There never was a time (once I was old enough to understand) that I was not aware of suicide. My father was a homicide detective who spent more time cutting people out of trees than investigating murders. And he talked about it, in a rather dispassionate way. I guess you'd have to in that profession.

The first time it hit close to home was when a former teacher and his lover took their lives in a rather dramatic way. I was 16 at the time. Next, at 29, came a former classmate. That one hurt, the circumstances were sad, very sad.

Still, suicides were something that happened to other people only. And they just happened, there wasn't anything anyone could do to prevent them - or so we thought at the time.

And then Henry decided one day he didn't want to live anymore. Now, this one hurt badly, worse than anything else I've ever experienced.

One way to deal with my grief was to start reading, to educate myself and I came to realize that there are far too many misconceptions about suicide. And that far too many people mistake their opinions for facts.

Yes, suicides can be prevented. Mental illness is treatable. Suicide more often than not is an impulsive act and if the easy means are taken away, the attempter often doesn't look for another way. Case in point is the Richard Seiden study conducted in the 1970s. He and his researchers identified 515 people who were prevented from jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge and followed their lives. Of these 515, only 6% went on to complete suicide and only 6 people went back to the bridge. There's the British natural gas story - once Britain switched from coal gas to natural gas, suicides went down by a third. People didn't look for another way once they couldn't stick their heads into the oven. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/magazine/06suicide-t.html?_r=1&ex=1216094400&en=83bf55db43f6ac85&ei=5070&emc=eta1)

And, it's not called "committing" suicide. Crimes are committed, suicide isn't a crime. Suicides are attempted and/or completed.

Far too often I come across the opinion, "If they want to die, just let them." Feeling suicidal isn't a fatal disease, suicide is not the same as euthanasia. It is not an informed decision, but rather a decision made when the attempter is in a state of distress, mental agony, psychache. Edwin Shneidman, the father of suicidology, addresses that very well in his book "The Suicidal Mind." Talking to somebody who has decided life isn't worth living anymore works, pointing out to them that there are reasons to go on and try again works. Explaining that being pregnant, having lost a job, getting divorced, losing a boyfriend/girlfriend, not being accepted by your first choice of universities are not reasons to end one's life.

No, these people are not the scum of the earth and they do not deserve to take themselves out of the gene pool. That sort of thing is stupid, hateful and obviously expressed by somebody totally insensitive, immature and uncaring.

Suicide also isn't a sin (any longer). It used to be, but I'd like to think we are just that little bit more enlightened and compassionate. My son had a funeral mass, there never was any question about it.

There are plenty more facts I learned once I started reading and I may or may not address those in time, but, for now, I'm done.

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of Henry's death and, as always (until there is a barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge), we will be retracing his steps.


Anonymous said...

I'll be thinking of you.

Anonymous said...

I also lost a son to suicide. He left no letter, no explanation. He had threatened to take his life and another son thought the problem had been solved as he had been assured that it would not happen. He removed all the guns. But, there was a car and a closed garage to close the door on life. My son, too, had a funeral Mass. Thank you for your article.

Doris said...

Dear JMD,
I am so very sorry for your loss. Losing a child this way - unexpectedly, too soon - is so very painful. And it is a pain that never goes away, it dulls over time, but it's always there.
Please know that you are in my thoughts.