Friday, September 6, 2013

One Incredible Thing: For World Suicide Prevention Day 9/10

Amidst the shock and grief of the first days after losing our son, Noah, age 21, to suicide, there was one incredible thing: A friend was in the airport when she heard the news. After crying and talking loudly on her cell phone trying to make sense of what had happened, she was approached by a teenage girl with blue hair and multiple tatoos, who gave her this note penciled inside a heart (names have been changed):

Hello there. I know I’m just a stranger in the airport but I’m writing this to say hello… I’m Allie, 15, going to be 16 in July… I heard your story; indirectly you have given me the will and drive to live… I’ve suffered from depression a while and at times was suicidal. I recently lost my step-dad, I’ve never known my real father. I would frequently self-harm and thought no one would care if I was alive or not… Seeing others mourn in a situation that could have easily been my own made me realize how valuable my life REALLY is… so thank you… Sorry if this is strange but I wanted to say thanks. You’re beautiful. –Allie

This message from a stranger was the only gleam of hope in a desperate time, and we seized on it. My friend read the note aloud at Noah’s memorial. We’ll never know if Allie’s change of heart was lasting, but we know that the suffering she heard in our friend’s response to suicide gave her a glimpse of the devastation that follows for survivors. And that, in turn, reconnected her to the living. 

Five months later, I realize how intertwined suicide loss is with suicide awareness and prevention. The rabbi’s eulogy at Noah’s funeral, which spoke frankly of depression and suicide, became a quick lesson for many people present. The few words I managed to write for the memorial at Noah’s college urged his friends to cherish their lives and reach out for help when in despair. I am heartened that as part of World Suicide Prevention Day, Tuesday, September 10 at 8pm, people around the world will be lighting a candle in the window to bring attention not only to suicide prevention but to those who died by suicide and those left behind in the wreckage. 

As survivors of suicide, we are beset with endless “if only’s,” desperately rescripting our loved one’s last minutes, hours, days. Instinctively, we want to insert ourselves and somehow block the hand that would take its own life—if not our own child’s, then someone else’s child. To say, especially to the young, who lack the life experience to know that moods can be managed and that calm can follow the storm, “It doesn’t have to end this way. With time, with help -- it gets better.” To say, especially to young men, “You don’t have to ‘manup’ to your problems. There is no shame in getting help.” If we couldn’t change the trajectory for our own loved one’s life, maybe, at least, we can shift it a bit for someone else—like Allie.

Some people told me, along with “there was nothing you could have done,” that “there was nothing anyone could have done.” They believe that when someone is determined to die, there is no stopping them. I don’t know much yet about suicide prevention, but I have to believe that there are points along the path to taking one’s life when many people could have potentially made a difference. The challenge is to reach out and connect while those at risk can still hear, feel, and love—before they are complete shadows of their former selves. 

People at risk for suicide and their friends and families need to hear the voices of those left behind, like Allie did in the airport. Every panel on suicide awareness at high schools and colleges, hospitals and libraries should include personal testimony, especially by young people, about suicide loss. Every suicide prevention web site should have links to the cries of anguish in suicide survivor blogs, web sites, and memoirs. Some of my treasured parent survivor blogs, found through the excellent resources on Franklin Cook’s Grief After Suicide Newsletter are the beautifully designed and written Lala’s Mom: Life After the Suicide of a Child  and the wide-ranging, reflective Mary’s Shortcut: About Suicide Bereavement  

September 10 Suicide Prevention Blog Day Badge
To learn about more blogs related to suicide awareness and prevention, as well as suicide loss, check out the Blog Day for SuicideAwareness & Prevention web site, sponsored by the USC School of Social Work. And please light a candle in your window on September 10 at 8pm.

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