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Insights on Suicide

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Last October I came across this article (highlighted in red below) on the suicide of Patti Stevens by Rudolph Bush on the Opinion Page of The Dallas Morning News:

No, Patti Stevens wasn’t selfish. She was hurt.

As a member of the bereaved parent’s group, While We’re Waiting, I’ve encountered several parents of children who’ve committed suicide.  It’s heartbreaking!  It’s disturbing to read of children as young as 11 years of age, taking their own lives.  I can only imagine the agony, the second guessing and the questions the grief stricken families are left struggling with.  The impact on the entire family when a child dies (regardless of the means of death) is staggering (but that’s an article for another day).

Journalist, Rudolph Bush covered this topic well and he certainly got it right when he said of Patti Stevens, “She was trying, in a desperate, mistaken, terrible way, to stop hurting.” Bush’s comments were made in response to critics who contend that those who commit suicide are selfish. I also appreciate that he points out, “. . . the suicidal have fallen into a place where their sadness, fear and desperation have stripped away the ability to think and act rationally.”

Still, I think it’s a serious mistake when we assume, “Things would have gotten better.” That was probably true for Patti Stevens and a multitude of others who contemplate suicide, but it’s certainly not true in every situation which is why organizations such as Death with Dignity exist. It’s why assisted suicide is a hot button issue of our day. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a proponent of suicide at all, but we are naive if we fail to recognize that, in some situations, things will get worse.**  Families coping with terminal illness, with addiction, and a number of other issues know, without doubt, that their circumstances will indeed get worse.  They know more pain is on the horizon and they are afraid and desperately want to escape the pending heartbreak. When it’s true that things will get worse, we have to find a way to help people cope with that truth; to find purpose and meaning in life.

We’ve all heard the popular phrase, “everything happens for a reason” at some point in time; usually when something unpleasant transpires. Tim Lawrence wrote an article on that very topic. Mr. Lawrence used his article to strike out against the culturally common advice passed to people coping with trauma and grief – advice he refers to as “the debasing of the grieving”.  In the piece published on his blog entitled, “The Adversity Within”, he shares this quote from Megan Devine, “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” Of Ms. Devine’s quote he says,

“These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on a increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. . . They can only be carried.”

We live in a culture that demands positivity. Obstacles are opportunities in disguise.  If we can’t go around said obstacle, we must find a way over, through or under it.  Nothing is impossible.  We will overcome. We will conquer; by sheer force of will if necessary. And the underlying message is that, should we fail, we are incompetent or didn’t try hard enough.

img_0428We’ve been indoctrinated with the message that we must be able to turn every negative into a positive. Our culture as a whole no longer helps people work through their grief, instead we demand that they set it aside, suppress it, or spin it into an uplifting message – all the better if they can tie it up with a Biblical bow. As a result, we leave hurting people enmeshed in an internal battle pitting their normal need to express and work through their pain and sorrow against societies demand to find the silver lining and move forward.

If we sincerely want to reduce the suicide rate, we all have to learn to become comfortable with the bad and ugly aspects of life instead of pretending they don’t exist or glossing over them. We need to learn to acknowledge pain, validate feelings, and affirm the broken before they lose the ability to think and act rationally. In my experience, people want to be seen, to be understood and to feel as if they are not alone when their days turn dark. People can survive almost anything – they can learn to carry that which cannot be fixed – if we provide them with those things.

** The comments in this post in no way serve as permission to take one’s own life.

SuicidePrevention

 

 

 

Print a copy of this National Suicide Prevention Lifeline image and stick it on your refrigerator.

It may save the life of someone you love.

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 16, 2016 in Adversity, Chronic Illness, Grief, Links, Uncategorized

 

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Pity Party or Grief – That’s the Question

What exactly is a Pity Party?  That’s a question I have asked myself over and over again. In what other way will I know if I am throwing one of epic proportions?

