September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – a month I wish had no reason to exist. Unfortunately, suicide is a topic I am all too familiar with.
I remember the phone calls as if they happened yesterday.
The first one came on April 10, 1993 as I was giving my daughter a bath. My sister Debbie was calling to tell me that my older brother Pat had taken his own life by overdosing on alcohol and blood-pressure medication. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I was filled with sadness, anger and confusion.
The second call came 22 years later – almost to the day – this time from my other sister, Alicia. My other older brother, Mark, had made the same decision by turning a gun on himself.
Pat’s death caught us all completely off guard so there was no opportunity to try to help him.
But as a mental health worker, I had attempted to intervene with Mark many times. For a season there was hope.
But the lack of a medical solution for his health problems, persistent pain, isolation and over-medication tipped the scales. He believed that killing himself was his last and best option.
Unfortunately, many of us have grieved for loved ones who have believed this lie from the devil – the idea that the only solution to their current circumstances is to end their lives.
It is already so hard to say goodbye to people we love – but suicide adds another layer of not only sadness but confusion and in a way, we are left to pick up the pieces.
First, for those of you on this journey currently, I want to say you are not alone and you will get through this. The pain and questions don’t vanish. But slowly, over time, it will get easier.
Even now, there are days when I think of my brothers and I battle thoughts that tell me to simply give up. But when I hear those voices, I remember that this is what it means to be human – life is good and bad, and my emotional stability will be good and bad. Reminding myself of this gets me out of destructive thinking.
Secondly, if you have lost a loved one to suicide I know right now you are probably working through not only grief, but a lot of questions that either start with the word ‘why’ or have to do with evaluating your interactions with your loved one.
The suicide of someone close to you raises a number of nagging questions. Did I miss the warning signs? Could I have saved him or her? What could I have done differently?
I had to stop torturing myself because I have learned that in most circumstances there is nothing you could have done that would have changed things. We can’t think for other people. We can’t resolve emotional conflicts inside another person.
I know that is not what you want to hear because we all want to fix things and save our loved ones.
Don’t get me wrong: If people have confided in you about their struggle with mental health, you should do everything you can to help them. Encourage them to seek professional help, remind them they are loved and pray for them. But at the end of the day, we can’t do everything.
I also want you to know the emotions you are feeling are natural. After my brothers passed, I felt like I was on a never-ending rollercoaster of emotions. It is OK to feel terrified; it is OK to be mad.
What is not OK is keeping those emotions inside. Allow yourself to grieve. I encourage you to work through these emotions with a trusted friend or seek professional counseling.
Getting through this is a process. There will be times when you terribly miss your loved one, and that’s OK. There are times when I still think of my brothers and want so badly to have them here.
The unknown of what is to come can be daunting; that is why I encourage you to take one day at a time and surround yourself with people who can support you.
God is with you. He loves you. He will provide for you. We do not know why things happen but we know God is there with us in our brokenness and heartache. Ultimately, we can trust that He is good and we need to hold on to Him and His truth.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).