One of Six
This last week, I began to complete my Continuing Education Units (CEU) for my license renewal cycle. I need to be properly informed. A course per day keeps me that way.
For most of the needed hours, you can choose what to learn; you must comply with the legal requirements for the license renewal cycle. This year, along with the regular legal courses, there is a requirement to complete several hours on suicide assessment. I cringed. I don’t want to go there; I know things about assessment that no instructor MA or PhD is going to know.
It began on Thursday with two hours on suicide and grief. Geez, dude, it never ends! I’m glad he said it. He disclosed his survivor status and I thought, OK, a person who’s been through it. I was still in caution mode. What does this guy really know if he lost his brother when he was eight?
Suicide is a delicate subject, and so is death in general. You have people that believe that children are too young to know the truth. Children who have to face active shooter drills in school! I think adults underestimate what children can process given the correct, age-appropriate information. Death, and death by suicide, are no exceptions. We need to have honest conversation with children about death in all its forms when it arises. Kids have questions.
There is a culture of fear around suicide. While I don’t support anyone actively dying by suicide, I support honest discussion on the subject. I believe that those of us who have faced this in our own lives tend to understand it better. Talking about it can enable the person having suicidal feelings to explore them, discover the facts, and separate the truths from the fiction.
Here are some facts and fictions that matter:
Fact: When someone feels a sense of belonging, they are less likely to die by suicide. The feeling that a person belongs, and has someone or someplace to seek companionship, can make the difference between life and death for many people. Places such as the Utah-based Encircle organization are excellent examples of this. These places provide services and a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ souls who otherwise might be at risk for suicide. Creating belonging goes a long way.
Fiction: Saying you’re going to commit suicide is an attention-seeking act. Let’s not judge this too quickly. The saying of the words are an opening for discussion. Someone might want to open up the conversation in a real way; they might want listening. They could need professional help; they don’t want you to fix them. If this is being repeated, it calls for gentle prompts to seek more listening than you are qualified to provide.
Fact: Suicide can happen when the person perceives resources are gone. Notice the use of the word “can” here. Some people who die by suicide are in therapy, feel a sense of belonging, and ultimately still choose to end their lives. This is particularly true with the bipolar population. It is also true of other mental health diagnoses. Sometimes, despite the resources available to someone, the mental suffering and anguish are so great that the perceived ending of the suffering becomes an option. This was Jon’s situation, and I understand why he did it.
Fiction: If they get help, it will solve all problems and the issue of suicide will disappear. As cited in the fact above using my husband’s death as an example, help doesn’t always meet the need. He had help, but there was the pain of waking up every day and feeling the depression. It didn’t let up, and at the end it developed into something else that caused him to die by suicide.
Fact: A person may spontaneously decide to end their life and carry out the act in less than five minutes. One thing that can alter this is having a safety plan in place. Who can a person call? Are the numbers ready at the touch of a fingertip on the phone? Is there a place they can go to so that they are somewhere else for a time? Are weapons, and other lethal methods, out of reach?
Fact: They may feel like a burden to others. This is real and should not be discounted. A person in chronic pain, with a chronic illness, or with other issues needs to be heard deeply and be given authentic information that supports them staying around.
Fact: For every suicide, there are six people affected directly. There are more affected in an indirect manner. In my situation, there were more than six people directly affected. This isn’t about dishing out blame; it is a fact. The fiction here would be that if you mention this fact to someone, it will stop them from dying by suicide.
Fiction: We can prevent all suicide. We can’t, no matter how much we may want to do so. There are some situations where even best efforts are going to fall short of prevention.
Debatable: No rational person ends their life. This last item is the reason why there are laws in states and countries surrounding the ending of one’s life. It is why it takes two medical doctors to give the OK on such a thing. In countries where this is legal, the use of this form of euthanasia is lower than most people would guess. It is also something that most physicians don’t want to do for a patient.
Back to the main focus.
I want to bring up the stages of grief, and why they don’t work here, and will never work here. The stages of grief focus on the living and those who are dying. A hospice chaplain or mental health practitioner will have the skills to guide the dying and those who are loved ones, and in some cases friends, to a resolution around the impending death. The living are given the chance to make peace with the death that will occur. They can plan for it.
Given the above information on Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of grief, once it happens, there is no resolution. We can’t resolve issues in the same way we can with the living. If we’re doing the work of exploring our grief and pain well, we’ll also uncover new thoughts and ideas that we can’t explore with the dead: they’re gone.
The fact is that stuff resurfaces in different forms. What you thought you had worked through rears its ugly head and you are faced once again with the death, the fight, the misunderstanding, the thing they did or you did. You might rehash a feeling of “if only” and realize that you can’t take it back.
Ultimately, the resolution comes to us when we accept that there is no resolution for death, and suicide in particular. You never get over this; you do get through it by not going around it. Navigating our lives will change, and while we’ll move on, we’ll never move over it. Some people feel that forgiveness can resolve the issue. I’m of the opinion that there is nothing to forgive. They did what they did, and while we might carry unresolved guilt around not being enough, once again we need to cut ourselves some slack, offer up a huge helping of grace, and then we can move forward with our lives.