Maybe I would have been better served to ask myself why I’d ever entertain the idea that my grief, in any way, could be construed as a pity party.  But I think I know the answer to that question.  It’s because a few brave souls have gently suggested such a thing.  Might you be simply enjoying a pity party, Janet?

Okay, as offensive as I find that question, I’ve chosen to take time to seriously consider it. Have I crossed the line from grieving to donning sackcloth and ashes in an outward display of grief for the purpose of inciting others to feel sorry for me?  In order to determine the answer to that question I first need to figure out the difference between grief and a pity party.  So I googled my way to a reasonable definition for both terms which you will find below.  If you get the chance though you really should take the time to see the Urban Dictionary’s top definition for a pity party.  It’s a nice and fairly accurate tongue-in-cheek definition that simply proved to be a bit lengthy for my purposes.

The Oxford Dictionaries defines a pity party as:

“An instance of indulging in self-pity or eliciting pity from other people.”

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And medicinenet.com defines grief as:

“The normal process of reacting to a loss. The loss may be physical (such as a death), social (such as divorce), or occupational (such as a job). Emotional reactions of grief can include anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and despair. Physical reactions of grief can include sleeping problems, changes in appetite, physical problems, or illness.”

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Grief is about loss.  It’s about the intrinsic value of life, hopes, dreams and expectations. But today, I want to talk about life.

In my personal opinion, the idea that any single life is less valuable than another ultimately devalues all life.

We live in a culture that has become unconsciously and yet increasingly ambivalent toward the value of human life.  Why?  Maybe because abortion in the form of the Morning After Pill or the prevalence of far more invasive procedures combined with the recent Death with Dignity legislation is to blame.  Abortion and euthanasia have rendered life valuable primarily in terms of cost and convenience.  The subtle message that invades our hearts is that only the wanted, and the healthy have value in this world.  But what happens when the wanted become unwanted? Unmanageable? Inconvenient? Unhealthy? Too costly?  What then?

At the same time we live in a fast moving society.  The technology age with the advent of microwaves to microprocessors, has sped our ability to acquire, use and process data and shorten the waiting period for a vast number of things.  We are impatient people.  We want what we want now and fully anticipate the ability to achieve success or resolve problems post haste!  Now!  Yesterday!

IMG_4836But some things in life cannot be rushed.  Some things simply take as long as they take, which doesn’t seem to prevent us from feeling frustrated with the wait or pushing ourselves and others to shorten the amount of time to accomplish a given task. And that impatience has spilled over into every area of our lives including the expression of grief. A new definition can be added to Oxford Dictionaries definition of a pity party. It reads something like this: A term applied to an individual’s behavior when society and has lost patience with someone who has suffered a loss of grievous proportions.

The normal response to loss has been reduced to indulgent self-pity.  No, you say, that can’t be true.  But how often have you heard the grief stricken encouraged to “move forward” or “let it go”?

The difference between self-pity and grief is that self-pity is largely a matter of choice. And frankly, I don’t want your pity, and I haven’t met many bereaved parents who do. The bereaved want and need understanding, their feelings validated and they want and need affirmation – not pity. But let me be very clear on this:  Those who mourn can and will suppress their grief for a variety of reasons. Societal pressure, holding it together for spouses and children, caring for those who may be injured or aging, or because they need help processing it and are afraid or unwilling to seek counseling.  And while it might appear from the outside that this individual has completed the mourning process that is patently untrue. Unresolved grief lies in wait. Unresolved grief creates new problems. Unresolved grief is not healing, it’s harmful to oneself and to other relationships. Unresolved grief often leaves an individual incapable of talking about their loss, wounded yet diligently clinging to a positive perspective, and spiritually inconsolable or amputated for lack of a better way to describe that area of the heart that is walled off and God is refused entry.

Mourning the loss of a significant loved one should never, ever be confused with a pity party.  Grief is a normal and healthy response that testifies to the innate value of every life.  That is why parents grieve following a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death.  All lives matter regardless of their duration or perceived contribution to this world.  All lives have value.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 11, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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