for release Friday September 10, 2004
by Melodie Davis
Responses to Suicide Columns: Talking Helps
The series of columns I wrote on the TV documentary that premiered on Hallmark Channel in August, Fierce Goodbye: Living in the Shadow of Suicide brought a lot of e-mails and letters from readers, and begs for a follow up. The program dealt with five families talking about the death of a family member by suicide, with responses by clergy, mental health experts, and other survivors. It focused especially on faith issues.
The subject continues to be heavy and difficult to deal with, yet very worthwhile. I have discovered in personal conversations and e-mails that people feel the way I did initially—they don’t want to hear about it or deal with it. It feels depressing and uncomfortable. Superstitiously, we’re afraid that studying or learning about it will make it “happen” to someone we love. Or maybe it has happened to someone we loved and we were never allowed or able to talk about it.
But I’m struck with the fact that the more people talk about it, it lessens the “secret” nature of it and for some, changes it into a manageable beast. That which we are afraid to talk about has a grip over us; that which we can talk about is less scary, holds less power. The easier it becomes to talk about suicide issues, the more help is afforded to family survivors who are often in desperate need of help and healing. It can also help those having suicidal thoughts to talk about it and bring it out of secrecy so that others know what they’re struggling with and can stand by to help. (Although it is also true that even when others know and extend all love and help, they are often unable to intervene.)
One woman wrote, “My husband out of nowhere took his life [earlier] this year. You said in one sentence what I have wanted to hear. My church has a thumb down on suicide, because of that I haven’t been going.”
Another woman said, “Today is the second month anniversary of my son-in-law’s death by suicide. My younger daughter (24) was left with two young daughters of her own. Please continue educating people on this subject. Everyone thinks it will happen to someone else. Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we will not have to deal with this.”
A man from Nigeria asked for permission to reprint the article in a campus magazine there. It gave me pause to think about people all around the world struggling with this same issue.
A reader from Canada said, “Suicide has affected my life in many situations. My first memory came when I was perhaps 10 years old and one of my brothers’ friends died. My friend, also ten years old, told me Jesus wouldn’t let him into heaven. I instantly rejected that pronouncement. I knew then and know now that that just isn’t so. Now being a woman of mature years I have had this aspect of death grip my life’s walk many times. Those of us left behind, we aren’t here to discover the mystery of this death. I believe we’re here to hold each other and simply walk together.”
There were people who wrote struggling heavily with depression or other mental illness over many years. I pondered how to help from a distance in situations that seem to have no answer. One man said, “Controlling suicide thinking is like controlling diarrhea once the thoughts get started really going round and round.”
Let me say quickly and loudly I do not think of suicide as a legitimate or even recommended alternative when people are in pain. I have heard people talk about assisted suicide for persons with terminal illness, and they say that when a person’s physical pain is taken care of, and when the person is surrounded by people who love them and assure them of their love, usually questions of assisted suicide do not even come up. Even though I have seen people suffer many months and years wanting to die, I personally don’t feel humans ever have the right to take life (whether it is abortion, capital punishment, war, or assisted suicide).
Indeed, what these dear people who have gone through so much pain before, during or after the death of a loved one have taught me, is that far more pain is caused by suicide than is alleviated. As one woman in the documentary said of her sister who ended her life, “Here she is relieving one person of her misery but yet still she leaves a whole family suffering.”
Finally, regarding the aftermath of suicide, “One person’s journey can be very different from another’s journey.” Remember that as you relate to people you know dealing with this very difficult issue.
Five ways to respond:
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.
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