“I’m only here for a while,
But patience is not my style,
And I’m so tired that I got to go.”
I first heard the song by Stone Sour 10 years ago while listening to the radio at my first job with someone very dear to me at the time. His demeanor seemed to fall while the song was playing, as if it brought back unpleasant memories. When the song had ended, I asked if something was wrong.
“After a friend took his life last year, I listened to this song over and over and over again, on repeat, curled up in a ball on my bed. I have never felt so hopeless.”
There could have been no possible way for me to understand exactly how he felt, or the depth of a darkness he now knew. I had known a few individuals in my life up until that point whose lives had been affected by a loved one who took their own life, but no one near or dear to me. I calmly shook my head and tried to understand the sadness he must feel each time the song played, or any time he was near something that reminded him of his friend. I tried, but it was similar to how someone feels when they are at a funeral and are not sure what to say- if anything at all.
My sister ended her life last August. I feel a sense of closure from the grief and despair. I have had time to grieve, to weep uncontrollably, to wonder why, to curse at God, to question why I did not check in on Sarah more often. I have battled guilt- an emotion that does not seem to accompany the griever when a life is taken by an unexpected tragedy or old age. No, that grief is of a different sort. Grief that goes hand in hand with guilt is a pain I do not wish on anyone, and I am very grateful for the many times those close to me have helped me excuse my guilt. But am I excused? I am not so sure.
Sarah’s situation was at least twofold. While she was currently being treated for a mental illness, she additionally became violent with the law in an incident towards the end of her life. This incident came hours after a threatened suicide attempt, when police arrived at her home. It was very clear that she needed to be admitted into the hands of those experienced in caring for the mentally ill, and this initiative was not taken by our law enforcement. In Milwaukee County, there are certain policies in place that allow state facilities to discharge individuals back to their homes- regardless of what their situation may be- while they are still in danger of taking their own lives. I have done research on the laws in the city of Milwaukee, and have even been contacted by a few social workers in the process. There are many gray areas as you can expect, chief among them being “we cannot hold an adult against their will.” How then, are we to force help upon someone who does not want to be help? I admit I do not have that answer, or even an idea of how we could arrive at a solution to that dilemma, but here is what I do know: the fight against suicide starts with us.
At this point you may be asking what my point is. Well, it’s quite simple, really. If you have even the slightest hint that a loved one may be going through a depression, acknowledge the problem. Be kind. Be persistent. NEVER dismiss a suicidal act or word as a cry for attention or an empty threat. Assure your loved one that they are never alone. I understand that my experience may differ from that of other individuals who have had a loved one end their own life, but I am speaking from my own experience. Sarah desperately needed help, and I knew it. I did nothing about it and brushed all of her issues under the rug because I thought she was being selfish when she would start drama at family gatherings, or that she was being inconsiderate when she would go for months without contacting anyone in our family. She needed someone to come to her. I had for so long dismissed her problems because she preferred to act as if nothing in the world bothered her, that she was not afraid of anything or anyone, when in reality she needed someone to just be there for her. To love her when she was the most unlovable, and to hold her hand when she was pushing you away.
Along the same vein, everyone you meet is fighting a war you know nothing about. I have always liked to think of myself as a genuinely friendly person, but it is very much intentional now. Never underestimate the power of a smile or a kind “Hello, are you enjoying your day so far?”. What I am asking you to do is take notice of other people’s feelings. Pay attention. Be kind. Reach out. Your words may be exactly what someone is needing to hear. How could you possibly know if a stranger you’ve met or an acquaintance has been talked back down from the ledge? You couldn’t, so treat everyone with gentleness, respect, and kindness. I promise, you will not regret it.
Each year, 700 individuals die from suicide, and an additional 5,500 are hospitalized due to self-inflicted injuries. That is just in Wisconsin.
Per year in the United States, 42,773 people take their own life. 117 per day. I am not excused. WE are not excused.
If you are interested in joining a growing force of people in our community in the fight against suicide, please contact me! The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Wisconsin chapter is holding its annual “Out of the Darkness” walk in Humboldt Park on October 2nd. When you walk in the Out of the Darkness Walks, you join the effort with hundreds of thousands of people to raise awareness and funds that allow the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss.
*The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has advanced its efforts aimed at bringing awareness to the nation, and in this instance Milwaukee, as well as much-needed help to those suffering from a mental illness or a past suicide attempt. In Wisconsin, 50% of all people who ended their life had a known mental illness. The AFSP focuses on eliminating the loss of life from suicide by: delivering innovative prevention programs, educating the public about risk factors and warning signs, raising funds for suicide research and programs, and reaching out to those individuals who have lost someone to suicide.*