I was a teenager I think when a woman in our church suicided. Dad pointed out the man sitting alone.
His wife just killed herself.
Dad asked me what I thought of suicide. Imagine. What a compliment really for a teen, to be asked her thoughts. Being a “Feeler,” I oozed something empathic I’m sure, but still I only remember what Dad said,
I believe God has a special way of seeing these cases.
This was at a time when culturally most of the western world saw suicide as sin. It was quite forward for Dad to say what he did again later to the grieving man in the pew. I did not realize at the time, but now I see that people judged him and his wife for what she did.
Later in psychiatry training, my attending said,
Suicide is the most selfish act anyone can do. It is the ultimate punishment aimed at those who still live.
I don’t know what you think, but I couldn’t help wondering. I still do. I think this may be true for some and not others. I haven’t had a chance to ask them. They’re dead.
Suicide is terrifying to a psychiatrist. We all tremble at the thought. Statistically we know women attempt it more than men, but men are more “successful” when they do try. They use methods that are generally more lethal than women. They don’t get a chance to realize that in a month or a day they will want life again. Or an hour. They could have lived.
In the intensive-care unit of a hospital, “unsuccessful” suicide attempts hover in life in a space where their self-injury placed them. The nurses are kept running between medicines, treatments, physician orders and prayers for these lives that tried to die. Sometimes, the “chronically suicidal” become familiar patients to this critical care ward and that has it’s effect on those who have spent themselves so heroically to save them.
A nurse once told me angrily about her patient who kept coming back.
I fought for that woman’s life! I prayed over her! I worked all night for several nights and didn’t know if she would live until much later. And then she was transferred out to the step-down ward (to a floor where the patients aren’t in such a life-threatening condition), and that lady probably never knew what I went through to keep her alive.
Then later, she came back, and later again, almost dead but not dead. She kept trying to kill herself! Finally, when she was conscious again, I just told her how it is. ‘Listen! I fought hard for you! You better go out there and live! You better figure out what it is you want and go for it. Stop trying to die!’
This lady-patient was hurting more than herself. Suicidal thoughts and attempts are dangerous.
There was a patient who tried to use his bed-sheets as a noose before the nurse lifted his wet body from the door frame. In the emergency room (ER) he was examined, x-rayed and determined fit to return to the ward. Alive. Talking to the ER physician, I learned that the reason most people die when they hang themselves isn’t because of suffocation. It’s because they break their neck. Done. No more chances to choose life. Even an hour. My pulse was still beating on me to the rhythm of, “He could have died! He could have died!” This time, no broken neck.
Regardless of our culture, we are not the judges of these people who want to die. Regardless of our emotions, their emotions before, any previous conflicts, regardless, we cannot measure their final act by degrees or intentions.
We fight together for their lives and they may or may not know about what that does to the rest of the world. When we don’t want to fight for them any more, we should change jobs. It is our choice, each of us. Whether we are fighting as professionals or as a wife, brother, friend, volunteer or the hired tutor, we fight for their lives because we choose to. If we cannot keep it up without judging, shaming, accusing the suicidal, we need to own that and take care of ourselves first. “Can’t give what you don’t have.”
The truth is, suicidality is hard for everyone. It is hard in ways and in people that aren’t talked about, such as the nurses or the x-ray tech who is the first to find the cervical fracture (broken neck) on film. It is hard for the church parishioners, the person separated by seven-degrees or the grocer. Suicidality is hard for all of us. We give what we choose to give and remember to say, “I can’t control that,” when we can’t. It is our choice.
Self-Care Tip #182 – Taking care of someone is your choice, even in the context of suicide. Be a friend to yourself.
Question: How has suicide touched your life? Please tell me your story.
- Stressful life events in suicide attempts and completed suicides (kevinmd.com)
- Where Do I Find Help for Someone Who Is Suicidal? (everydayhealth.com)
- Suicide as Scene and Spectacle: Notes on The Bridge and Aokigahara – Suicide Forest (3quarksdaily.com)