A Conversation on Suicide and the Left Behind: Twitterscript of Jennifer Michael Hecht

Friday, March 14, 2014 - 3:16pm
A Conversation on Suicide and the Left Behind: Twitterscript of Jennifer Michael Hecht

Author and poet Jennifer Michael Hecht on suicide, resilience, and community. She says, "We have secret web-like connections to each other. Sometimes when you can't see what's important about you other people can." Join the conversation here.

Post by:
Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Executive Editor / Chief Content Officer for On Being
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Credit: Spencer Platt License: Getty Images.
“None of us can truly know what we mean to other people and none of us can now what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings — the endless possibilities that living offers — and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles. Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay.

Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. The first step is to consider the arguments and evidence and choose to stay. After that, anything may happen. First, choose to stay.”

~Jennifer Michael Hecht, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It

We are receiving an outpouring of stories from people sharing their stories of grief and resilience. We're hoping this Twitterscript of Krista's conversation with Ms. Hecht prompts you to join our ongoing conversation about suicide. Share your experiences here and let's build a better dialogue about this issue in our society.

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Trent Gilliss is the driving editorial and creative force behind On Being. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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I barely lived through my second suicide attempt. Know this. It was not an act geared toward anybody who loved me. it certainly was not me taking the "easy way out" or refusing to be "brave" enough to go on. It was about me being too tired to fight the darkness anymore. Survivors, yes, they hurt and they are broken. But let us not speak of them as if they are survivors of an act perpetrated against them, but rather survivors of the same darkness that sadly takes their loved one. There is a point, and I have been there, where a person is not deciding. It is, rather, like walking forward down a narrow gorge with the canyon walls rising straight above you. The only possible way is forward. For people standing on top of the canyon wall to judge a person for moving in the only direction they can see is cold and unfeeling. Those people are cowards who would force their loved one to walk forever through darkness because they fear the darkness of losing them.

" Survivors, yes, they hurt and they are broken. But let us not speak of them as if they are survivors of an act perpetrated against them, but rather survivors of the same darkness that sadly takes their loved one."
This is SO beautiful. As a survivor of suicide, I feel you have given me a great gift in your words. Thank you.

Thank you for sharing this, Rachel.

The timing of this post is a beautiful reminder of synchronicity in my life, and I am so very grateful for the opportunity to share a profound moment of enlightenment I experienced just this morning.

It has been nearly twenty years since my then soon-to-be-ex-husband came to my workplace and, after having flowers delivered, stood in the parking lot, raised his hand, gun to temple, and forever changed the lives of so many. I was 19. The thing about surviving suicide is that you must also grieve many little deaths of your own. The death of life as you know it, the death of your future, once imagined, the death of yourself as you may think you know, and the death of others as you have come to know them. For some, maybe for most, this can be a lifetime of work.

While it can ultimately soften and provide you an extraordinary opportunity to develop the deepest love, compassion, strength, and an almost unbearable lust for life, survival comes first. Survival is about escaping danger. As we navigate the trauma and grief, we learn to hold on to little bits of wisdom given to us along the way- little life boats to help us drift safely through the unthinkable. Things like "the difficulty can be seen as waves- you can't resist them- you can't send them away. Nor can you hold on to them. Like waves on the shore- you must let them come, and you must let them go." I held to this for years. Only recently, however, have I begun to understand that in time, if we want to truly escape danger, if we want truly to Live, we must transition from coping to thriving.

Today I came to understand a poignant and vital distinction: allowing the waves to wash over is helpful for coping with the unimaginable and overwhelming emotion that comes with grief, but to truly survive, is to live, and to live, is to thrive. A gift arrived in my inbox this morning- I was given an alternative perspective on waves. Now that I am no longer hugging the shore, the waves are bigger, and consequently, can be far more dangerous. Or they can be part of a wonderful adventure and practice of courage and grace under pressure! Like when playing in the surf, at a certain point the waves are so big, they are so powerful, that the ONLY way to avoid being crushed or thrashed about and completely disoriented by them, is to dive in to the wave.

Dive in.

