Today marks two years since my dad ended his life. He left no explanation so I will never know for certain why he made that decision, though I shared my own ideas in this post written shortly after his death.
August the following year, a close friend’s son took his life. He was eighteen. He did leave an explanation, and his family was blindsided to learn he’d been living with a sadness and hopelessness he could no longer tolerate.
I have lost a child. I know what it’s like to be in such a dark place that when your head hits the pillow each night, you wish you would no longer wake. I know what it’s like to live in that darkness for months on end. That being said, I have never once considered taking matters into my own hands. I’m not saying that as some sort of judgment. I’m just saying I don’t know what it’s like to have those thoughts.
I do know this. We have a mental health problem in our society that is not being addressed. People are hurting, often silently, and so we are left feeling confused, rejected, guilty, or any number of painful emotions when someone we love dies of suicide. They didn’t seem unhappy. Why did they feel they couldn’t confide in me? Why didn’t I see the signs? I should have checked in with them. How could they leave me this way?
For whatever reason, there is a stigma attached when someone reveals that they are experiencing mental or emotional struggles. Things are slowly getting better, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
Western society tends to have a “suck it up, Buttercup” mentality that makes it difficult for people to reveal their internal struggles, especially men. I’m not suggesting we have to be a culture of 24/7 diarrhea of emotions - there’s a time and place for everything. But clearly, many are not finding a balance between having healthy coping skills for when life is shit – as we all know it can be at times – and feeling safe enough to reach out for help when those coping skills are not cutting it. Or in the case of a young person like my friend's son, may be altogether missing. And the subject of suicide? We’ve deemed it too uncomfortable and scary to talk about, so most of the time we just don’t.
What saddens me the most about my dad - aside from missing him so much every damn day - is that despite how close our family had always been, he felt he couldn’t tell a single one of us what he was going through. The loneliness he must have carried breaks my heart.
When I was in high school, Tears for Fears was one of my favorite bands. I don’t remember how it came about - maybe I told my dad how much I loved their album The Hurting - but he borrowed my cassette and listened to it on his bus ride to and from his job at the Nevada Test Site. I was generally a happy, content teenager, and hadn’t given the lyrics on the album much consideration so I was puzzled when Dad later asked me if I was doing okay.
“Well, the songs on that album...” he said when I asked him why. “Start of a Breakdown?” There were several other songs that, as a parent, would have caused me concern as well. The Hurting, Mad World, Watch Me Bleed. No, I was not angsty or struggling; I just liked the music. Okay, maybe I liked it because it was angsty, but I wasn’t depressed or on the verge of a breakdown. The point is he was checking in with me, just in case.
I wish I had checked in with him.
Author Sam Harris wrote, “Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others.” To others, someone may appear to have the ingredients of a happy life, but we can never truly know what it going on in someone's psyche.
People, please check in with your people. There's no guarantee if the person is hurting they will tell you when asked, but if a friend or family member ever does reveal they are having thoughts of suicide, please let them know there is no shame in such feelings and it’s okay to ask for help. Don’t say things like, “But why? You have so much to live for.” They may not even understand why they feel that way, they just know they do.
Life can be fricking hard, and the shame and embarrassment surrounding mental health challenges are why far too many suffer in silence when they shouldn’t have to.
When we ask our cashier or delivery person or food server How are you? we need to be willing to listen to an honest response that isn’t the usual good or fine we’ve been programmed to say, even when we are far from good or fine. If we’re not willing to do that, then we shouldn’t ask. We might be the only person they shared their burdens with, and offering a compassionate ear, even for just a few minutes, could have more impact than we may ever know.
If you are someone who is struggling right now, I want to share a few words written by Glennon Doyle that really hit home for me.
“If you are uncomfortable – in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused – you don’t have a problem, you have a life. Being human is not hard because you’re doing it wrong, it’s hard because you’re doing it right. You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you must change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy.”
I'm pretty damn sure there are far more people than you realize who have at some point in their lives found themselves lying on the floor in a fetal position. And if you are having thoughts of ending it, please talk to someone. I'm confident there is someone in your life who would much rather listen to your problems than your eulogy.
I love and miss you, Dad, and can’t help but believe you are free from whatever pain you carried while you were here. Give Sydney a big kiss for me, and I’ll catch you on the other side.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Let Me Tell You About My Dad
Finding My Way Through Grief
Life and Happiness After Loss
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