The moment after a loved one commits suicide

how to deal with the first moments after a family member commits suicide
Trigger warning: suicide

What happens at second 41?

If every 40 seconds one person takes their own life, who picks up the pieces at second 41? How to react the exact moment after this happens?

So here’s the thing. Sunday, the morning of August 31st 2014, I woke up with a lot of things on my mind.  First and foremost was the fact that it was my little sister Nicole’s birthday.  Six and a half years ago, on February 12th, 2008, she took her own life at just 23 years old. And there are so many things I could say.

  • She was too young
  • She had her whole life ahead of her
  • She didn’t know what she’d be missing
  • She had to have known how much everyone loved her
  • She surely knew how her family would feel if she was gone

The thing is… when Nicole decided to take her life, she wasn’t thinking about her age. She took her life because she felt she didn’t have her whole life ahead of her. She couldn’t picture the future long enough to realize that she was going to miss out on some of the most fun and best times ever. She had no idea how much she was truly loved. And most importantly, she wasn’t thinking about anyone but herself when she made the decision to end it all.

Suicide is NOT selfish

When I hear talk about suicide, one of the most common things people tend to discuss is strictly their personal opinions on how they feel about suicide. Too often, those affected by suicide aren’t in the right frame of mind to decide to get involved and take an active stance against it. This is where one of my many points comes into play.

Definition of selfish. Is suicide selfish?When you ask someone their opinion on suicide, I feel pretty comfortable saying that I bet they’ll tell you they think suicide is selfish. But is suicide actually selfish? Just look at the definition.

When you first start reading it, you might think “Yeah, actually it is.”  But then you keep going and you ask yourself “Personal profit?”  And then we have the words egocentric, egotistic, egomaniacal. Do any of those words sound like they describe someone who’s about to take their own life?  I honestly don’t think so.

  • Desperation
  • Despair
  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Fear

I could go on and on, but those are a handful of words that I would associate with the act of suicide. Having been through the things I’ve been through, I doubt “selfish” is a word I will ever associate with it. I used the word in my video, but in relation to those of us who are trying to prevent it.

It hurts

I remember that night Nicole called me. I couldn’t understand a thing she was saying. All I was getting was screaming and crying, and words here and there that sounded like “it hurts” and “want to die” and more screaming and crying.

She had tried to cut her wrist open. When we took her to the hospital, there’s only one distinct conversation I remember having with her. They were stitching up her wrist and while I held her other hand we had a little talk. I told her I loved her, that I was there for her.

Jenn and Nicole. SistersI held her hand while she cried and told me how much it hurt. But she wasn’t talking about her wrist. She was talking about her heart. And her mind. She was telling me how much it hurt to be alive. In that brief moment, I made a decision that some days, I find myself questioning and regretting.  I said: “It’s a selfish thing to ask… but please don’t go.  It’s selfish of me to want you to stay. But please stay”. But then I said: “It’s okay. If the pain is too much and you can’t hold on… it’s okay if you have to go. I love you. I would miss you. But I will never be selfish enough to ask you to stay in a place where you feel like you don’t belong.”

My therapist told me that I did an amazing thing, because I gave her the freedom to choose, and that it took courage to do it. Some days, I question my decision, and in the end it doesn’t make suicide okay.

So what do you do at second 41?

Just as it goes with any death. With any loss. The number one feeling is grief. But with suicide, the rolling wave of emotions a survivor feels is endless.

It’s different for every single person. There are those who feel like they failed the person who took their own life. And then there are those who feel like failures.

You find yourself constantly lost in thought and the number one thing on everyone’s mind is “What did I miss? What could I have done differently?”

The truth of the matter is that there’s nothing you can do differently. There’s nothing more you can do except to let them know how much you care. How much they mean to you. How much the entire world will lose, if they’re gone.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t convince them they have a reason to stay.

It’s not because they aren’t strong enough.
It’s not because they’re selfish.
It’s simply because the pain is too great.

At second 41, all you can feel is confusion. Second 42… panic. Second 43… denial. Second 44… pain.

And every second that ticks by, a new emotion will take you over, right down to your soul.  But when it’s all said and done and the realization sets in, try to remember what the person would want you to do.

They’ll want you to pick up the pieces and try to understand they didn’t mean to hurt you. They just didn’t know how else to make their own pain go away. So, you see? Suicide isn’t about being selfish. It’s not about hurting others or thinking about one’s self. It’s about freedom of choice and the need to make the pain go away.

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you think someone you know/love is considering suicide, let them know they have choices. Let them know they are free to choose. But also make sure (VERY sure) you let them know they will never be alone. Let them know how much you care. You CAN save a life. Let them know you’re there for them and how much they matter.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to stand on the side of second 41.