The years of coping and self-protecting that follow surviving suicide makes this truth, at first, very hard to fully understand. Yet it is certainly the next step in my evolution. I know it in my bones, though it is frightening and I can feel my cells resist the necessary movements required. It is indeed time to Dive In. All of life's challenges aren't suicides! Life is hard, but life after suicide is unique, it is its own thing, with its own set of rules. They cannot be approached similarly, indefinitely. This feels to me like a critical turn in my healing and growth, the critical step in moving on from the past; finally understanding how to separate life after suicide, from LIFE after suicide. It is the transition from coping to thriving. Transitioning from mindful allowing to fully and mindfully participating. Coming to know and trust that I have already survived! I don't need to keep struggling in that familiar and "life-preserving" way. The danger has passed, and I am ready to face challenges in THIS lifetime that might allow me to find that place I keep searching for- that place where I feel I "fit" in my life.

For those of you just beginning this journey- my heart breaks and aches for you, and I can't even for a minute imagine that I have useful advice for you. It is your unique experience. But you are not alone; if nothing else, do not believe in the lie you will surely be tempted by; that you are alone, that you are separate from the world because of this experience. There is peace and there is joy and there is connection like you have never known, that will come to as you come through this. I am no-one to you, I know, but I promise. Suicide might be one of the absolute darkest sides of life- but it can illuminate unimaginable beauty, as well, in time. A brutal teacher, but in the end the lessons are treasures.
A life is lost, and it is tragic. It is senseless. For those left behind, however, it doesn't have to be forever dark, or forever still.

Thank-you for sharing this message of hope with me. Three and a half months ago my beloved wife of eight and a half years took her life with a handgun. At times the pain and confusion that I feel fit the description of the waves you describe. Your message has given me some measure of comfort and hope. Thank-you.

I am speechless, and have been meditating on this all week. I spoke of, and am so very captivated by synchronicity. My friend, I find it incredible that my then husband's name was Steve. What a kind offering from the universe- to give to me an opportunity to help another, in however a small way, and then to receive confirmation somehow that I have done more good than bad. I have carried a ton of weight in guilt, and shame, and in the end, in a moment of synchronous grace, it is lifted. Believe in bigger things, Steve. You are on a new path, and it will take you to beautiful places you could never imagine, but the ride is unbelievable. I am so so sorry for your loss. Just hold on, hold on just tight enough to stay safe, and otherwise, let go. Let go and stay open. I wish you all the best. And I thank you.

While logically I understand that it wasn't any one person's fault, I struggle with the emptiness left behind in Kevin's absence and with the lack that he might have felt from his community that made his suicide a viable option. Could we have supported him more than we did? I don't know. What I do know is he is greatly, greatly missed.

For anyone on the suicide journey of grief and recovery, I would recommend my book: Note to Adam by Becky Kruse, available at barnesandnoble.com. All profits go to suicide awareness. I truly did not think I would live after we lost our 22-year old college student "out of the blue." People have asked if I'm ashamed of Adam: never, not once, did I experience pain. My mother died of breast cancer, my son died of depression. He held the gun but depression pulled the trigger. Our family has changed dramatically since the summer of 2007 and I can only hope that our journey will help someone contemplating suicide.

All my life (I'm 51) I told people "if you ever find me dead, you'd better start a murder investigation, because I would NEVER take my own life." So imagine my shock last August when I found myself contemplating suicide. It was a strange, short road that got me there, and I didn't realize where it was headed. When I suddenly recognized the place to which my thoughts had brought me, I was terrified. Luckily I was already seeing a therapist, and I worked up the nerve to confess my thoughts to her. I got through that time - what saved me, quite honestly, were my two children. I know what the suicide of a parent can do to a child for the rest of his/her life (my brother-in-law's mother committed suicide), and I couldn't do that to my children. They were literally the only reason I stayed alive and made myself endure the emotional pain I was in. I think I would recognize the signs now if I started heading that way again, and I would take steps earlier to avoid the desperation that was driving me to think of killing myself.

We have experienced the suicide of 5 family members, including my ex-husband when my children were 8 and 11. I am constantly frustrated by discussions focused on the depressives and what we must do to help them. There is rarely a discussion of the effect of depression on the family, the ongoing effects of suicide, and how a family manages to survive and THRIVE post-suicide. I long for an honest discussion about dealing with a depressed spouse/parent and the constant threat and fear of suicide. Also a h honest discussion of how to handle a suicide and the nature of surviving.


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