“Wow. I just gotta say, suicide is such a selfish decision. I can’t believe anyone would do that to someone else.”
I stood there in shock. I don’t know why—she said the same thing I have said dozens of times in the past. But this time I heard those words from a different point of view. I understand suicide so much differently than I did just a few years ago.
Becoming a widow due to suicide changes you; it carries so much guilt and shame, and it is suffocating. However, in time, as I stood back and picked through the wreckage, I began to find little puzzle pieces scattered about. Sometimes, those pieces were only parts of pieces, charred as my world went up in flames. Each piece I discovered gave me a glimpse into the decision that was made that day. I’ll never be able to hold all of the pieces or put together the full picture, but those parts showed me pain and suffering that was hidden until it could not be hidden any longer. It also taught me what suicide isn’t.
Suicide isn’t a selfish act.
For suicide to be a selfish act, it would need to result in gain for the person who has died. There is no personal profit or gain here. When a person has reached the point of suicidal ideations, it is due to the diseased state of their brain. Much like a cancer that eats away at the body’s tissues, mental illness eats away at all rational thought.
Many times they begin to believe things that are untrue, and it is nearly impossible to get them to believe otherwise. Ask me how I know. My late husband believed that my sons and I were far better off without him. He feared that he was going to become a burden, and we would live ashamed and embarrassed of who he was and the things he had done. He felt he was beyond God’s love and grace. He was convinced that this was the best thing for us.
Being able to follow through with taking one’s own life is terrifying. I can’t even imagine what goes on in the minds of those that die this way. I can tell you this: it is not cowardly. It is pure desperation. Much like someone who takes pills to end their suffering through Death with Dignity acts, which allow terminally ill patients to end their life before the suffering becomes too much to bear, these men and women are already in constant pain. All they can think about is making the pain stop. Suicide isn’t the easy way out.
Suicide isn’t random.
You will often hear the surviving friends and family say that it was unexpected. They had no idea. I felt that way, too. However, mental illness sufferers are really good at hiding what is going on inside of them. Many times the illness has been festering for years and years, building up over time as the person does their best to put on a brave face to the world until they simply can’t hide it any longer.
Suicide isn’t a choice.
People die by suicide. They don’t “commit suicide” which indicates a choice or even a crime. Again, the brain has deteriorated to the point of no longer allowing rational thought, deeming them incompetent to make their own decisions. The diseased part of the brain is making these choices.
In my experience, suicided widows have oftentimes watched their loved ones turn away and find something to numb the pain. In some cases, many turn to some sort of addiction that leads to problems at home.
Maybe it was drug or alcohol addiction that led to verbal abuse. Maybe it was sex addiction that led to emotional abuse. Maybe it was bouts of anger due to a short fuse leading to physical abuse. Maybe it was work addiction that caused resentment and long absences from home. Those identifiable causes become the problem, further steering us away from seeing that the root cause of the behavior is actually mental illness.
Next time you come face-to-face with a family who has endured suicide loss, understand that there was more to it than you might understand.
Understand that while they might be dealing with grief and loss, they are also picking up the pieces of a life that likely has been shattered for some time. They are recovering from the intense trauma of the act itself, the guilt of not knowing that this was coming, and the shame that follows.
It is time to change the narrative. Mental illness and its signs must be better understood in order to successfully prevent more suicides from happening. Addictions and other behavioral issues have a root cause, and that is where the power to stop suicide from happening exists.
In honor of Suicide Awareness Month, please refer to these trusted resources for mental health care:
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Veterans and Active Duty
- National Institute of Mental Health > Suicide Prevention
- Mental Health First Aid | Veterans and Military
To hear from another one of our brave writers whose life was impacted by suicide, listen to this podcast episode of This Grit and Grace Life: Behind Her Struggle With Alcohol With Lindsey Encinias – 161