Too often suicide is met with judgment, criticism, shame, and taboo. Suicide is the result of a confluence of stressors, circumstances, and experiences. It is an individual response to pain of every shape, size, and dimension. Suicide leaves a rippling wake of shock, horror, and grief. Isn’t it time we pull suicide out of the shadows and meet it with compassion?
Circling the international news is the story of the assisted suicide of a young Dutch woman due to long-term childhood sexual abuse. This woman in her 20’s asked for — and was granted — euthanasia by lethal injection.
She requested an end to her life due to intractable trauma (i.e., severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and concomitant medical issues (i.e., advanced anorexia, chronic depression and hallucinations) that left her primarily bedridden.
Her story has raised questions and concerns.
As a mental health professional who has worked first-hand with childhood sexual abuse survivors, I have witnessed the repercussions of the compounded and complicated trauma of childhood sexual abuse.
Read more here.
This week, there have been three suicides as a result of trauma and violence, two student survivors of the Parkland, FL school shooting and one parent who lost a child in the Newtown school shooting. This is beyond heartbreaking for both families and school communities who have struggled valiantly to deal with the reality and aftermath of their respective horrors.
Generally speaking, suicide can be a tipping point of pain or shame; a plea for help; a response to mental illness and biological vulnerabilities; the last gasp of despair and resignation; a consequence of hopelessness and isolation; an impulsive mistake; a conscious ending of life; the ultimate act of rage and fury; the result of unabated terror; a response to abandonment; the repercussion of accumulated stressors; as well as collateral damage from violence, addiction, and trauma.
In these cases, it is the collateral damage from the trauma of the school shootings and the ensuing complicated grief that most certainly influenced these suicides.
This collateral damage can leave you reeling with extreme emotional pain, gutted by the traumatic endings of your loved ones’ lives and a high probability of survivor’s guilt.
Deep, intractable, dark-holed depression and breath-inhibiting, complicated grief can leave you in a tight, cramped, airless space where you can feel stuck, profoundly tired, deeply detached and disconnected. You can hurt all over. Nothing makes sense. Your thinking becomes binary, right or wrong, good or bad. In a word, boxed.
You can feel utterly despondent and despairing. Grief can sucker punch you in unexpected waves and leave you swimming in tears. Your sense of self has melted. There is overriding pain, conflicting emotions and, often, a continuous replay of the traumatic and violent specifics that leave you helpless and in agony for your lost loved one. Further, as with all grief and trauma, each experience opens the door to the memory of other experience of loss and trauma.
These three suicides serve as a highly charged cautionary tale that complicated grief and trauma leave our loved ones dangerously close to the edge. Clearly, it’s not easy. It is challenging and calls for all of our compassion, understanding and support of those who have found themselves walking this very challenging (in all possible ways) and, possibly, lethal path.
Suicide is not a natural response. If I were to put a pillow over your face, you would instinctively fight me. The pain, the big grief and the trauma had to be so big for each of these individuals to make the choice they did.
May all three of these survivors of the unthinkable find their respective long-lost peace and be held in the light.
I read an excerpt from a book by an esteemed medical professional who has been an advocate for the holistic and metaphysical for decades. This book relates a discussion of sin with his guide, who allowed that “self-suicide” (his unusual word choice) is a sin. I so disagree, adamantly and viscerally disagree.
Where does all this judgment come from? This is not sounding God-like or part of higher consciousness, much less soul development. If you believe in past lives, more than likely your soul experienced a suicide.
The Divine is full of compassion, not judgment. And, by the way, the word “sin” comes from the Aramaic meaning to “miss the mark.” When we struggle and try to find our way through our fears, conditioning, reactions, and wounds, we often miss the mark. Hello, being human. Earth school is where we learn and develop and, hopefully, expand our consciousness to the degree that we perceive the oneness in all and respond accordingly.
Suicide is not a sin. Not only do I feel that down to the marrow of my bones, I have had confirmation with the spirit world and deceased souls. Yes, I talk to dead people.
On the 3D level, suicide, first and foremost, is about pain, pain of all levels and intensities. Suicide also speaks to trauma, substance abuse, mental health, emotional alienation, guilt, shame, neurochemistry and genetic fragilities. Suicide is a response to a confluence of factors that lead to a tipping point where the choice is made, be it well-considered or impulsive.
On the soul level, suicide can be a choice to do important work from the other side, leave compassion as a legacy, re-arrange dynamics and situations as part of a soul contract, a death of the ego, a teaching lesson and much more.
Judgment around suicide is hurtful. Condemnation around suicide serves no purpose than to further alienate us from one another and the divine. Compassion is the only response to suicide.
