I have always had mixed feelings about suicide.
In junior high school, I knew several people of different ages who either attempted or were successful in ending their lives.
Yes, junior high. Yes, the 1980s. No, that is not as unusual as we like to pretend.
Kids know what is going on even when we try to shield them from it. By not talking about uncomfortable topics, we force young people to create an understanding based only on their very limited knowledge and experience. We are doing them no favors by not adding to their information.
For me, suicide made no sense. Why would people want to end their lives?
In my mind it seemed so illogical... dead was the end. All possibilities would end. No opportunities for things to change or get better... just nothing.
But I did want to understand it. I wanted to understand it because I recognized that it must make sense on some level or so many people wouldn't be doing it.
In my naivety, I thought if I could figure it out, I would know out how to recognize the signs ... maybe I could figure out how to help them.
Unfortunately, in those days, the vast knowledge of the internet did not exist. My only options were adults and the library.
My research showed the socially (not scientifically) espoused "reasons" for suicide (threats, attempts, successes) are many:
- Attention seekers
- A selfish act - they only cared about themselves, not those they left behind
- A sin - the ultimate sinful act against God, throwing God's blessing in his face
- Sick - mentally unstable (no "sane" person would do it)
- Revenge - wanting to punish those around you, childish acting out
- Low of self-esteem
- Failure to know, or understand, God's love and wisdom (lack of faith)
I found these explanations, judgments really, to be wanting. Nothing there helped me understand how a person could become so hopeless as to think death was better.
As irrational as we may think ending life may be, it has to make sense to people who do it - or they wouldn't do it.
It wasn't until I read a poem printed in the newspaper (in the late 1980s) that I was able to grasp the concept of suicide.
To Santa Claus and Little Sisters (abbreviated version printed in Newsweek)
Once ... he wrote a poem.And he called it "Chops",Because it was the name of his dog, and that's what it was about.And the teacher gave him an "A"
And a gold star,And his mother hung it on the kitchen door, and read it to all his aunts...Once ... he wrote another poem.And he called it "Questions Marked Innocence".Because that was the name of his grief and that's what it was all about.And the professor gave him an "A'And a strange and steady look.And his mother never hung it on the kitchen door,Because he never let her see it ...
Once, at 3 a.m. ... he tried another poem ...And he called it absolutely nothing, because that's what it was all about.And he gave himself an "A"And a slash on each damp wrist,And hung it on the bathroom door because he couldn't reach the kitchen.
This poem was written in the late 1960s by a 15-year-old boy, two years before he killed himself. I never forgot this poem and have kept a copy all these years - as an empathy reminder.
I read this poem in one of my college speech classes. Though I had never had suicidal thoughts myself, at the time I thought is was strange that I publicly read a poem about suicide and recieved no reaction from anyone. The students nor the professor spoke to me about it. Ever.
I remember thinking, "No wonder those who are thinking of suicide feel so alone."
There are scientific articles all over the internet "explaining" suicide from a physiological perspective: chemical imbalances, depression, mental illness, etc. Sociological science studies highlight contributing social factors: bullying, abuse, guilt, "not fitting in," and lack of life skills.
We have all this information, yet how we deal with suicide on a personal level has changed very little.
Despite all the evidence, too often the same old "reasons" that I learned when I studied it in the 1980s still prevail among those associated with family or friends having suicidal thoughts or attempts.
People who truly want to commit suicide want the pain to stop. They are desperate. They are seeking peace - the nothingness of death seems like the ultimate peace. They are in so much pain, they have nothing left to spare for others. Sometimes they actually think the removal of themselves will be better for those left behind.
We like to think we have grown as a society, that we "talk" about these things, but how we deal with those struggling has not really improved - suicide rates have increased, not decreased.
I do not believe that is only due to increased population. Neither is it simply because people have simply become weaker.
If anything, society has become less sympathetic to those who do not "assimilate" to how we think people should conduct their lives - those who think or act differently.
Euthanasia opposition arguments often reflect the same "reasons" as suicide.
The people left behind are the ones that rationalize, or victim blame, to minimize their own guilt. Those left behind are seeking innocence for themselves.
Innocence - not responsible for or directly involved in an event yet suffering the consequences.
Suicide is not so simple as innocence and guilt.
Maybe trying to attach those labels is the real problem.
You cannott logic them out of their pain. Their pain is their reality - and to them, death has become a logical and rational option to escape the pain.
The poem brought it home for me that the "being there" is the missing the peice.
People may need "professional help," but that does not negate their need for love from those around them.
I often wonder if his family saw the poem while he was alive or only found it after his death. The longer version, which I only recently discovered online, has more detail about what the boy was experiencing.
People are simply distracted and have their own baggage.
We are "too busy."
We do not really connect with others enough to recognize their pain.
We don't want to have the deep conversations because they are unconfortable.
We want them to do what we think is right rather than understanding their perspectives.
We have our own baggage that tells us the person is "weak," needs to "toughen-up," needs to "get thier shit together," are just seeking "attention," or are trying to manipulate us.
We may even think we do not have the life skills to help them - or we don't want to be "responsible" for "failing" to "save" them.
But what they really need is your presence. Enough empathy or sympathy that we can just be there for them. Maybe to listen... definitely not to judge... to show them they are loved, valued.
That is what I learned from the poem so many years ago.
The boy felt like an unloved outsider, maybe even a failure, which resulted in excruciating pain ... and nobody noticed.
Deedra Abboud is the founder of the Global Institute of Solution Oriented Leadership, a "rising tide raising all boats" resource on the art and science of finding solutions, not fault - at work, at home, and in the community. She is an author, keynote speaker, lawyer, and frequent media resource. When she's not helping clients or speaking at organization events, she's traveling the world. At last count, she's been to over 15 countries including Bahrain, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.