Suicide: What Could Have Been Done?
My First Experience With Suicide
Many years ago—39, in fact—I was a school teacher for DODS (Department of Defense School in the Pacific) on Yokota Air Base. I was home on the particular Sunday afternoon this happened. A call was sent out between Yokota Air Base and Tachikawa Air Base for donations of blood, and we all rushed to the nearest hospital to donate. All we knew was that a teacher had been injured and needed transfusions. And we waited to hear that she was on the mend.
Such would not be the case.
When we reported to school the following morning, we were all called to the meeting room where faculty meetings were held. The principal told us what had happened. A living, loving, vibrant, middle-aged teacher had gone. She had been in the hospital and had forced open a window and jumped to her death.
She did not die immediately; that is why the call for blood donors had been made, but efforts to save her were futile. We were all shaken and deeply saddened.
She was plagued by fears and torments that she chose not to share, and thus, ended a life, too soon—too tragically.
This was my first experience with death by suicide, and I wished it would be the only one.
A Young Life ... Gone
When my daughter was in seventh grade, she was surrounded by bubbly, cheerful friends. All of them were...it seemed.
One of them was not. One of them found no joy in his life. He was unable to face the next day. For him, the future seemed to offer no promise, no solace, no reason to keep on keeping on.
One Saturday evening, he chose to end his life.
And he left behind a wake of devastation. The children in his class were stunned and overcome with grief. They all blamed themselves for not knowing—for not seeing that he was in pain.
No one ever really shared why he took his life. No one seemed to know, or if they did, they chose not to tell.
How tragic that was.
Another Young Life Lost
Oh, I'm wishing I didn't have to update this article, but this past Friday afternoon, a very dear friend of mine lost his son to suicide. A precious young man in his early thirties trying to discover who he was found that living on this planet was too much to bear. He was loved and cared for, but it wasn't enough for him. No one will ever understand why somebody becomes so desperate—so very desperate—that they feel they can no longer live. That poor tormented soul is at peace at last, but it is devastating to all of us who are left behind.
When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.— Harriett Beecher Stowe
Trying to Make Sense of Suicide
Suicide is a topic that no one wants to discuss. There is a finality to it that no one wants to deal with at all. It is a topic that brings up a plethora of reactions. There are those who find this as controversial as discussing the death penalty.
Imagine someone so troubled, so despondent, that living one more minute is not possible. Unable to see beyond the pain, the sadness, the fear of the future, this person chooses to end their existence on earth.
Who Is Most at Risk?
Every situation is unique, and this is by no means an exhaustive list.
- Older people who have recently lost a spouse through death or divorce
- People with a family history of suicide
- People with a friend or coworker who committed suicide
- People who have attempted suicide in the past
There are many other triggers, such as traumatic events, failed relationships, lack of self-worth, and feelings of hopelessness.
What Does This Mean?
For some with certain religious beliefs, the person who makes this decision should be cast into the valley of the damned. Others believe that things are never bad enough to end life, and for that reason, they cannot forgive this drastic measure. Still others struggle to make sense of it with no judgment call and without taking a stand on either side of this issue.
As I am not in the position to judge the decision others make, I myself would not—could not—judge that action by another. It is just that it is an irreversible decision. Most, if not all, other decisions are reversible. Not so with this one.
When the lights go out at night—when we're alone with only the myriad of thoughts swirling around before us—echoes of "What could have been done?" will resound, night after night.
The question remains unanswered. What could have been done? What could I have done?
Processing the Emotions Following a Suicide
Walking around in a fog, we may find ourselves thinking, "This is not real. This has not happened. I will wake up, and she will be beside me, giggling and chatting."
We wait for her to walk into the room and fill it with her life's blood.
We keep thinking, "She cannot be gone." Time passes, and still that anticipation of her arrival—of waking from this endless nightmare—persists. And it will for many long days, weeks, months, and years.
Gradually, We will realize it is no longer possible to deny the reality, and it will settle over you. But, we will continue to wonder what could have been done.
With the acceptance of the reality comes a deep feeling of sadness and grief; sadness that this person we loved as a friend or family member could no longer see a reason to wait for the sun to rise another day; sadness that all of the promise held within the psyche of that person is lost to the world; sadness that no longer can we sit and chat with them, go to a movie with them, go out to dinner with them, or spend some quiet time in the same room with them. Sadness beyond measure.
We may feel sad, too, that we did not recognize that the pain they felt was so profound that it interrupted the rhythm of life that flowed within them. We'll feel sad that the little ones who had not had a chance to know this lovely human will only know them through pictures and stories shared at gatherings where, inevitably, the lovely person's name would come up and a story would need to be told. We'll feel sad that we did not hear that last cry for help that came from the wilderness.
Anger and Guilt
Grief flows by with time to be followed by anger—rage too, perhaps; anger at anyone that could did not do enough to intervene; anger at anyone who had hurt or wronged this person in an irreconcilable way; anger at ourselves because we did not see this coming; that we did not stop this from happening.
There are also moments when the anger is directed at the person who chose to end their life. You scream and yell and pull your hair out. "Why—WHHHHHYYYYYYY did you do this? I would have done anything to help you. I do not understand. I won't understand. I do not want to try to figure it out!!!!"
In searching for an explanation, we point fingers. There must be someone to blame. Is it me?
"Should I blame myself?" you may ask in a quiet moment, alone, with only the millions of thoughts that haunt you. Am I to blame? I know I did not hurt this person, but someone must be responsible. I know, I will blame the therapist who did not see this coming. That's it. The therapist should have seen this coming. Why didn't they?
And while I am at it, I will blame the boyfriend who broke her heart; the boyfriend who strayed, had many lovers, and then finally broke her heart into so many pieces she could no longer gather them up and put them together again—like all of the king's horses and all of the king's men tried to do for Humpty Dumpty.