Allow me to repeat: suicide is not a sin.
Suicide is not a sin, from my point of view. Some religions espouse hellfire and damnation; others ponder the intention of the suicidal individual. Since I see all of us on a path to open our hearts, expand our consciousness, and operate from our Best or Higher Selves, I do not believe that the Divine—in any form or moniker—is looking to punish us for being human. The Divine is all about love—unconditional love—and helping each of us find the pathway to that conclusion. Individuals who take their life by suicide are not punished. (Quite frankly, haven’t they lived through enough hell?) That is old school thinking to me. If you believe in heaven, they are in heaven. If you believe in past lives, their souls are being readied for their next assignment. Where we all can agree is that the soul has moved out of the constraints and limitations of the 3D world and moved to another non-physical dimension.
Suicide is not a crime. (For the record, suicide is no longer illegal in the Western world, where suicide has been decriminalized. There are, however, legal ramifications to assisted suicide and the like).
Some say the weak choose suicide. I disagree. “Weak” is not the operative word here.
Suicide can be a tipping point of pain or shame, a plea for help, a response to mental illness and haywire neurochemistry, as well as the last gasp of despair and resignation. Suicide can also be an impulsive mistake, a planned ending of life, a shredded soul, the death of the ego, or the ultimate act of rage and fury. (That rage and fury is often the much wounded child-self battling mightily for control or screaming in enormous pain.)
Suicide can be a choice that we may or may not understand on the 3D level, such as a teaching tool for our loved ones or choosing to do profound work from the Other Side.
Suicide can be a part of our destiny, our soul path toward healing.
Suicide can be the result of soul loss.
Suicide can be a game-changer. After the loss of a loved one to suicide, your view on life changes. Life becomes more fragile, more precious, and more cherished. This holds true for those who have attempted suicide as well. For them, the attempt may lead to a spurt of fresh energy and a re-engagement with life.
And suicide is definitely a societal, and, therefore, a political and moral issue. We human beings—and our organizations, corporations, or governments—can be terribly self-serving, ruthless, abusive, and tyrannical toward others. Acts of violence, war, and exploitation damage and destroy the very souls of our being. We lose ourselves and the meaning of our lives. Suicidal thoughts and actions are a part of the collateral damage of these polarizations.
Further, suicide can be a powerful teacher. It teaches us the great lesson of compassion. It opens us in ways we never thought possible. Suicide asks us to accept a loved one’s choice and circumstance. Suicide asks us to forgive ourselves for our perceived wrongdoings, including our inability to prevent our loved one from harm. Suicide requires us to face our guilt, anger, and shame. Suicide asks us to accept the unacceptable, the inconceivable, the horrific, and make peace with it. Suicide asks us to live with an open heart. This means no judgment, no castigation, and no punishment. We see one another through a lens of acceptance. We allow each other to be who we are—in all of our shortcomings and crazy-making ways as well as all of our idiosyncratic wonderfulness.
Suicide is frequently a sudden, surprising and shocking death that leaves family members reeling in disbelief and heartache. Suicide is akin to lobbing an explosive into the middle of the family. There is enormous collateral damage.
For children, the death of a parent is a traumatic event, which is especially intensified for young children. However, when the death is a suicide, the trauma is heightened even more.
Arguably, suicide is the hardest death to accept. There are so many unanswered questions.
Young children do not readily understand the concept of suicide.
Read more here.
(Young Minds Matter initiative: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/adele-mcdowell/children-of-suicide_b_9233092.html)
It is hard, exhausting, and excruciating work to make sense of the un-sensible and to unpack and repack a life that you have held with such love and affection. You will need time and space to work through all the layers of feelings as you remember and revisit all that you experienced and shared with the one you lost.
Loss requires time, time to accept the unacceptable and time to feel the undulations and reverberations of your loss. There is no time limit—grief takes as long as it takes. Grief opens you up in ways you never thought possible. Unexpectedly, you will find yourself remembering other losses in your life as well. Grief builds upon grief; like pearls strung on a necklace, every loss becomes connected, close to your heart.
Trauma is also a cumulative experience. We hold traumatic events in our cellular memories. They are not forgotten. And like grief, a new trauma can trigger feelings from a prior trauma. This is important to consider, as suicide is both a traumatic and grief-filled experience. The double whammy of grief and trauma can sometimes be so overwhelming that it is hard for you to stand or eat or sleep or even make simple conversation.
Dealing with a suicidal loss requires extreme gentleness as you wade through the minefields of emotions. Past, present and future can collide in a stream of what was and what could have been.
