Before You Speak About Suicide
The internet has exploded over the last few days about suicide, grief, depression and the death of a beloved public figure and fellow human being. The world awoke again today without another beautiful face. And families around the world like my own, are fighting our own challenges with recurring emotions from having to relive the suicide of loved one(s) as the news and life around us grapple with issues publicly that we’ve grieved about in silence; some of us for months and some of us for years. I’ve read prominent public figures spout rhetoric and nothing short of hate speech in regard to mental illness and suicide. I even read today that Zelda Williams closed her social media presence because people were spewing negativity her way! This girl will bury her father soon. And my friends wonder why my little family in Oklahoma went social media silent? No wonder those loved ones who succumb to death by their own hand usually seek so little help.
I am no expert in suicide, mental health or grief. But my family has been acutely intimated with these things not over the last several months. I am not haughty enough to believe that my written voice will contribute anything to the explosion of internet conversation surrounding these issues, but as a family who is intimated with loss these days, I have a few thoughts on person(s) or personalities who feel compelled to speak out about this issue.
So before you publicly speak about suicide or death or grief, here is what one family whose living this nightmare would like for you to know:
1.) Suicide has a horrific stigma. My family buried my baby brother, age 29, on February 15, 2014, one day after Valentine’s Day. Ever tried to buy funeral flowers one day after the biggest retail sales day of flowers in the United States? It is the definition of suckage. The florist was more worried about the amount of white roses that couldn’t be in my brother’s casket spray because of limited supply than she was the fact my sister and I were holding hands with streaming tears our whole visit. His death was not as valued as a fictionalized Hallmark holiday. I wanted to keep a pair of my brother’s boots so that when anyone would ever question his struggles or his “choice”, I could let them wear them around awhile until they came up with an answer. There is a certain blogger these days who could learn a few things from wearing Guy’s or Robin’s shoes.
2.) It’s still death. 120days after burying my brother, my dad died of a heart attack. There was no pain differential for me in the death of my brother or father. My two favorite dudes were no longer here and it was now a permanent fact about my life. But how people chose to address us about dad’s death was almost laughable as compared to my brother’s. Death deals itself to us all and whether it was by my brother’s own hand or by God “taking my father home” through a heart attack does not didn’t make either loss less tragic and it doesn’t remove the void that forever haunts my heart. The empty spaces at our family table are still there.
If you are willing and able to plunge into loving a grieving family dealing with suicide/loss/grief, keep your candy coated Sunday School verbiage in your mouth. “I love you.” “I’m here.” “I’m sorry.” “I’m praying for you.” are all appropriate and conveys any message you wish to share. If you cannot keep from spouting off anything other than the suggestions listed above, just shut up entirely.
3.) You are not entitled to specifics. We as a society project so much of our lives onto social media that we feel we have a right to know everything about every body. Saying that someone has passed is not enough for us, we want details. We are voyeuristic in these days. Someone will share with you what they will and what they don’t, don’t ask. And for the love of sweet baby Jesus, do not be a rumor monger who makes us generalizations or facts up as you go.
4.) Please keep your tyrannical opinions to yourself. I feel this way about most everything in life these days. “The Mommy Wars”, “homeschool v. traditional education” but especially suicide; if your statement(s) begin with a universal statement, please know you’ve already lost me. I am proud to live in a country where you are entitled to have your own opinion. That same freedom doesn’t mean I have to endure listening to it, especially if you classify your opinion as applicable to everyone in every situation. Romans 12:9-10 “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love…” Most of what I’ve seen on social media this week is not sincere or good and I again wrestle with the Jesus I love and the responses of those who claim to love him too.
5.) Be a good listener or have walked through depression/suicide/mental illness or love someone who has. Jason Gray has an amazing song called “Not Right Now.” A verse of that song states “While I wait for the smoke to clear, you don’t even have to speak just sit with me in the ashes here and together we can pray for peace, to the One acquainted with our grief.” The most amazing people who’ve come along side me during this nightmare are the one who’ve done nothing more than simply be present, not with words or advice, but simply the ones who simply just show up.
6.) You see the problems, we just miss the person. When you say death or grief or suicide, I just see two of my favorite men and so does anybody else who’s dealing with the loss of someone they love. So while the entirety of social media erupts in a medical/religious/philosophical debate, I’ll crawl back in my hole with tissues and pictures of my dudes.