– Jenn
(Ugly Ducklings Inc team member, and author of this Ugly Duckling Story)

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One thought on “The moment after a loved one commits suicide

  1. I loved this post for so many reasons. Everyone has an opinion on suicide, but I find that so many times people parrot back this rhetoric that they’ve picked up over their lives, that it’s selfish, cowardly, etc. – the usual. In reality, these people haven’t given a single thought to what suicide actually means, to what drove that person to take their entire lives away from THEMSELVES, to make such a PERMANENT sacrifice in hopes that it might just be the solution to this seemingly unending pain and suffering. It’s a hard topic to consider and can you really fault anyone for NOT overthinking it?

    I’ve lost three people to suicide – ages 13, 26, and 40.

    The 26 year old was my cousin almost two years ago to the day – her funeral was on 9/10, National Suicide Prevention Day. Everyone in the family wracked their brains for something that might have given a hint at what she was about to do – torturing themselves, really – and no one could turn up anything. She was beautiful (like…how she wasn’t famous just for having a face, I’ll never know), had a college degree, a job, a home she was remodeling, a doting boyfriend, a year old puppy, a fabulous wardrobe, tons of friends (we had to use an auditorium for the memorial)…just everything. As someone who suffers with cyclical depression, I understand that none of this really matters – it can keep you going for a while, but it’s almost like you’re living on borrowed time, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Enjoying it while it lasts. I suspect that perhaps this may be what my cousin was going through (since there was no note, but there was no doubt in the coroner’s mind that her violent exit was self-inflicted) – you don’t know why you’re SO unhappy, why you hurt SO much…or you know, but you don’t know why it’s getting to you so much, because objectively you see yourself as this survivor, as a strong, independent woman who can rise above it all. But sometimes you feel like a fake – like you put on this show of being so strong, of being someone that people who’ve been in your shoes can look up to as an example of how to move on after this situation or that – but really, you’re not. You were just trying to fake it until you made it. Or maybe it’s nothing…maybe it’s just chemicals. Either way, it took me a long time and a lot of close calls to understand that when I was feeling that way, I HAD to get help because the person I would turn into didn’t feel like there was anything worth living for – the person I was before getting into these states absolutely knew she had things she had to stick around to see. I suspect that my cousin just didn’t know how to come to grips with this, how to recognize that it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to tell someone you need some medicine or someone to talk to, whatever…but it’s just a guess.

    My family, on the other hand, has tortured themselves for the past two years. They don’t understand why…or HOW…she could do this to herself. How she could just LEAVE, how she could think she couldn’t come to us with ANYTHING, how she didn’t think we could fix whatever was going on.

    Sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes what you see lying in front of you is SO dismal, SO bleak, that if you, in your heart of hearts, feel it will NEVER get any better or any easier. Life is long and life is hard. Sometimes it just seems that if there was an expiration date, it might make things easier because you would know how much time you had to accomplish what you wanted…or to endure what you had to.

    People who commit suicide have given themselves an expiration date. Not because they want to ruin your life, but because what THEY feel is so futile that it’s unbearable to deal with it anymore. My family has all wondered what they could’ve done differently, what they could’ve said – were they too harsh when they responded this way? Were they not clear enough when they responded that way?

    I just don’t think it boils down to those things. I think it’s a personal choice and NOTHING anyone said can permanently change the mind of someone who has decided to kill themselves. It became apparent after my cousin died that she had waited for a specific day. She had to plan it, make sure she had the resources. Was she thinking about how her boyfriend would feel when she killed herself with the gun he purchased for her? Was she thinking about how her father would feel when he lost his second child? Was she thinking about what it would do to our aging grandparents? To anyone?

    No. But I firmly believe she was trying to solve her problems the only way she knew how, to just make it stop – I’ve tried to convey this to my family as they/we ruminate over her death to this day. I don’t want to come out and say, “I’ve BEEN there, I know EXACTLY how you get to that place, how you’re in SO deep that you not only don’t see a way out, but even if you did, it’s just another dark hole,” or to tell them that I’m too chickenshit to commit suicide. (Let’s be clear – I DO not see bravery in suicide and do NOT support this action, I just UNDERSTAND how someone could get there). What they need to understand that this wasn’t about us and that maybe it’s selfish of US to try to ask her to stay, to continue to exist in this miserable space she was occupying. She had made up her mind, she was tired and done. I’m also sure that she couldn’t see it getting any better and when the future is that hazy, living another day is hard to picture, let alone a month, a year, or a whole lifetime.

    I don’t promote suicide, there IS someone or something who can help you, not just to stay alive, but someone who REALLY gets it and empathizes and will help you figure out what it’s going to take to get you back to that point where you WANT to live. Those that didn’t know these resources existed, couldn’t speak up, couldn’t understand that they really COULD help, can’t be faulted. I think it’s safe to say that (in most cases) they did everything they could to survive before coming to the conclusion that they would end their lives. It’s a choice, a choice everyone has the right to make…but we all hope you don’t.

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