On Suicide

Purple Flame by gravity_grave at Flickr

A Small Light

January 2. Dr. Peter J. N. Linnerooth, 43, an army psychologist who spent time with troops in Iraq helping them cope with PTSD, shot himself at Reno, VA, after being denied the help to which he thought he was entitled.

January 5. Rapper Freddy E., 22, shot himself days after sending out threats on Twitter.

January 6. Former South Korean baseball player ChoSung-min, 40, hung himself after texting his mother and girlfriend.  His ex-wife had also hung herself in 2008.

January 11. Aaron H. Swartz, 26, brilliant programming prodigy and internet activist, hung himself in Brooklyn.  He blogged about his depression back in 2007.

January 13. Enzo Hernández, 62, who played shortstop for the San Diego Padres, killed himself in his home in Venezuela.

January 13. David Wilson, 34, boyfriend of Mindy McCready, killed himself in the home they shared.

January 22. Jerad Meriweather.  He was 13 years old.

Something has got to change.

***

“The women ran quickly from the tomb.”
Matthew 28:8

On Good Friday, all Creation pined for Light to return.

On Easter Sunday Jesus rose.  He is risen. He has conquered death and Light has returned, but the strife isn’t quite over yet.  Sin and death, fear and darkness continue to mock the Light.

Even after the Resurrection, the disciples hid in their own tombs of fear and despair.  It was the women rushing back from the Empty Tomb with uncontrollable joy that restored hope to their hearts; prepared them to receive the Holy Spirit.  Today, there are many like the disciples, many still waiting for witnesses of the Empty Tomb to bring them the Light and Joy of the Resurrection.

“To shine on those who dwell in darkness, and the shadow of death.”
- Luke 1:79

What seems to many like a typical day, a boring day accompanied by alarm clocks and work and reruns is for another an agonizingly lonely 86,400 seconds.  It is an 86,400 seconds that cannot tick tock by fast enough, and yet the most dreadful of those thousands of seconds is the eight six thousand, three hundred and ninety ninth. Because it means that another 86,400 are about to begin again.  Some endure this resurrectionless crucifixion all of their lives.  Others can no longer stand it, and seek relief, life, in death instead.  Death itself is not what most people, most living things, seek.

In the past years, I have attended at least two funerals of teenagers who committed suicide; they were funerals in which I knew – still know – the friends and family of the young ones who took their lives.  Tears flood the churches, and trembling lips and hearts struggled to find stable ground and meaning.  I’ve found that I could not imagine what it would be like to be the parent or sibling of those young people.  The cold void resulting from the loss, the infinite doubts, the blame and the questions running round and round seem unbearable.  The victims’ loved ones enter into a darkness that seems to linger forever – or at least for the rest of this life.  It often happens that this darkness wraps itself so tightly around the hearts of suicide survivors that it drives them, like their deceased loved ones, into suicide.

Something has got to change.

***

GG Bridge by Yang and Yun's Album at Flickr

Golden Gate Bridge

In the United States, death by suicide occurs every 13.7 minutes.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, and among 15-to-24-year-olds it is the third leading cause of death.

1 in 25 teenagers have attempted suicide.

22 veterans commit suicide everyday.

And this is all in the US alone. The thought that one “successful” suicide attempt occurs every 40 seconds around the globe is chilling… it is disturbing to me when I pause and am momentarily brave enough to let the thought in.

The World Health Organization reports: “In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide.”

Something has got to change.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
- Psalm 23:4

Most people with suicidal ideations give off warning signs, although not many of us are aware of just what these signs are, nor would we know what to do if we were to recognize them.  There are many places we can turn to learn the warning signs, and we can always seek professional help once signs are noted. (Professional help is especially important considering that over 90% of those who kill themselves have at least one diagnosable mental illness.)  But even though awareness of the signs, and awareness of where to turn for help are nothing other than essential, it is our awareness of self and others that precedes any other course of action.  Yes, awareness of self and of others.  Attention.

It’s in those moments of attentiveness that we, sometimes, enter into a darkness that is not our own.  And it’s by walking into this darkness that we see more clearly than before.  It’s in another’s darkness that we hear profoundly, we hear beating hearts – our own included.  It’s there that we feel drawn to the beat, we beat to the beat.  And it’s when heartbeats are noted, when one beats with another, that a skipped beat can hardly go unnoticed.

Heart awareness infuses our attention – a Facebook wall post, a text message, a smile – with presence and light that at least has the chance, the hope, of letting another know that we are willing to come into darkness with him or her, sitting close, waiting and pleading for the dawn from on high to break through.

Sitting in this darkness, we come to the humble and liberating realization that we are not the source of light, but rather a conduit for it.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

***

It’s of course true that – no matter how attentive we have been – many of us were not able to reach those faintly beating hearts most dear to us.

When I was in high school, a 15 year-old girl in my music class committed suicide.  Her parents found her body on a cold Christmas morning.  She had posted on the internet the exact time she was going to kill herself, but no one responded. Her heartbeat went unnoticed.

At the time I wondered if I had said something, done something differently… if I had been more present… would she be alive? But this kind of wondering just seems to pull into me a cold and hopeless darkness. I find that it is attention, to self and to others, that keeps me from spiraling deeper into this darkness. Instead, I wander away from this kind of wondering, and I chose to wander into another’s darkness, to sit with them, to keep hope for light alive.  This kind of attention, rather than spiraling deeper into a wondering darkness, brings me light.

While our country struggles to respond to the urgent need to better care for those who are mentally ill, we can begin to bring lives closer to light and life by recognizing the warning signs and by referring these lives to the help they need.  And by paying attention.  A little spark of light is noticeably bright in the dark, and we don’t need to be health care professionals to pay attention; spark that light.  Let change begin with us.  Today.

And to those of us who have witnessed the Empty Tomb in our own lives I would like to say one thing, firmly and gently: stop looking for the living among the dead.  Instead, rush out of the dark and cold Empty Tomb to, like the women in the Gospel, call others out of their tombs.

***

Feburary 4. Triston Stephens, 15 years old.

Feburary 15. Aaron Dugmore, 9 years old.

Feburary 17. Mindy McCready, 37, shot herself.

Feburary 21. Man jumped in front of F Train in New York.

Feburary 25. Man jumped in front of E Train in New York.

March 16.  Cynthia Wachenheim, 44, jumped from the 8th floor of her condo with 10-month-old son (who survived).

March 31, Easter Sunday. Man shot himself on highway and sped to his death.

Something has got to change.