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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42Reflections

Kim S: I am so sorry that you have had to face the aftershocks of five suicides. There is actually some sources of support and books out there that are very helpful. First, online there is the alliance for hope website and forum for survivors. Second, there are some great books, such as The Suicide Index, No Time to Say Goodbye by Carla Fine, Didion's Year of Magical Thinking (not suicide but profound grief), Darkness Falls Fast by Kaye Redfield Jamison. In Chicago, I will be forever grateful to the LOSS Program (Loving Outreach to Survivors
of Suicide) began by a Catholic Priest, Father Rubey, and offering non-denominational support to loved ones, families, children, friends in various locations in the Chicago area and with groups for spouses, children, siblings, guilt, all free. It has archived newsletters with some helpful articles at http://www.catholiccharities.net/GetHelp/OurServices/Counseling/Loss.aspx. And there is a new blog by three young women who met at the LOSS program called Our Side of Suicide that has some painful but honest posts sharing the journey through the grief. Surviving is raw, shattering, but doable.

I considered suicide in 2010 when I was at my sickest, coping with an ongoing illness that doctors couldn't diagnose. I was unable to keep weight on, felt perpetually sick, could eat only certain foods, and with a depressed immune system, was frequently sick (colds, pneumonia, sinus infections). I tried to stay on my feet and go to work as often as I could. My family was in the Midwest while I lived alone in California. My mom talked to me on the phone each week. So-called friends disappeared when I just wanted to be with someone. I went to doctors and finally pain doctors and begged for help. They analyzed me for an hour and a half and then told me to make an appointment to come back a week later. A week later?! I lay on the living room floor of my dark studio and ranted at my body. If I did anything, I wanted to be sure it would work. A therapist I'd seen sometimes intervened and offered me free appointments. She carried me through some dark days. Love for my mom no longer mattered. Illness had taken over like a stranger and made me unrecognizable to myself. I realized that I had to matter to me. Three and a half years later I am in many ways healthier than I was before the illness. Art, meditation, prayer, writing, and being my own best friend were key. I feel closer to my family, to God and to myself. Two new, solid friends appeared in my life when I wasn't looking. But I'm still my own best friend.

The four year anniversary of my son's suicide just passed on March 7. Although the weight is not as heavy today, the hole in my heart will be exposed forever. My son's story was the perfect storm of addiction to painkillers, depression, and trying to manage Avascular Necrosis of his hips. My son drove his car into a massive utility pole on a country road in Indiana, died on impact, and perished in the resulting fire. The ripple effect of our tragedy caused heartache and at times seemingly unbearable grief as we have all been left to navigate our individual and collective journey(s). I have a Master's in Human Relations in Counseling, however the book knowledge and objective advice and counsel readily available in my skills sets seem to have abandoned me in the beginning. My personal grief therapy inspired me to create www.bearingmemories.com to honor my son, and connect with others who have lost someone (or celebrate a loved one). My son's story is on my website. Thank you for your program and sensitivity to this illness.

The four year anniversary of my son's suicide was March 7th. I am always relieved when this day on the calendar passes. Although the weight is not as heavy as it was in the beginning, the hole in my heart will be exposed forever. My son's illness was the perfect storm of depression, addiction to prescribed painkillers and the attempt to manage Avascular Necrosis of both hips, (trauma caused by injury as an ice hockey goalie). My son, age 25, drove his car into a massive utility pole on a country road in Indiana. He died on impact and perished in the fire. Our tragedy and the ripple effect felt by family and friends has left us all to navigate this see of sadness both collectively and individually. I have a Master's in Human Relations; however textbook knowledge and the readily available counsel and skills sets I offer others seemed to vanish when I needed to come to accept and understand my son's struggle. As a mother, I could not save him. My personal grief was the inspiration to create http://bearingmemories.com to honor my son, and to connect and celebrate with other families.
Thank you for your program, the raised awareness to this illness and the sensitivity to survivors.

As Christmas drew near in 1997 clouds obscured the moon, rain fell in frozen drops, people repaired to their homes and the topography of my life was forever altered. For reasons known but to her and to her God my intelligent, talented, beautiful, demure and troubled wife Jody killed herself.

I knew something of the demons that preyed upon Jody. I was aware of some of the childhood memories that tormented her. I understood the things about her that I was capable of understanding. I loved her. I supported her in the ways that she allowed me to support her. I failed her in the large and small ways that humans often fail the ones that they love. We loved and cared for one another in the manner that each of us could.

Psychology, Psychiatry, Theology and Sociology, if I were to study them, would expand my intellectual understanding of suicide. The causes of suicidal behavior may become clear to me one day but it does not seem likely that I will ever find a satisfactory answer to the more cerebral question: "Why?"

