Monday, June 09, 2014

Suicide and other conversation killers (Oh, hahaha!)

In just under two weeks, on the last weekend of June, I will head up to Philly to walk all night in the Out of the Darkness walk, which raises funds for suicide prevention.

I have my shirt from last year's walk, and I wear it like any other T-shirt. I talk about my dad's death by suicide. I talk about depression, about mental illness.

There is a group of parents I hang out with on the playground after school, and last week one of them asked me about my shirt. I'd mentioned my dad to him, and he said, "I was just reading your shirt. I think you said your dad..."

I could tell he felt awkward, and so I sat down and talked to him about my walk and about my dad. And I told him that it's something people feel uncomfortable talking about, and it is everywhere. And one of my goals in talking about it so openly is to make people feel like they can talk about it. I want to get rid of the stigma, and stamp out the shame associated with it.

You know what? His uncle died by suicide when he was a teenager. He saw his uncle's last breath. Which would be terribly traumatic for anyone, of any age.

These are unusual conversations for the sidelines of a playground, to be sure. But we weren't sitting there weeping. We were simply talking about something we both have experience with.

I suppose we could've been swapping lasagna recipes or movie preferences. I mean, it was a more intense conversation than that, but there we were, two parents, talking about something we turn out to have in common.

I'm sorry we have it in common, just as I'm sorry it is something I turn out to have in common with some of my neighbors. With a number of readers of my blog, from whom I have gotten private emails. With a million people I do not know.

It's a relief to say it out loud and let it go. Secrets like suicide are hard to keep. They gnaw at you from the inside. They weigh you down like stones in your pockets.

Which, by the way, is how Virginia Woolf died. She put stones in her pockets and walked into the river and drowned.

It's not something I can imagine doing. I think drowning would be my last choice, if I had to make one.

I've had a couple shrinks ask me if I've thought about suicide, and the answer is always yes, because how could I not have thought about it? And then they ask how often and I say most days and then they get all alarmed (in their non-reactive shrinky ways) and I have to clarify that I think about my dad and I think about suicide.

This last shrink, who I ditched because going to see him made me anxious and I felt judged and who the fuck needs to add any anxiety or judgement to their lives when going to see someone for medication to make them feel less anxious? asked me about it every time I saw him.

So I wanted to say, and finally did say some version of, "Seriously seriously seriously? Do you think that as the daughter of someone who attempted suicide repeatedly over 30 years I wouldn't think about it?" I think about his why. I think about his methods. I think about so many aspects of it and whether in the end it really was a relief for him. I think it was.

Not that I would recommend it to anyone because, well, because one you are dead and two, you leave such human wreckage in your wake when you do that.

So I have these conversations because I start these conversations and I am open to listening and I am virtually unshockable at this point. I am not saying we need to run around with I'VE LOST SOMEONE TO SUICIDE tattooed on our foreheads.

But what I'd like is for it to be OK to talk about. For mental illness be in the Cancer category as opposed to the Prison or Pedophilia categories.

And I guess that's about all I've got to say about that. For now.


  1. My best friend's brother and son committed suicide almost 10 years to the day apart. My Uncle took his own life in 2008. My father's little brother.

    With my Uncle there were circumstances around what he did for a living, that it made some in my family question if it was really suicide. But I think it was more the stigma that surrounds suicide that made them search for some other answer or reason for his death.

    So yes, please...we all need to talk about it more because the stigma and secrecy make it worse.

    1. I am so terribly sad to know this. I'm sorry. If you'd like to send me their names, I will add them to the list of people I am walking for.

      I think you are right that the stigma makes people question, and it is also the feeling of abandonment. Why would that person choose to leave us? I don't think that in the end it feels like anything but the only choice for the person, but for those of us left behind, abandonment is what it feels like. For me anyway.

      And yes, the stigma and secrecy make it so much worse. Yes.

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  3. Opening the dialog about suicide is an incredibly positive movement. You're in my thoughts

    1. I love you Heather. I always love you, my ray of sunshine!

  4. We just lost my BIL less than a week ago. A friend sent me to your blog and wow, right here is a post about your father. My husband (it was his brother) feels the same. People need to know how his brother died. My brother-in-law's name was Brian and we miss him so very much. Thank you for trying to remove the stigma of suicide...

    1. Oh, Elaine, I am so terribly, terribly sorry. If you would like me to carry his name with me on my walk, I would be privileged to do so.

    2. That would be wonderful, thank you. xo


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