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.
We’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.
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.