Thursday, September 9, 2010

There, I said it.

Suicide, a noun, meaning to take one's own life, is one of those words that provokes very strong reactions. Like vagina. Simply say vagina in "polite" company, and people become noticeably uncomfortable, avert their gaze, fidget and so forth. Really? If you say arm, leg, even penis, people don't react that way, but vagina...oooooohh, that's dirty.

Vagina, vagina, vagina. Suicide doesn't sound that bad now, does it? Over the past 13 years, since my brother committed suicide, I have said the word many times. My brother died. How? He committed suicide. Most times, that is followed by an uncomfortable awkward silence and the abrupt end of the conversation. Unless I'm feeling particularly antagonistic and continue to engage the person squirming to get away from me before they catch the suicide virus, or whatever they're afraid is going to happen.

So, when my friend posted about writing LOVE on your arm in support of Suicide Awareness and Prevention week (September 5-11) I leaped at the opportunity. I wrote it on my arm, the kids' arms, and some of my friends even wrote it on their arms. A few people asked me about it, I explained, and mostly, they squirmed.

Raised as a Catholic, I was taught that "suicides" go to hell. In the movie, What Dreams May Come, after her suicide, Annabella Sciorra goes to a dark, scary place. Once someone asked me how I could live every day knowing my brother's soul was in hell. I don't, by the way, live that way. And it's probably one of the worst things you could say to someone who lost a loved one to suicide.

It's just not something "nice" people talk about, my mom told me once. What about if "nice" people's sons commit suicide; then can you talk about it?

In my counseling classes, we were taught to identify suicidal ideology in clients: to see the signs, to hear the clues, to gauge the seriousness of the situation. Ask how much a person has thought about it; find out if they have a plan, if they've attempted suicide before. In fact we talked a LOT about suicide. It wasn't a dirty word there.

When my brother committed suicide, the worst part for me was imagining his being so sad. Feeling so lonely and desperate ... as if he had nowhere to turn ... as if we, and the world, would be better off without him. That ate at me for years. The fact that we were all right here loving him was not enough to save him. The thought of his sadness overwhelming his coping mechanisms, waves of depression washing away the lifelines we held, nearly destroyed me.

I've heard when someone you love commits suicide, they die once, and you die a thousand times. Asking why, wondering what you could have done to prevent it, analyzing every conversation for signs you missed, over and over and over until you're nearly crazy. When I hear of someone committing suicide, I want to hug their family. I want to tell them they're not alone. I want to say: There are more of us who understand and share your pain, and to us it's not taboo.

For all those who write LOVE on their arms in remembrance of a lost loved one or in support of someone who lost a loved one, thank you. You did a brave thing. And for those of you who did it for me, and for my brother, I love you and cannot even express how much that means to me.

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