Why are people afraid to say the word suicide? They act like they are going to catch it if they say the word out loud. I have actually heard someone say “Don't tell anyone it was suicide. Tell them it was a heart attack because if you say suicide it becomes an option for other people in the family who are seeking attention.”
This past March, a week after his 56 birthday, my brother came home, put out the garbage, went to the shed in his back yard and hung himself. I asked my husband, a retired police officer, why he would put the garbage out. He simply said, “Tomorrow is garbage day.”
Looking back there were signs. Nothing big. Just little things. Nothing that would send up a suicide red flag. He suffered from anxiety and depression then medicated with alcohol and drugs. I thought once we got through Christmas he would be OK. I always thought if he was going to commit suicide it would be around Christmas.
Over the last two years I spent more time with my brother than I have in the past 20 because of a financial issue he had gotten himself into. I have learned when a person suffers from depression and anxiety, and medicates with alcohol and drugs, they become an easy target for those who want to take advantage of them. There was no shortage of people who wanted to take advantage of him.
I've had people say to me “Tell him to get his arse out of bed, get showered and shaved, get dressed and get himself together.” My God, don't you think if a shower to shave could have eased his pain he would do it ten times a day? Depression and anxiety can't be cured with a shower and shave. It's only lipstick on a pig.
During the funeral, a friend dropped in on her way home from work to offer her condolences. She asked “He was only 56 years old. Was it a heart attack?” I said, “No it was suicide.” She looked at me and explained the parking lot was extremely busy and she was double parked. She basically ran out of the funeral home. I thought, “That was odd.”
Then another friend came by to offer her condolences. Once again, I was asked “He was only 56 years old did he have cancer?” “No” I said, “It was suicide.” She said she was sorry. Then turned around and left the funeral home.
It felt like because I said “suicide” his dead wasn't good enough for everybody. If I had said “Heart attack or “Cancer” I would have received more sympathy. I think some people still have that mindset that if a person commits suicide they should be buried outside the graveyard fence.
I decided to take a different approach. The next time somebody offered their condolences and asked if he was sick? I said, “Yes he suffered for a long time.” Then they would ask “Was it cancer?” I would reply “No anxiety and depression.” They would look at me very funny and say, “Oh.” Not wanting to ask the next question. So, I would follow up with “He died of suicide.” Then they would look at me with wide eyes and a mouth open, not knowing what to say. Everyone is obviously uncomfortable or too embarrassed to say the word… suicide. You can’t catch it if you say the word.
After my experience at the funeral home I decided I would change my approach to how I treated people who lost a loved one to suicide. I would treat them like their loved one had suffered from a disease and died from it. I would not turn on my heels and say I'm double parked I must go. I will take their hand and say, “Would you like to talk?”
It is like anything I suppose, if you haven't gone through it, you don't know how to react to it.
People think suicide is a cowardly act. They couldn't be further from the truth. It takes an enormous amount of courage to put a rope around your neck and jump off a bucket. I couldn't do it. At least I hope I could never do it. But then again, I'm not going through the kind of anxiety and depression that my brother suffered from.
I wish I could answer the question; How do we stop people from committing suicide? I don't know. I know over the past two years I did everything I can to help him. Sometimes he welcomed the help, sometimes he didn't.
I asked Father Mark Nichols, my parish priest at St. Mark's to give the sermon. He had never met my brother and asked to meet with me before the service. We talked about my brother’s life for two hours and I told him the truth. I told him about the alcohol and drugs. I told him about the anxiety and depression. I told him about my frustration when I had to deal with him and the times I walked away because I couldn’t take it anymore. There was no sense lying to a priest.
During the sermon, he told the story of a friend of his who boarded a plane with his young child. During the flight, they experienced severe turbulence. The child became very frightened and started to cry. The father comforted the child until the turbulence stopped and then the child went back to playing. On the flight back from their vacation the child became very anxious when he had to board the plane and began to cry. People around them started looking. There were comments of “What a spoiled child!” “Why can't you get him under control?” And of course, the angry stares and judgement.
The father just sat there with the child and rocked him, comforting him. Father Mark said, “The child’s father knew how he got that way.” The father knew it was a past experience that created the anxiety and made the child cry. He knew the best thing he could do for his son was ignore everyone around them, and sit and comfort his child until he stopped crying. He then said, “God the Father knew how my brother got that way. And he was now in his arms being comforted without judgement.”
The story really stuck with me.
I knew it was true. Only God knew how he got that way. Only God could comfort him through his turbulent times. I will forever carry the loss of my brother in my heart but I do take comfort knowing that he is in the arms of God being comforted without judgement.
Even after going through the suicide of my brother I still don't know why people do it. I guess it's the only way they can stop the pain. I wish there was some enlightening advice I could pass on. But I learned nothing. Other than, if you have a loved one who suffers from anxiety and depression remind yourself “God knows how he got that way” and comfort him without judgement.