Suicide brings to the survivor losses that lie beyond the passing of his loved one. Some of my most cherished hopes, ideas and aspirations went to the grave with my beloved Jody. I forgive her for taking from me some of the pleasant fictions upon which I had based my hopes

I forgive Jody. As sure as the sun rises in the east I forgive her for ending her life. I forgive her because there is immense value in forgiveness. I forgive her because I knew her well and can concede that her soul was wrapped in more chain than it could swim with.

As thoroughly as I forgive her I cannot pardon her. She did, after all is said and done, murder my wife. In this soul crushing story the victim and the perpetrator are one and the same.

So I rise each day at first light. I stop for coffee, the newspaper and a pack of cigarettes. I go to work. I put on a "face to meet the faces that I meet". I return home. I read, sleep and prepare to repeat the process when the next day arrives.

And I pray that Jody rests in the lap of the Lord happy, joyous and free..

I attempted to take my life many years ago despite many obvious blessings. I was married to a man who lost his son to suicide. I do not have the words to describe the pain that takes one to the point of making the decision to end life I live with regret for the damage and hurt my choice caused the people I loved most: my children. . I am grateful and humbled that I survived, saved by someone perhaps even more troubled than I was. Alternatively, I will never forget those who treated me badly, who judged me. I am on the safe side of events and my heart goes out to the dear ones who do not get there.

I think the thing that many people don't understand is that there are as many reasons for choosing to die as there are ways to die. Not all suicides are the same, nor should they all be considered in the same light. Some people may not understand that they actually do have the support they need to live and maybe make a mistake by choosing to die, but others may truly be reckoning with their existence and decide that the best choice for them is to not continue on the path of the living.

I lost the privilege of living in the company of a best friend and former lover just over eleven years ago now. It has been a long journey for me since then of discovering what it was that I actually lost, and what stays with me of his life. I forgave him instantly and in the first moments of knowing he had died, only wished I had been able to be there with him, to hold his hand as he left. I regret that for obvious reasons, this is not possible in our society, because it would be considered akin to a form of murder. It has been in the years since that I have had to reflect on how I may have contributed to his death, how I may not have been there for him in the ways he needed. I miss him always, and still grieve his passing, and yet I don't blame him for going.

I do however have anger towards a psychiatric establishment that would not admit him into their care though he had adequate insurance and was trying to check himself in. To my understanding of what occurred he was considered too sane, because he was salient enough to check himself in. However, in my years of experience in supporting friends with so called bipolar disorder, if they are in a moment of clarity willing to submit to an institution to save themselves, they damn well better be admitted. If they are willing to do so, it is a sign not of their ability to cope, but of their ability to understand how truly dire their situation is. I am also quite angry that they not only wouldn't admit him, but sent him home with the sleeping pills that he ultimately used to take his life. I wish to help build a society in which this is not how people in need are treated. I'm not sure what better legacy I can offer him.

I hope to see a deeper reckoning in our society of the realities of this way of death. It is one of many ways people can die, and it is in fact an option that we all must contend with at some moment of our living existence. I think most of us quickly dismiss it, some of us contemplate it seriously but ultimately decide to live our lives out until their fated ends, and a few decide it is what they want, or perhaps what they need. It is a complex circumstance, as complex as any life choice.

Do not misunderstand, this is a painful way to lose a loved one's life, and many who choose this way of death are deeply troubled and wounded. And yet, let us not cast unnecessary judgement upon the deceased that stops us from examining the heart of the matter and learning deeper truths about the meaning of this gift of life we all share and how to better care for it.

I don't know what happens to our beings after we die, but I have always had a sense that my friend is in less pain than he was in this life. He may still have to learn the lessons that he cut off short here on earth, but he is safe and he is loved. And also I understand "he" in the way I knew him is clearly gone. As Laurie Anderson said, "When my father died/ it was like a whole library/ had burned down." Our loved ones will never return to us in this life in the form we knew them in, and yet what are we left with? Instead of his being concentrated in one particular place, I have this peculiar and yet somehow natural sense, that he is now everywhere.

My hope is that something I shared will be of benefit to others.

Elegant and thoughtful explanation of this existential question, Megan. Thank you for writing it.

I lost my brother to suicide on Jan. 8, 2013. He was 49 years old. Unless a person has experienced this kind of loss for themselves, I have found it very hard to describe the depth of pain that I feel. He had attempted suicide several times throughout his life, but this last time he succeeded. He suffered with depression and pain, and in his note that he left, he said he thought this was best for him to do. He said he couldn't take it anymore. I know that he is complete and free now and for that, I find comfort. I don't think he realized at the time just how much he was loved and would be missed. He was on a lot of medication...a lot of pain killers, and that's what he used to kill himself. Every time I see a little boy now, I always pray that he knows and grows up knowing, just how wonderful he really is. I miss my brother so much and the depth of my pain is unbearable at times. I know that I am not alone in feeling this way, and that too, brings me comfort....knowing that I am not alone.

2 members of my family committed suicide. 1 a doctor, the other a teenager. It was rumored that there is a predisposition caused by heredity .
what is the opinion regarding this.

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