This is non-ordinary time. You will see the world differently. Your baseline has changed. What was once terra firma is no more. Everything is shifting around you. You wade through deep emotions, conflicting feelings and the sheer agony of loss.
And, then, when you are hollowed out and spent, there will be a day– as unbelievable as it feels — when you refind your feet and connect with your newly pieced-together heart. On that day, you will be to take a step forward without toppling over.
Go in peace, dear one.
This is Janie Brown’s beautifully compassionate and loving response to a friend’s struggle with mental illness and later, suicide. The original piece was featured on Krista Tibbett’s “On Being” blog, where Janie Brown was a guest contributor.
The phone message you left yesterday from an unidentified B&B somewhere on Vancouver Island said I would know by morning whether you had chosen to live or die. You said the pills were lined up, counted, on the dresser.
A month before when you were unraveling again, you asked us, your closest friends, what we thought about you choosing to end your life, and we all said the same thing: “You must be tired of it all after so many cycles of mental illness in your sixty-two years, but with medication and therapy you always get better.” We always had a “but,” a reason we wanted you to keep choosing life. We hadn’t accepted you had a terminal illness then, a terminal mental illness. If you had advanced cancer, we might not have tried so hard to encourage you to keep going, if you hadn’t wanted to.
Today, I know what I want. I want you to live so we’ll carry on being friends, as we have for twenty-five years. I want you to continue to sharpen my knives and bring me organic beef for the freezer when you come to town. I want to call and hear your business voice on the answering machine. I want to look across the room and feel your heart as wide as the universe as you play your ukulele with abandon, your voice belting out Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.” I want to feel your love for me, your deep caring that my life matters to you.
Most of all I want you to be happy.
But I know it’s not about what I want.
If you choose to live maybe you’ll find a sweet little home here in Vancouver just around the corner from us, and we can have dinners, and music nights, walks, and late-night conversations. We can work together, cook together, and drink good wine together. Ultimately, we would see each other through and out of this life.
If you choose to die tonight, I will carry no judgment, just a huge ache in my heart of missing you. You have lived a beautiful life, and a tough one. You have had to encompass more internally than anyone I have ever known, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for the way you have conducted your life. You are a good person. You have tried. You have succeeded on so many levels. I hope that if you choose to leave, you will truly know what a life of devoted service you’ve lived, and that you have loved, and that you have been loved in return.
Whether you choose to live or die today, I will always love you.
She chose to live that night. She said she was too scared to be alone, as she died.
A week later her psychiatrist and her closest friends encouraged her to go to a hospital where she would be kept safe from harming herself, and hopefully receive the treatment she needed to heal.
Even though she persuaded the occupational therapist to take her grocery shopping so she could make mulligatawny soup for the other in-patients (being a nutritionist, she worried the hospital food wouldn’t help them to get well); even though we snuck her out to a restaurant for a big salad, and a hearty glass of Cabernet Sauvignon against hospital regulations.
Even though we took a guitar and songbooks to the common room of the acute psychiatric unit, and sang together, and doors opened and patients peeked out, slowly sidling up to join the sing-a-long until an anxious nurse shut us down for fear of over-stimulating the patients.
Even though she did her best to maintain her dignity as her body survived the cycle of acute illness — her soul withered, slowly and quietly, over those months committed to a psychiatric unit.
Six months after she returned home, she told me she was unraveling again. She didn’t ask her friends what she should do, or tell them what she intended to do. One year ago this month, she didn’t wait until she was too ill to make the choice to die.
The day someone you love chooses to die must always feel too soon. September 5, 2014 was too soon for me, but I know it was likely not a moment too soon for my beloved friend. That day ended a lifetime of living with the enormous challenge of mental illness, a lifetime of immense loving and whole-hearted living, and a lifetime that impacted me more than I can possibly comprehend yet.
Janie Brown is the executive director of the Callanish Society, a nonprofit organization she co-founded in 1995 for people who are irrevocably changed by cancer, and who want to heal, whether it be into life, or death. An oncology nurse and therapist for almost thirty years, Janie explores her ideas through stories on her blog www.lifeindeath.org and is working on her first book.
Death is not easy on a regular basis, but death becomes tainted and shame-faced when described as a suicide. It’s hard to be left under such messy circumstances. You feel that somehow you failed to do your part. It feels as if the world sits in judgment, which only underscores the wracking guilt that hammers at you incessantly. You feel so responsible. You think you could have done something differently – made a move or said different words that might have tipped the balance in favor of life.
And you are angry, angry with a capital A, and, then, guilty because you are so angry. You loved them. You cared. Wasn’t your love enough? Did they think about you? How could they?
To read more, please click this link for the full article on The Huffington Post.