Saturday was the 13th Annual International Survivors of Suicide Day.
"Survivors?" My friend asked. "That's the wrong word."
But it isn't. Every 40 seconds someone takes his own life. And every 41 seconds, someone is left to make sense of it, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. That one second is a war. Everything that follows is a tsunami. There can only be survivors. There are questions. There is reasoning and rationalizing. There are thousands of 'whys'. There are a million 'what if's. What if I had called more often? What if I had gone over there? What if I had never said that? Those left after a suicide drown in questions. Sometimes it takes years to figure out how to tread through them. We eventually figure it out. We never go back to normal, but we survive.
My father killed himself in 1996. Although I've finally stopped asking questions or wondering what I could have done differently, there's still a hole where he used to be. There will still be an empty chair at every holiday. There's still a dull pain when something reminds me of him.
But, I'm surviving.
And so are 80 percent of people in the U.S. Eighty percent of all Americans know someone who has taken his own life. About 50 of us gathered at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Saturday in an act of solidarity. It was a global day of healing and bereavement orchestrated by the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.
Together we watched a panel broadcast around the world. We virtually held hands with people in Costa Rica, Ireland, Mexico, Germany, and every major city in the U.S. We all listened as the panelists shared their stories. One man had to cut down his 15-year-old daughter who hanged herself. A 12-year-old lost her father.
And then it was time to share our own stories.
"Raise your hand if you lost a spouse? A parent? A child?"
The majority raised hands for the last one. A child.
According to the Trevor Project, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24 (Eleven hundred college students kill themselves every year).
That's because this side of suicide isn't reported in the news. Nobody talks about the aftermath. The finding of the body. The questions. The years of grief. The people affected. The survivors. Movies show suicide as an option, an answer, a romanticized ending. But it's far from that. Drinking poison because you can't be with your boyfriend isn't really all it's cracked up to be. Shakespeare failed in detailing the rest of the story. I'm sure it was ugly. It left scars. The families blamed themselves. Marriages broke up. Lives went on to be lived but were never the same. And whenever those affected attempted to talk about what happened, it was too taboo for most. They probably had to orchestrate a global day of solidarity to find others who would understand.
I'm writing this to encourage you to talk about suicide with your loved ones. Many survivors say they never saw it coming. So, talk about it! Make sure everyone knows it's not an option, or an easy out, or an ending. Make sure they know how to get help if they're depressed. Start the conversation. Spread the word about how horrible suicide really is. There is nothing romantic about it.