Thursday, June 16, 2011

Suicide’s Collateral Damage

When I was in a psychiatric treatment facility for major depression five years ago, I was appalled by a terror tactic used by one of the docs. He had asked me, “Do you love your children?” and I had said of course I do but they had nothing to do with my depression. He then informed me that the offspring of parents who commit suicide are statistically more likely to commit suicide themselves, and he asked me sternly, “Do you want that legacy for your children?”

Hell, no, I told him. He told me to think about the statistics next time I was suicidal. “If you don’t wish suicide on your children, don’t wish it on yourself either,” he said.

I thought he had a pretty unusual approach to dealing with my depression. He didn’t do a thing to help the depression itself, but that was the last time I gave any serious thought to offing myself. So his method of suicide prevention was 100 percent effective.

Two years ago, a friend of mine killed himself. He was a brilliant guy, and he had kids. On Saturday his teenage daughter killed herself, using her father’s method, after her boyfriend broke up with her. I just saw her death notice in the paper.

Just now I did a search on the “statistics” referred to by that doctor. I found them in a Johns Hopkins study of 300,000 Swedish kids, published in 2010. Those who had lost a parent to suicide were THREE TIMES more likely to commit suicide than offspring of living parents.

If just one depressed parent reads this and, like me, forsakes the idea of suicide as a solution for a living problem, then maybe my friend’s daughter’s death will save another child’s life someday.

I wrote two poems when my friend died two years ago. One of them, titled “Collateral Damage,” addressed his suicide’s impact on his family and it is too horrible to read now. Here’s the other poem.

How Much More Loving Did You Need?

We met in the park
two hundred people
maybe more
who loved you

The sun blazed
in the blue sky
Big white clouds
drifted by
It was March
cold in the shadows

One of your family
read Kaddish
You never told me
you were Jewish
You never told me
many things

I waited to read
my eulogy for you
It would have
made you laugh
Then I saw
that park bench
where you
made me laugh

I know you would
have stopped it
if only you had seen
four hundred eyes
loving you

I know I would
have saved you
on that bench
if only I had known
you needed saving
from that black
hole your heart
dropped into
while I laughed


Shakespeare said...

So very sad. A beautiful poem. It's like he saw it too late, too late to realize what he was giving up.

What emptiness someone must feel to do this... and it's an emptiness that others cannot fill.

Shadow said...

those are frightening statistics... thank you for touching on this.

Anonymous said...

This post breaks my heart.

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

I have a friend who is dancing that dance in his head. He says he's not, but he just went out and used again and coming back he posted a quote on facebook, ""To die will be an awfully big adventure" peter pan"

I know those thoughts, the romancing the quotes in the books, the rolling it over in your head.

And I know that when I was 14, a speaker came to our school one day, he said, "Suicide is the most selfish act anyone can commit." Then he described in detail the process a body goes through, and he described in detail the effects as people are introduced to the scene, the truth... police, emergency medical staff, family, community, schools, legal system, social systems... all seemingly unconnected people. then he detailed the actual process of the body dying, right down to the gory details of the systems shutting down and letting loose. He said they glamorized Marilyn Monroe but really she was found in a puddle of fecal matter and urine. The mattress would have been thrown out because of the ungodly stench.

I looked it up after that, cause I didn't believe him.

He was correct.

It was a constant plague to my attempts (it didn't stop me from trying, but I wasn't successful and I will give him some credit for that).

God will use any method to get me to realize the truth. He is in control, and until he wants me out of this world, all of my attempts are in vain and bound to cause me and others pain and discomfort, so I'm better off learning to live, instead of planning to die.

the walking man said...

You may have loved him and he his daughter but then did either of them ever learn to love or value themselves?

♥~Judy~♥ said...

How very sad but inspiring at the same time. If this stops someone from committing suicide it is trul a blessing.

glynis said...

A doctor said the same thing to me when I was in hospital. I thought of it every time I went into the depths and I believe her words truly did make a difference. Very enlightening post. Thank you for sharing.

Magpie said...

Heartbreaking situation all the way around. I hope and pray your message reaches the right ears.

Grace-WorkinProgress said...

With my recent bout of depression I have thought of suicide. I have no children. The despair was so painful all I wanted to do is escape.

The sadness has passed. When I got that way I would tell myself to wait a week and see if I feel better and I did.

When your young you don't have the experience to know that nothing last forever good or bad and that tomorrow may bring something better than you can imagine today.

Steve E said...

Hopeless and Helpless. How sad. And those left behind say, "What if"...and "If Only". And there IS no perfect answer.

"In total absence of any judgement, everything is at it is supposed to be."

My condolences, Chris.

Linda said...

Heavy. I've never heard that before, but do know my son is what kept me alive a couple of times. It's funny how you can not bear so much pain, but you will bear it for your child.

Syd said...

It is a terrible thing for those left behind. Maybe the person finds relief but I wonder if only they had waited, if only, they knew how many loved them.

e said...

I am sorry for your loss and even sorrier that your friend lived in such pain.

Anonymous said...

'if only I had known
you needed saving
from that black
hole your heart
dropped into
while I laughed'

Powerful,desperately beautiful, so sad.

kkrige said...

A sombre post, but a story that needs to be told. That is a wonderful poem for your friend.

my heart aches for this sad story though. Peace to you.

Borderline Lil said...

Beautiful poem, and what a sad story. My partner lost his father and brother to suicide and while I don't worry for my partner, his son is definitely at risk in my opinion. I will show these statistics to my partner, thank you for sharing xx

Laurie Kolp said...

Those statistics are shocking. I, too, had a dear friend kill herself. I pray her children don't follow...

I enjoyed the poem!

Gabriella Moonlight said...

Having lived from two suicides in life it is hard to understand and comprehend, you've managed to put this into words that are healing and helpeful, it is desperate and hopeless to feel left behind and to not understand, but I've never felt that it was because of me, nor did I feel inclined to follow suit of my family...thank you for this most honest and graciously written post.
love to you

Rachel Fox said...

Ah the horror of statistics. I try not to be one if I can possibly manage it.
I used to hate it when people said the inevitable "how can they do it to the children?" (because my Dad did it to us of course - set the example of suicide). I used to think "how can they make a judgement about somebody else's life without knowing more about it?" and I still feel that way really but it doesn't annoy me as much as it used to. Parents can do worse things to their children - we are not the unluckiest ones.

Sorry to hear about that girl you know though. Suicide is always sad. But so are many other things.

ScottF said...

that's just really sad Chris... you wrote such a touching poem here, and I too hope that your post affects a depressed person and helps them not choose the permanent solution to their temporary problems.

beautiful post

TechnoBabe said...

Suicide is immediate and lasting separation without time for kindness or consideration of anyone else. I too have deliberated such a final act in my past. This is a touchy subject. Some people think it is a private matter but when we are healthy we do understand it is not private at all. What a shame your friend bequeathed this resolution to his child.

Lou said...

In the many, many problems we have experienced with our son with addiction and mental illness, he has never threatened or contemplated suicide (as far as I know). The very sound of the word suicide makes everything else seem like a walk in the park.

I marvel at the words of strangers that can change our the words the dr said.

Lolamouse said...

Beautiful and poignant poem. I work with hospice groups doing bereavement counseling and see the effects of suicides on families. It is heartbreaking. You are so right about it raising the risk. It is like giving permission or validating it as a way of dealing with depression. So glad you didn't choose that route.

Margaret said...

Oh my... Maybe it was that he didn't need more loving.... but that he needed to love himself? Really, sadly beautiful.