For me, it’s been an ironic week in the news. One suicide after the other during the week I am remembering my own loss.
A dynamic pastor, loving husband, and dedicated father of three beautiful boys who experienced a long-standing battle with anxiety and depression. A nine-year old boy who had just come out as gay over the summer and experienced bullying during his first four days back to school. A police officer facing the possible loss of his job and criminal charges. And a young man whose mental health care was often the focus of his parents’ years-long conflict after their divorce.
Of course, these suicides represent only a fraction of the lives lost during this week. The Center for Disease Control reports 44,193 suicides in the United States alone in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. That is 850 people a week, 846 more than the 4 of which I recently became aware.
The sheer impact of that stops me in my ever-moving tracks. I know the weight of a fraction of one loss to suicide. I have not carried my mother’s pain, my father’s pain, my surviving brother’s pain, my dead brother’s pain, or the pain of any others, including close friends and an even-closer girlfriend, who were torn apart by his death. I carry only the portion of that burden that is mine, and it is heavy.
But there are hundreds of thousands of “me” created each year, all because there exists a weight heavier than grief that causes a kind of permanent collapse.
When I think of the ripple effect of all of that trauma, I feel crippled.
When I think of the precious lives lost, I feel deep sadness.
When I think about how preventable it all is, I feel smoldering anger.
Each of us has deeply loved a child at some point in our lives, our own or someone else’s. A child who has that one word he mispronounces in a manner too cute for correction. A child who wonders at the smallest detail of life that every other child would miss. A child who lives for every cuddle, every bedtime story, every silly song from her caregiver. A child who innocently looks forward to the small joys in life—an unexpected piece of candy, an extra trip to the park, another small human in the next cart over. We all cherish the memories these children have imprinted upon us–memories from a time that child couldn’t have imagined she was anything less than perfect, the world was anything less than safe, and people were anything less than adoring.
And yet somehow, sometimes in an explosive fire and sometimes over a long, slow burn, all the innocence, joy, expectation, and trust are consumed.
Transformed into ash.
And a person finds himself unable to see his life as anything more than worthless, the world as anything more than terrifying, and people as anything more than rejecting.
Now, I do affirm that we all, from either a spiritual perspective or lived experience, understand intuitively that ash is not always the end of the story.
We know that sometimes, beauty rises from the ash.
But it is also true that sometimes, nothing rises from the ash.
Nothing but a coffin, an empty seat at the table, and a lot of never-to-be-answered questions.
In the coming weeks, I am going to wrestle on the blog with some of my most gnawing questions about suicide, like why does it happen, what would it take to prevent it, what is our responsibility to the hurting as part of the human community, and how do we as people, and especially the Evangelical church, account and atone for the blood on our hands in the aftermath of so many of these deaths?
But before I get started, an important note. Obviously, as a survivor of suicide, my sincere hope is that no human has to ever again feel that deep a despair or chose that method to end the pain. I know to the tips of my toes that every life can (and already does) have meaning, and if you are reading this in the midst of a darkness you cannot see your way out of, I hope you will pick up your phone and message that one person the most honest part of you believes might actually care. I understand that for you, this is not an intellectual discussion but rather a lived reality. I cannot imagine the pain you are in and I know you would have found a way out of this hell if you knew how. I know you’ve been hurt in ways that weren’t fair and that you cannot imagine trusting yourself or the world again. As a human, and as a therapist, I have seen others in your pain, who saw no way out, get their life back. I know that if you chose life today, you might regret it tomorrow. And, I promise, you won’t regret it when the tunnel you are in opens up to a bright sky and your future finally unfolds. Hang in there for it, okay? Reach out.