Choose life! Only that and always!
At whatever risk. To let life leak out,
to let it wear away by the mere passage of time, to withhold giving
and spending it is to choose nothing.
-Sister Helen Kelly
Life is so precious. It is so short. Most of us only have 30,000 mornings during our lives.
I was able to make it home before the tears started to flow.
I was and am in disbelief. Two of my colleagues, one a very dear friend, had family members commit suicide yesterday. Another staff member who works in that area had a close loved one attempt suicide. Ending their life. Forever by choice, when there were other options.
These dear family members must have been in so much pain and unthinkable despair that they couldn't conceive of a way out. They couldn't imagine things getting better. Everyone who loves them is left with so much hurt, and pain and questions, and deep, deep grief, and anger. And guilt. Enormous guilt.
Suicide is a tragic, preventable cause of death. According the the Washington State Department of Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals
10-24 years of age and the 8th leading cause of death for all individuals in my state of Washington.
What is so scary to me, in looking at all of this and trying to learn something from these
recent deaths, is that this report suggests that 80% of the people who complete suicide have exhibited warning signs.
What are a few of these warning signs?
the person may:
*talk about hurting themselves, sometimes in vague terms.
*seek access to ways to do this like a firearm or pills
*have increased substance abuse
*feel they have no purpose for living
*experience deep anxiety and with that a loss of sleep
*have mood changes
*feel trapped and hopeless
*exhibit excessive rage and act reckless
Elder depression may bring a 50% higher risk for suicide than in young people.
Both of the relatives who committed suicide yesterday were older family members.
It seems so important, especially since I teach college courses in communication, to know what these warning signs really are. We often miss these signs for several reasons. We aren't educated in this area of human behavior so we aren't listening for these cues. Also, we may be so uncomfortable with a topic like this so we don't ask a very direct question when we are concerned. The question is this: Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
Yet even if we do know these warning signs, we cannot control the choices that another person makes.
Also, according to this study, at times there may also not be "warning signs." At least with 20% of the cases, there was no way to tell. It seems to me that it's important to give ourselves grace in all of these situations and not heap guilt on ourselves that we somehow should have "known."
My own family suffered a loss from suicide. My Mom's father, very early in her life, took his own life after a serious car accident left him depressed and hurting. I never knew my Grandfather, but I knew the lasting scars his suicide left on my Mom. Those were the days when suicide was wrapped in shame and secrecy. Those were the days when you had a "stiff upper lip" and were not supposed to complain or whine...about anything. Those were the days when even talking about breast cancer or addiction was a complete taboo, let alone a topic as off limits as suicide.
My sweet mom didn't talk about hard topics anyway, and I never knew how her Dad died until after my own father passed away from heart disease. My Mom, at a friend's request, went to a Hospice Grief Group. There she made a timeline of the greatest hurts in her life, including her Dad's death, and she started to talk about some of these "hard topics" for the very first time. She learned more about suicide from the group leader and group members. She learned it wasn't her fault and that eased some of the grief and guilt she had carried for 60 years.
My husband, Bert, is a counselor who works with individuals, marriages and families.
He is an amazing listener and a skilled psychotherapist and when I talked about yesterday's events with him, he wasn't shocked. In his work with hurting people for over thirty years, he is often a resource for helping others to find hope when everything seems so hopeless.
He is a respite in the storm for those who might consider taking their own life. He observes strict confidentiality and never talks to me about a patient, but I can often see when he comes home the weight and responsibility he feels in helping people choose life. He can also refer someone to a medical doctor, when medication might be the answer to depression. He is one of countless helpers out there who can be a beacon of hope for the hurting.
When we suspect that something is seriously wrong with someone we care for, and we feel like their issues are too grave and serious for our own skill sets, we can also find a skilled counselor or doctor to be a resource for our hurting loved one.
There is help out there. Things that seem so dark can get better. Yet we have to increase our knowledge on this very hard topic of conversation and at times go outside our comfort zone to have some tough conversations. Taking the risk to ask will be worth it. Having eyes and ears wide open, to pick up warning signs, will be worth it. Helping someone to choose life, is always worth it.
Please, when you are saying your prayers, include my two friends. Their hearts are broken.
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