And let me not forget the kids who taunted her as a child because her ears were too big and reminded them of Dumbo.
But it all comes back to me. Why didn't I know? Why didn't I do more? Where was I?
Are Suicide Attempts Just Attention-Seeking Behavior?
The first and most obvious sign exhibited by someone who is contemplating suicide is that they mention that they often feel as if they want to do away with themselves. Unfortunately, many people who express this to others are often viewed as one who wants attention. While this may be true in some situations, isn't it only right that they get the attention and help that they are seeking?
No matter the intention, something is really wrong, and help is needed. If someone you love is contemplating suicide, always respond as quickly as you can. Lead them to help.
Even If They're Crying Wolf, I Would Respond
The situation becomes especially tricky when that friend or loved one has said on multiple occasions that they want to end their life. They'll say over and over, time and time again, "I am going to kill myself. I can't do this any more!"
After a while, this can feel like the story of the boy who cried wolf. You know, that Aesop fable about a little boy who cries wolf several times, and each time, the townspeople come running, only to find no wolf. Finally, when there is a wolf, he calls, but no one comes. Such may be the case with the individual who had threatened many times but never actually followed through. However, one day, giving fare warning, the deed was done. The fate was sealed.
A lot of us may say, "I do not know what I would do if I were in that situation."
I KNOW what I would do. Even if the person had threatened suicide daily for ten years, I would be there, I would've called the police. The police would have been on a first name basis with this person. And, maybe—just maybe—as a result, the person would have been committed to a hospital for therapy. And maybe, they'd still be here on this planet.
Of course, it is easy for me to say what I would do. There are just some things we know we would do. For me, there is no wavering on this point.
Goodness Out of Sorrow
Can there possibly be any goodness that can be found from this devastation?
For the friends and family members left behind, know that the pain the person suffered is gone. The demons they struggled with are no longer tormenting them.
The experience can bring you closer to family and friends. It can be a reminder to reconnect with each other and learn to listen to each other. Do not wait for some sorrow to come to your family. Call or go see that person that you have been apart from for far too long.
It can make us look at one another with a whole new perspective, searching for the goodness in each person rather than focusing on the imperfections.
It can cause you to once again be aware that this life we have been given is so tentative, and that at any moment, it can end.
It can renew your passion for life. With introspection, you can find that no problem is so great that suicide is ever the option. Death by one's own hand should never be an option. It is never an answer.
It can teach us to be more attentive in the future; to be more vigilant; to be better listeners; better family members; better friends.
Recognizing Warning Signs of Suicide
Do a search online or look at any psychology book. You'll find these general warning signs that someone is suicidal:
- Excessive sadness or moodiness
- Sudden calmness
- Changes in personality and/or appearance
- Dangerous or self-harmful behavior
- Recent trauma or life crisis
- Making preparations
- Verbally threatening suicide
Sometimes, Knowing the Signs Is Still Not Enough
These lists of signs and symptoms are all well and good, but even if you've memorized these and other signs, and even if you've done everything you can to prevent it from happening, suicide can still happen. That's not to say you should ignore these signs. I'm not undermining their importance. I am saying that despite these lists, and despite being proactive, suicide still happens.
Have you ever heard this?
No matter what you do, intervene as you may, that if a person really wants to kill themself, no one can stop it. They will find a way.
I am not sure if I agree with this statement, but it does make me wonder.
Intervene Every Time
It's is still not an excuse for not intervening. As I mentioned earlier in this article, if I knew someone was contemplating suicide, I would be the busybody friend or relative who would get involved—every time.
I just would.
That would be, in part, to salve my conscience, but mainly to save my precious friend from an untimely death. I would know in my heart of hearts that I had done everything I could possibly do to help this person who had been a huge part of my life. Does that mean I would not go through the stages of grief? Obviously not. But it would perhaps make some of the emotions a little more bearable.
Once you choose hope, anything's possible.— Christopher Reeve
Sometimes Miracles DO Come When We Need Them Most
For those who did not find the answer before they made the choice to end this walk, sadness reigns.
But for those who are feeling despondent and seriously depressed, a miracle can be just around the corner—in the voice, eyes, and ears of those we know and love, and most importantly, within our very own minds and souls.
I'm hoping this song will remind at least one person that all is not lost, even at our lowest point. I have been there—almost 45 years ago—and thankfully, so very thankfully, I weathered the storm and am SO blessed that I did.
Find your miracle.
You Are Not Alone
The song "I Need a Miracle" by Third Day contains a very powerful message:
There will come a time when you can't make it on your own
And in your hour of desperation
Know you're not the only one
You may know someone who would benefit from hearing this song.
Never ever give up...
Never give in. Never. Never. Never. Never.
If you're going through hell, keep going.— Winston Churchill
If you are having thoughts of suicide, this should be a wake up call. Run, don't walk, to the nearest mental health professional. There is no shame in seeking help. There is still a stigma in our country about having mental health interventions, but it can save your life, or the life of someone you love if you get help.
Call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. Someone is waiting to receive your call and to listen.
Of course you don't die.
Death doesn't exist.
You only reach a new level of vision,
a new realm of consciousness,
a new unknown world.— Henry Miller
Questions Will Always Remain
And questions will remain. They will. Every waking moment—and even into sleep—you will ask yourself the same questions again and again.
- What could I have done?
- Why didn't I listen better than I did?
- Why didn't I hear what she was saying?
- Why didn't I go there when I couldn't reach her on the phone?
- Why didn't I send the police when I could not get there in time?
And to her, you would say,
- Why did you do this?
- Why did you leave us too soon?
- My mind finds it so very difficult to wrap itself around this, as hard as I try.
Have you lost a friend or family member to suicide?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Patricia Scott