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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
(Ugly Ducklings Inc team member, and author of this Ugly Duckling Story)