 24 years of age. Suicide takes place almost two times more than homicides.
The World Health Organization estimated in 1997 that each year, some 786,000 people die by suicide around the world. That is the equivalent of one suicide every 40 seconds.
Suicide does not distinguish between gender, race, age, profession, spirituality or success. There are just as many doctors, lawyers, preachers, teachers, homeless, male, female, young and old that are included in the suicide statistics.
With World Suicide Prevention Day approaching on Sept. 10, I'd like to share some of my experience in hopes of helping someone, anyone in our community. To lose Tony has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do, and it will be hard to deal with for the rest of my life. But I don't want his death to be in vain. I feel that God has led me through this journey so that I can help others.
One of the phrases I've seen again and again on websites about dealing with suicides is: "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." You can't take it back, once done, you can't change your mind.
My husband did not want to die. He was depressed about many things in his life and he self-medicated with alcohol. He wanted to quit drinking, he wanted to find God again, but his demons were too strong. My husband most probably thought we would all be better off without him, he most probably felt that he had fallen into such a deep pit of despair that there was only one way out.
He was wrong, of course.
Suicide leaves families emotionally drained and financially drained. Many life insurance policies do not pay in the event of suicide, credit is ruined, the entire burden of a family is tossed on the survivor's shoulders. They are not better off without you.
I've come to understand that suicide wasn't really the choice of my husband. It is the final stage of an illness. Medical science tells us that 81.3 percent of those who commit suicide are depressed, 9.9 percent are bi-polar and 3.3 percent are schizophrenic. Many times, in such a mentally ill condition, they can not rationally see their way through their problems, their difficulties, their pain, their hurts and their hang-ups. Taking their own lives becomes their means of escape.
There are signs to watch for, ranging from increased drug and/or alcohol use to dramatic mood swings. I missed the signs with my husband, and I feel the guilt of not being there when he needed me the most. I don't ever want anyone to have the same guilt and regrets that I now carry, and neither do I want anyone to feel so alone that they think they need to take their own life.
My mission is just part of being a survivor of suicide.
Suicide survivors are those that are left behind in the wake of a death by suicide. Suicide has an old taboo and stigma that goes along with it. Suicide is a "hush" topic that no one wants to admit can touch their lives. Often, people do not know what to say to you or how to respond to you if you have lost a loved one to suicide. As a result, people often avoid you instead of risking discomfort or awkwardness.
Meanwhile, the survivors' lives are wracked by endless shouldas, couldas and wouldas. Survivors of suicide want to blame themselves, but we cannot. We have no responsibility or control when it comes to suicide. We did not cause it and we could not control or stop it.
Those left behind are not alone. There are various support groups and many websites that can provide help to suicide survivors. There is an international internet community that offers understanding, support, information, connections and hope to people left behind after a suicide. There are sections for parents of suicide, friends and family of suicide along with suicide education and prevention resources that is international.
One of the most well-known is the POS-FFOS Internet Community at www.pos-ffos.com. On this website, there are many links to websites such as The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as well as other links to similar sites for the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and France.
Please be aware of suicide.
Talk about the effects it will have, talk to your loved ones, encourage help or intervention.
Don't become either a victim or a survivor of suicide.
HELP IS JUST A CALL AWAY
If you are feeling suicidal, you are not alone.
There are many avenues of help available to you.
Where can you go for help?
Call a hot line - 1/800-273-8255 or 1-800-784-2433
Call a friend
Call your minister or priest
Call a hospital, doctor or mental health facility
Call the police
Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself
Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means
Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person
Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities - seemingly without thinking
Feeling trapped - like there's no way out
Increasing alcohol or drug use
Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
Experiencing dramatic mood changes
Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life
Losing interest in things one used to care about
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
A sudden switch from being depressed to being very calm or appearing to be happy.
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE
U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services
What can you do if you know someone that is having suicidal thoughts:
What To Do If You Think a Person Is Having Suicidal Thoughts
You cannot predict death by suicide, but you can identify people who are at increased risk for suicidal behavior, take precautions, and refer them for effective treatment.
Talk to the person, do not tell them to get over it.
Ask the person directly if he or she (1) is having suicidal thoughts/ideas, (2) has a plan to do so, and (3) has access to lethal means.
Suggestions or talking points:
"Are you thinking about killing yourself?"
"Have you ever tried to hurt yourself before?"
"Do you think you might try to hurt yourself today?"
"Have you thought of ways that you might hurt yourself?"
"Do you have pills/weapons in the house?"
This won't increase the person's suicidal thoughts. It will give you information that indicates how strongly the person has thought about killing him- or herself.
Helpful hints for suicide survivors:
Understand that suicide is not an automatic sending to hell. What goes on in the minds, hearts and soul of our loved one with God in those final seconds of life, we will never know.
Expect to feel a multitude of emotions
Confusion, disorganization, fear, guilt, relif, or explosive emotions are just a few of the emotions you will feel. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period or time, or they may occur simultaneously
Don't be surprised if out of nowhere you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times.
Allow yourself the feeling of these emotions and understand that it will be a roller coaster ride
There is no time line for these emotions, so be patient and kind to yourself.
Allow for numbness
Feeling dazed or numb is a natural part of your grief.
It actually serves a valuable purpose: it gives your emotions time to catch up with what your mind has told you. This feeling helps create insulation from the reality of the suicide death until you are more able to tolerate what you don't want to believe.
Develop a support system
Reaching out to others and accepting support is often difficult, particularly when you hurt so much.
The most compassionate self-action you can do at this difficult time is to fin a support system who can understand what you are going through and will be there for you, non-judgmentally.
Allow a search for meaning
You will find yourselves searching for the answers of which you may never get any satisfaction
This search is a normal process of your healing
Some questions have answers, some don't
The actual healing occurs in the opportunity to pose the questions, not necessarily in answering them