The Survivor’s Side of Suicide: Part 1/2

I’m honored to have friend and NYT’s bestselling author Julie Cantrell here this week with a poignant post about her brother’s suicide.

Suicide seems to have come to the forefront with the death of Robin Williams but suicide is ever present. Last week was Suicide Awareness Week and I’m willing to do what I can (as a mother, nurse and author) to help raise awareness.

Thank you, Julie, for these words.

Suicide is one ugly word. It’s the kind of word that swings heavy from lips. The kind that is whispered, and stilted, never sung.

As an author, I build my life around words. Every word has worth. Even those words we are not supposed to say.

But suicide is the one word I do not like. I wish there was no need for such a word in our world. Especially since 1997, when my teen brother ended his own life two months before his high school graduation.

It is one thing to be on the other side of suicide, where you may offer prayer or casseroles or even a hug. It is another thing entirely to be on the side of the survivor, after a loved one puts a gun to the head or a rope to the neck or a blade to the vein.

That dark depth of despair is no easy channel to navigate because unlike every other form of death, this one was intentional. This one could have been prevented. This one carries immeasurable sting.

The what-ifs and but whys and I wonders never cease. They haunt all hours, whether moonlit or shine.

And the stares don’t stop either, the constant conversation that hangs silently between friends — at the grocery store, or in the church pews, or at the birthday party. No one says it, but they are thinking… That poor mother, how does she stand it? Or – That poor child, knowing his father took his own life.

What people on that side of suicide don’t understand is that we, the survivors left in the wake, are barely keeping our heads above water. We don’t want pity, or sympathy, or stares. We don’t want whispers, or questions, or help. We want one thing only. We want our loved ones back.
And there’s one simple way you can give this to us.

Talk about the people we loved and lost. Don’t dance around us as if their ghost is in the way. Acknowledge the lives they lived. Recognize the light they once shined. Laugh about the fun you once had together.

There’s nothing you can tell us — no detail too small, no memory too harsh — that will hurt us. We crave it all. We are hungry for any piece of time travel you offer. Bring us back, to that space, when the one we loved was in the here and now.
Suicide is something most of us struggle to understand. It is difficult to rationalize the selfish part of such an act. How could someone not care about the pain they would throw on their loved ones? How could someone not be strong enough to stay alive?

But here’s the truth: suicide was not the cause of my brother’s death. Depression was the cause of his death. And depression is a beast unlike any other. It is an illness we still struggle to cure, despite all the therapeutic and pharmaceutical intervention available today.
Sometimes, even with all the help in the world, a person cannot see through the pain. They cannot imagine a better day ahead. They see only more hurt. And when I say hurt, I mean suffering. Blood-zapping, brain-numbing, soul-bursting agony.
Imagine this: you wake every day as a prisoner. You are trapped in a cell with no freedom in your future. You are tortured — physically, emotionally, psychologically. The anguish never stops. Just when you think you cannot survive another blow, it comes again. More pain.
You try to ignore the ache. You cannot. You try to numb the hurt. You cannot. You try to rise above the pain. You cannot. The brutality persists. And you see no end to it.
If you knew you had to endure only one more round of abuse, or one more month, or even a year, or longer — If there was an end in view, you could be strong enough to handle it. You could take whatever is thrown at you because you want, more than anything else, to live.
You are a sensitive soul and you have so much left in you to give. You want only to love and be loved. But the cell has you trapped. You have tried everything. There is no end to the insufferable situation.
A person with depression becomes suicidal when they finally give up all hope. When they accept that nothing they do, no matter how long they survive, no matter how many medications or prayers or therapists they turn to, the pain will never end.
Can you imagine the pain you would have to be in to take your own life? Can you imagine the fear of a suicidal person (regardless of faith), daring to face the unknown because even the possibility of eternal hellfire or permanent purgatory or absolute absence seems less scary than another day in this world?

We’ll conclude with Part II on Thursday.

************************************************************************

Julie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Into the Free, which won Christy Awards for Best Debut Novel and for Book of the Year 2013. Cantrell has served as editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review and is a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Fellowship. She and her family live in Mississippi, where they operate Valley House Farm. Her new novel, WhenMountains Move, hit shelves September 1, 2013.

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