You Don’t Know What You’ve Got

My best friend killed herself, and I told myself my fight for suicide prevention had nothing to do with my grief.

For nearly a year and a half, I researched every related topic, every keyword, every article and news link, every way suicide correlated with her life or mine. I dug into her past. I dug into my past. I encountered the next death and I didn’t even blink.

Suicide number ___, in my mind. Lost hope. Lost battles to cancer. Drug overdoses. Loss number ___.

I searched every hashtag. I followed, bookmarked, and connected with every organization and professional available to me. College work would be due, I’d go to research a topic, no matter what it was, I landed on suicide-related things. I collected articles I didn’t have access to otherwise. I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop.

Neither could death by family member number four or suicide number three. But it didn’t faze me. I’d Google, tweet, research, and write; collect obituaries and pretend to breathe. I told myself it wasn’t grief; it was motivation. It was going to make something of me.

Nicole, Debbie, Nicholas, Danny, Shawn, Robert, Daniel, Kay, I collected names. That hasn’t stopped. Neither have I. And I thought I needed some explanation, some defense to be driven — to be inspired by loss. I searched for validation. I fought for a purpose, a noble cause.

I became a sponge. I absorbed all of the loss around me until I felt like a fraud. Like with the death of Linkin Park’s lead singer, Chester Bennington. It’s not like I knew the guy personally. But it pained my heart as I read The Guardian headline informing the world of the next “suspected suicide” loss on recently deceased Chris Cornell‘s birthday.

The word “suicide” still makes my heart skip a beat. It still makes me sink to my knees. And I find myself lost in my own grief again, asking myself if the fight is worth it, asking myself if I’m just grieving or crazy, not intelligent or driven; asking myself if I’m broken or what.

The answer comes faster each time:

I’m grieving and I’m learning and I’m fighting for life.

Maybe that’s all we stand to gain from our losses. Knowledge and hope. A reminder to live.

And maybe, someday, peace of mind.


#RIPChester

If you are feeling hopeless or suicidal, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HELLO to the Crisis Text Line, 741-741. You can also visit suicide.org for international resources and listings.

 

I Call Your ’13 Reasons’ and Raise You One

The world can’t stop talking about “13 Reasons Why.” It is taking over Facebook.

Maybe I’ve lost too many loved ones to suicide because I do not understand the hype. Fifteen minutes into the first episode, I turned on something else. I was already nervous and doubtful, but after watching, I was just pissed off.

In high school, I was one of three high school students to make an attempt following the suicide of a classmate. Back then, help like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline didn’t exist. So, when my friend told me I should’ve known better, he was right.

Albeit, because I knew better, I knew when to stop watching. I knew when to turn it off and I was aware of the resources available if I became emotionally overwhelmed or suicidal. He defended the show, pointing out how it brings awareness to a taboo topic which is often silenced, but he chooses not to watch. I’m with him.

While awareness is crucial to suicide prevention and advocacy, how we utilize that awareness is essential in effectively saving lives. When it comes to the impact of suicide and the media, Madelyn Gould from the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Division of Epidemiology at Columbia University confirms,

The existence of suicide contagion no longer needs to be questioned.

We know the risks. Because we know the risks, media outlets like Netflix have a moral and ethical obligation to act with the same awareness this show is alleged to present. Instead, they are risking lives.

The Media Guidelines for Reporting on Suicide specifically urge against detailed descriptions of method and site. They also encourage against headlines that will gain the front page of the New York Times and social media spotlight. In the description of the latest, most talked about television show, Netflix presents,

After a teenage girl’s perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice.

Clearly, their producers see media guidelines as friendly suggestions, instead of researched measures imperative to saving young lives.

One of the hardest parts of being a suicide loss survivor is the feeling of guilt. You replay their last days and you search social media posts and text messages, trying to figure out what you missed, and you blame yourself no matter how irrational it is, but there isn’t always a sign.

Here we are, taking suicide viral. Watching our sons and our daughters stare at their laptops and phones, thinking we’ve done enough to protect them; thinking they know better, and there’s no reason why suicide would impact our lives.

Right now, there is there a flashing, neon sign streaming across America, warning us that lives are at risk and we are strapped to the edge of our seats, gawking and applauding. We’re cheering it on.

While college students and teenagers are holed up at home with their eyes glued to Netflix, the clock is ticking. Silent, emotional reactions are transpiring inside of vulnerable people, ambivalent to their own suicidal ideation and naive to the risks. For the next suicidal teenager, death is just a matter of time, and “13 Reasons Why” is making the clock tick faster.

Maybe it is not suicide that is contagious, so much as the value of life. We should up the anti. We should help our children carry the weight and rise! We should be protesting, shouting, and taking a stand against it. Something (anything!) that sends the message that glamorizing suicide attempts and losses through celebrity-tinted camera lenses causes the entire nation to lose focus of what is required of us if we want to save lives.

Shame on Netflix, and shame on us for not taking more forceful action to protect the population in which suicide is the second leading (ages 10–24) and primary (college-aged) cause of death!

I don’t need thirteen reasons to turn off the show or unsubscribe. I only need one.

Life.


Life is Temporary. Grief is Not.

My sister died by suicide February 26, 2015, less than two weeks after her father’s funeral. Her daughter is the one who found her. Today is her birthday.

I wonder if she still wakes up and looks for her. I wonder if she cries at night, missing her mother, wishing she were holding her tight. In five days, it will be her birthday.

On that day, I will continue to mourn her and respectively acknowledge the anniversary date of the death of the woman who loved me as if I were her own daughter, stepping in to fill the shoes of my own family when they failed to support me. I was so consumed with grief and loss I didn’t even know she was sick and hurting. I never said goodbye. I wish I could’ve told her how much she changed my life and how much I loved her.

April 29th is my father’s birthday, but that’s not why I remember the date. It is also the birthday of my friend, with whom I ministered for years at our church. She was age 25, on vacation in Hawaii, heading to watch the sunrise with her husband, when they were hit by a drunk driver. She died instantly. That was six years ago. It took three years to acknowledge that loss and finally grieve her.

On this day, twenty-one years ago, I was in middle school when my friend died from a gunshot wound to the head.  I sat in the cafeteria, in shock, as the entire school finally took the time to acknowledge him as more than a trouble maker or juvenile delinquent. At first, it was investigated as a suicide.

In the end, his death was dismissed as another instance of a teen with a gun, who should’ve known better. I still drive by his house. I can still see him and all of his siblings. I wonder how many people knew he missed so much school because he was also their caretaker. There are consequences that come along with forcing children to be adults. Dangerous consequences.

The same year my friend was shot, a lady in my mother’s Multiple Sclerosis support group took her own life. I didn’t know it then, but I experienced firsthand what suicide contagion looks like. Two other support group members died by suicide in the months that followed. My mother discontinued her support group, and “suicide” became a permanent, routinely used word in our home. For ten years, I listened to my mother threaten her own life or encourage me to kill her. So, later that year, it didn’t seem unnatural or abnormal when I attempted to take my own life.

People believe death and loss are something we experience, something we feel, for a moment in time and then heal from. People assume the pain leaves the heart once the stages of grief have ended, but, often, it doesn’t.

We bury the loss. We hide the guilt, and we forever carry the grief in our hearts until we finally reach the end of our own lives.

Life is fleeting— temporary. We must cling to hope to survive.


If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 
national-suicide-prevention-lifeline