Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
Kevin Briggs presents a hard TED Talk. Hard to listen to, hard to hear the details, harder still if you are someone who lives with those details every day, as I do. Hard if you must fold the reality of loss to suicide into the fabric of life's ordinary joys and challenges. Hard if you must find a way to be in the world despite loving someone who could not.
If you are one of the survivors, if you are one of those whose loved one completed the jump, or the hanging, or the overdose, or the shot to the head, I have three things to share with you. Three things which might help you yourself survive the days and weeks and years ahead. Three things I learned from the many people who have had the courage and compassion to accompany my family and me in one way or another since the death by suicide of our son and brother. Three things which might help you live in hope.
First: Try to seek out those who can listen to you. Those who can really hear you. There's a good chance that they won't be the people you expect. The people closest to you may be the least able to absorb the shock and pain which envelop you. Like you, they want the horror to end, and they want you to be the person you used to be. Your family members bear their own sorrow. Even the professional caregivers in your life, your doctors and clergy, will themselves be stunned, and may know little about the consequences of suicide for those left behind. So, yes, even though you have no energy for it, try to find a counselor, a spiritual guide, or a support group in which listeners can hold your anguish. You will be exploring difficult terrain, and you need companions on the way.
Second: Know that suicide has a tremendous stigma associated with it. If you want to talk, if you want to share your experience, if you want to engage with others around the topic of your loved one's death in particular, or suicide in general, the burden will be on you to initiate the conversation. I got involved in suicide prevention work largely because of my diagnosis of breast cancer two years after my son's death from suicide. Such a contrast in experiences!
Breast cancer taught me what it's like to be challenged by a health issue that's a common topic of public conversation and education. The suicide dialogue is where the breast cancer discussion was decades ago - in the darkness, in the closet. Tough as it is, we are the only ones who can change that reality. We are the ones who can ease the discomfort of others, so that survivors and potential victims alike can find their way to light and life. We are the ones called to boldness and confrontation.
And third: It's ok to pick up your life, or to start a new one, with whatever baby steps are possible for you, whenever you are able to put one foot in front of the other. You may not feel like doing anything at all at first. You may not feel like getting out of bed. (I would be surprised if you did.) You may be so bewildered by the mystery of a loved one's movement away from life that you are hard pressed to consider life for yourself. But when you are able, doing what you can for others will be the proverbial best medicine. Maybe you'll want to become involved in suicide prevention work. Maybe you'll want to run toward something as far removed from the subject of suicide as you can get. Maybe both. But look for invitations to life, and accept them where you can, in whatever small ways you are able.
I wondered, after my son died, who in the world would want a pastor who could not keep her own child alive. Let's get real, I thought. But it turns out that the world needs us. The world is abundantly in need of people who have been forced to look pointless, violent, irrational loss straight in the eye and who nevertheless choose life in all of its richness, in all of its beauty and heartbreak. The world needs people who know tremendous suffering to live and to find ways to scatter light into the darkness.
So: Explore. Be bold. Recreate your life. Grasp whatever fragments of light come your way, and toss them out there for others, as far and as wide as you can.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The Rev. Mary Robin Craig is the Pastor of Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Euclid, Ohio. She and her husband are the parents of three children, one of whom died of suicide nearly six years ago.
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