Shame, Sympathy, and the “S” Word
Suicide, suicide, suicide.
Maybe if I say it enough it will start to sound ridiculous instead of scary. Like when you say any word over and over. Most words start to sound funny.
But not this word.
The truth is I don’t even know if I’ve said it out loud since my brother took his life in June. I have managed to avoid it by using more polite terms. And, usually, I try to avoid the subject altogether.
…Until today. I said it out loud to an empty room. It felt heavy as I spoke and it echoed in my head. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about this word. It’s just a word. It describes what happened.
But I don’t like what happened. However, I have conflict about that too. I know he was sick, suffering. So I know he was escaping to a place of peace. A place of understanding. But the act itself… I can’t begin to unpack the baggage of deciding what it is.
I know it’s not for me to decide, but I feel like I should have an answer.
Some say it’s a selfish act.
Ok, sure. But which of our daily, human decisions isn’t selfish? Isn’t there a “Friends” episode about when Phoebe tries to do an act of kindness without selfish motivation? It’s hard. And when I think about the reasons that I’m upset Joel is gone I realize that I’m being selfish too.
I wanted him to stay.
I was angry when I saw the pictures of my baby saved on his computer. Why didn’t he wait long enough to meet her? And I think about everything that will happen in MY life and how he won’t be there. Selfish.
They took the easy way out?
I have a hard time with that because I know my brother. He dealt with his anxiety discreetly, not wanting to burden others. Instead of taking medication he exercised and took up new hobbies. He started biking and running, entering races and training constantly. That doesn’t seem easy to me. He was trying to treat his symptoms naturally. Yes, he probably needed medication or counseling. And I wish I had known the extent of his illness, maybe he could have received professional help. But now we’re wandering down the “what if” road and that’s a dangerous place.
I know that I want him to be alive. I know that ending a life is never the answer. And I want so badly to go back in time and prevent what happened. But I have a weird sense of relief now that I know the pain he was experiencing. It explains so much. And thinking about the torment he felt hurts me in a way that is so much worse than missing him. I know I’ll see him again one day. And he’ll be happy.
So I want to do my part to remove some of the shame associated with the word suicide. It’s a tragedy. It’s far too often the end result of mental illness. It’s devastating. It needs to be prevented. But it should stir compassion and sympathy. It should spur us to show kindness and love to everyone, knowing that some are suffering in ways we don’t understand. It’s a word I want to be able to say, because it’s the result of an illness that took my brother’s life.
So I won’t be ashamed.
It doesn’t mean he was weak, it doesn’t make him more selfish than the rest of us. It means he lost a hard-fought battle. It means he didn’t get the help he needed. So let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Let’s do our part to be aware of the warning signs and to encourage treatment. Let’s say the word with empathy, not shame.