Another Celebrity has committed suicide, so people are talking about suicide again.
That’s a good thing. People should talk about it because not talking is how we avoid thinking about it. Mostly people don’t talk or think about death if they can help it. Personally, I’m thrilled to know that death is there when my body is no longer a good vehicle for getting around in! Remember the story about Eos (Dawn) and Tithonus (a prince of Troy). She loved the young hansom musician and asked Zeus to make him immortal and forgot to ask forgot eternal youth. Eventually he shriveled up and became a cricket- (the sound he makes is him asking for death). We don’t keep a car around once it no longer works, and everything else in the universe is recycled, why would we think we wouldn’t be? Body back to the earth, soul back to wherever it came from. Death is not a tragedy.
The problem with suicide is that often it can be ducking out of life before you are meant to. My understanding of how it works is that if you have a problem and commit suicide, in your next life, you’ll have the same problem, lifetime after lifetime, until you learn how to deal with it. Essentially by killing yourself, you’ve given up your “time served” and have to start over again. If there’s a problem, work through it this time if you can.
Since I’m currently studying vampire mythology, what leapt to my mind is that in folklore, Vampires are what happens to the spirits of suicides: they come back as vampires. I think this reflects the survivors guilt of the people whose loved ones commit suicide. They always feel as if there is something they could have, and should have done to prevent it. Maybe they could, maybe they couldn’t, but it is in the nature of people to feel hurt, abandoned, angry at someone who kills himself. The Catholic Church made it a mortal sin, and wouldn’t bury the body in consecrated ground- essentially barring them from the possibility of redemption (creating vampires). (Like in the movie The Mummy, where because the priest was so bad, they cursed him with incredible power. I miss the logic.) I can understand the survivors guilt. The people who are left behind figure if they’d tried harder, they could have made them less miserable. Possibly. Possibly not.
If they are sick, you can’t cure the disease, can you? If they are suffering from mental illness, you can’t make them not mentally ill. If they are in pain, you probably can’t make the pain go away. If they are homeless, it’s highly unlikely you can have them move in with you without making your problems too much for you to deal with. If they can’t pay their bills, you probably can’t pay them for them. Are there ANY of their problems that you really could have fixed? No one can make anyone else happy. Sometimes we are happy when around other people, but you can’t give it to someone as a present. That’s not how it works. You may love your spouse, your children, your parents, you friends, but you can’t make them happy. That’s true when they’re alive and when they die, and you probably knew that already, because there are very few of us who haven’t tried to make someone happy. People make themselves crazy trying to fix other people’s lives. (Think about how crazy people get at Christmas trying to make themselves and others happy because they’re “supposed to be happy at Christmas”) That’s the wrong path to go down.
Another thing we often forget is that sometimes we (or they) don’t have any idea what makes us happy, or even if we ARE unhappy. Diseases are often things your body uses to give you a wake up call to tell you to change your life. In a study about what people who achieved remission from cancer had done to heal themselves, they had no treatment in common. However, they all had changed their lives- changed their job, gotten out of a marriage that wasn’t working, did something to make their lives different and more fulfilling. Often we don’t know just how unhappy we are because we have all the things we THINK we should have to make us happy. Ælfwine kept saying “My life was perfect, I just want my life back.” But after two years of cancer, chemo, hospitals, bone marrow transplant, Guillain-Barré, etc. he’d had lots of time to think and told me “I think I’d rather have gone through this than spend another day working back at Global.” Took him long enough (well, too long, apparently). Cancer is just slow suicide.
So I keep thinking about the people who decide to kill themselves. Maybe they don’t know why they feel that life isn’t worth living anymore. Sometimes they do know, but can’t think of a way to change the situation. Sometimes it’s an unbearable relationship that they don’t know how to get out of. Sometimes it’s debt that they don’t know how to deal with. This is where suicide lines can help. I remember hearing about a girl who had lost everything and called one, and was told about a food kitchen a few blocks away that she’d not known about. That’s the sort of thing where we CAN help. Sometimes we just don’t know what other people know that can help us. Often it’s only information that we are missing.
The tragic suicides are when there’s a fixable problem, a temporary one. Suicide numbers are going up recently, probably because problems seem harder to solve. Working hard can’t guarantee a living wage. Media concentrates on showing us the things that are going wrong in the world. From politics to the environment, it’s hard to feel that we have any control over our lives. So when the pain gets too great, being dead seems a much better option.
Is killing ourselves too available an option? Some of these “red flag” laws have shown results that when depressed people don’t have easy access to guns, gun suicides go down, and other suicides don’t go up. This indicates to me that some of the people who shoot themselves might well change their minds if they didn’t have access to the guns. (Perhaps they couldn’t figure out access to poisons.) One thing the Netherlands has seen when they provide suicide pills to terminal patients is that most of them are never taken. The people often express that just knowing that the option is in their control soothes their pain, so they can deal with it.
Another thing I heard during recent discussions is that when people are hospitalized and released, that’s the highest risk time for suicide. What to they expect? Suicide watch may prevent them from killing themselves while under watch, and it may remove them from the immediate stresses, but if you don’t fix what’s stressing them, why would you expect them to not have the same response when you put them back into it? If their life is going to hell, it’s probably not going to be better when they go back and whatever they’d been doing to keep it under control hasn’t been handled while they were gone. The mess is bigger, the people are more stressed, the bills are still accumulating, the deadlines are closer. This is not rocket science! If you want to help, FIX the things that are going wrong before dumping them back into the chaos (with an appointment to see someone next week to talk about how crappy their life is)! I wish they respect the people enough to accept that they’ve already tried to work on the problems, and what they’ve tried didn’t work. Look for things they HAVEN’t tried, give them resources they haven’t found. If you can’t think of anything they haven’t thought of, respect their despair.
Suffering is pain without hope. Hope isn’t a feeling you can tell someone to have, it’s what happens when a new possibility is given to you, whether a therapy or a source of income that you didn’t know about, or maybe just information showing that changing some of the bad things is possible. If they’ve exhausted all their options, and you can’t give them any, respect their choice to stop playing the game, fighting the fight, or whatever analogy you want to use. It’s not like they weren’t going to die at some point anyway. We all do. The tragedy is only when we die before we finish doing what we wanted to do with our lives.
You don’t get angry with the person who dies of cancer, don’t get angry with the person who dies of an overdose or other suicide because they can’t figure out how to fix their lives, to stop hurting. If there are problems you can help with, do it. As with allergies, maybe you will always be allergic, but sometimes you can keep the cumulative exposure down to a level where the symptoms don’t overwhelm you. Maybe if you can help with something, the world won’t seem so hopeless, and the misery won’t overwhelm them. But remember, no one can make anyone else happy. But you may be able to help them not hurt as much, and that’s not bad.