for release Friday July 30, 2004
by Melodie Davis
Finding Hope After Suicide
Editor’s Note: This is the final in a four-part series looking at depression, mental illness, religion and suicide, in relation to an upcoming documentary, Fierce Goodbye: Living in the Shadow of Suicide on Hallmark Channel, Aug. 22 for which Ms. Davis served as lead writer.
There is something about suicide that makes us want to turn and run the other way. In the documentary that the organization I work for produced for Hallmark in cooperation with Faith & Values Media, one mother, Gail Fox, talked about the instant wall that comes up when she talks about how her son died.
We are in denial. Somehow we think that if we can avoid talking about it, avoid studying it, avoid dealing with it, we think we can avoid it for our families. We fear that dealing with it somehow invites it to happen. Think about it in this practical context: if your church were to plan an educational class on suicide, it seems like you are somehow paving the way for it to happen. And so we don’t study, think, or prepare.
I think that is why initially I too blanched at the idea of working on this topic. I thought, oh why do we have to tackle this? Why enter all that pain? What if I become hardened and flippant dealing with the topic every day? It was weird to refer to the program casually: “I’m going to the suicide meeting.” What if we became depressed? What if we unintentionally “caused” (God forbid) someone to take his or her life?
But doing the background research, reading hundreds of pages of interview transcripts with dozens of family members, friends and experts, and researching thousands of pages of information for the documentary’s website (www.fiercegoodbye.com), has been a tremendous gift on a number of levels: I have learned so much about mental illness, depression, bi-polar disorder and more. I have been deeply moved and saddened by the stories the family members have shared, as well as touched by their joy in remembering the lives of their loved one. I have been challenged by new insights from the Bible and theologians regarding the history of suicide in the Bible. I have had my faith reaffirmed, now understanding that committed Christian friends and relatives who I have known who have tragically died by suicide during a time of depression or mental illness are today in the presence of God. I had my faith in humanity and God restored to see how human beings are able to cope and find hope after the worst that life can deal them.
For example, Fred Davis and his wife, Joyce, were devastated when their pretty and popular daughter, Lea Ann stepped outside their basement when Joyce was the only one home and shot herself. Joyce suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome for years and Fred briefly considered running his trooper car into a highway overpass wall (Guideposts, 1992). But eventually they turned their grief into preventing other teenagers from making rash choices by founding a suicide prevention hotline, TEACH, and the organization, PATS, Parents Against Teen Suicide http://www.teachhotline.org/pats.htm
Donna Holland Barnes and Doris Smith founded NOPCAS, National Organization of People of Color Against Suicide. Barnes, after suffering from the loss of her son, Marc Jamal Barnes, in 1990 and feeling very isolated, wanted to find families of African American descent who also had lost a loved one to suicide. Being aware of the increase in the suicide rates among young African American males, she wondered where those families were and who they were. After four years of searching for black families and being the only African American at many suicide conferences and support groups, she co-founded NOPCAS (http://www.nopcas.com/) in an effort to unite black suicide survivors to better understand how to live with the loss. She is currently at work on several studies on the sociological interpretation of black families surviving suicide.
This is the kind of thing that happens frequently among survivors: they find that in order to cope with the profound loss and all of the accompanying emotions, they turn to helping others in order to find a healthy way to cope with the pain. Many of the survivors said that talking to others (in support groups or informally) has been the most helpful therapy.
It is my hope that this documentary will function as a kind of nation-wide support group that will help survivors talk to each other, deal with their grief and pain, and educate all of us about how we can be helpful. And I also hope that on the prevention end, anyone struggling in an endless tunnel of despair will know that there is help, hope and suitable treatment, given enough time, and that it is worth it. (The national suicide helpline is 1-800-SUICIDE.)
For a free booklet, “Bearing the Special Grief of Suicide,” write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 825 words; end material = 105 words
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