Losing Our Angels to Suicide


A friend I’ll call A died of suicide last night. It’s easy to say of people that they are rare and radiant souls once they’re gone, but A is the sort of person who was generally agreed to be a rare and radiant soul even when she was alive. Pretty angelic, really.

Suicide is a tough gig for all concerned, but being suicidal is living hell. I’m going to try to present some information in an accessible way, but this is an emotional time (it’s also deathiversary season for some of the biggest losses in my life, and there have been more deaths than usual this winter) … I’m very upset and very angry. It’s liable to show. Anyway, here goes…

Most of the time (not all the time), the deed that causes self-death is impulsive, which is the point of the 3-day hold in psychiatric hospitals: get them over that bump, then their coping skills come back, and then they find a way forward.

In cases like A’s, some survivors want to know why our loved one didn’t reach out, didn’t let us know ahead of time. Some want to know why this person “didn’t love us enough to stay.”
That’s a common feeling after suicide. These are all very common responses. Thing is, they miss the causative point.

Reality check

Here’s the thing:

Stop being so selfish!

It’s NOT ABOUT YOU. This is a tough one to swallow because you’re the one left alive and hurting, but it’s something to be faced in order to understand how this could happen.

It’s about being in so much pain that continuing is intolerable and there is no way this person can find to make it stop. Can you even imagine that? If not, then who are you to judge? If you can, then why are you blaming the victim?

Do you think she didn’t try hard enough, or know enough to battle this more effectively?

Actually, that’s a fair question. Some people don’t know enough, and need the chance to breathe, reboot, and find another way forward. (Most people who attempt suicide fall into this category.) It’s not an unreasonable thing to ask, so let’s look into that.

Some things can’t be fixed

My lovely friend A was a sophisticated, educated, well-informed consumer of, and professional in, the health care industry and effective alternative therapies. She really knew her way around.

I have a pain disease that, if I have to be truthful, hurts more every year. I’ve had over 15 years to ramp up to my present level of unthinkable, brain-blistering agony — and to find ways to manage it along the way. I can kid my mind most of the time that the pain is hardly there. I’m not likely to kill myself any time this year, though I might get flattened by a bus in a fit of absent-mindedness due to masking too much pain… you never know. (I’ll keep wearing bright colors and getting assistance around town, so don’t worry unduly, Mom!)

My friend A had a painful condition evolve recently that wouldn’t budge despite much work, and a surgery with… interesting characteristics. I sure don’t need to spell that out for those of you who’ve had, cared for, or performed surgeries. One of her main nerve branches was involved, which tells you the rest. It was risky, tough, and fraught. She knew that. Surgery was the only way to avoid the dreadful situation she faced if she didn’t have it.

By the time she made her last tragic decision, A could easily have been in a level of pain comparable to what I live with, but she did not have 15 years to ramp up. Most of that mountain of agony landed on her inside of a few weeks.

She knew what was going on in her body and worked for years to correct it without surgery.

She knew what the surgery might result in and she tried it anyway.

She knew her options.

She knew what to do to mitigate risk and optimize healing.

It’s likely that she did everything that could possibly be done.

It’s likely that there was too much pain and no way to escape it.

Sometimes, some things can’t be fixed.

I respect her choice. I hate it, it makes me miserable, but given the circumstances, I respect her choice as I respect her right to make it.

I don’t blame A. I wish that things had been different for her.

Please remember the compassion that was at the core of her spiritual and professional life, and return it to her as well as you can. She may need your compassion more than ever, because the end of her life was so awful, and she worked and fought so hard to make it.

She loved you. She loved us all, in her endless outpouring of loving-kindness and intelligence and determination. Please, try to give some of that back to her, now when it’s no longer easy.

Step Up

Of course you’re angry to lose wonderful people to suicide. Want to do something about that?

  • Vote for universal health care, so people like A can get timely care and prevent minor issues from becoming major ones and then becoming deadly nightmares. Because this should not have happened in the first place.
  • Lobby for universal housing and emergency accommodations in every state, so people like my brilliant friend Cross don’t have to choose between being murdered by a caregiver or taking their own lives, because NO OTHER OPTIONS EXIST.
  • Get your elected representatives to re-fund, and stop de-funding, mental health services and social safety nets, so my gifted friend Ethan didn’t have to shoot himself in the head to make the PTSD nightmares stop. Every dollar spent on these programs saves between 10 and 800 dollars in the costs of cleaning up the failures resulting from their absence. Our economy cannot afford that kind of constant, suppurating loss.

YOUR VOTING RECORD AFFECTS THE SURVIVAL OF THOSE YOU LOVE.

Don’t step into the voting box in the hope of choosing your next drinking buddy; the POTUS will never drop in at your neighborhood dive. Try to remember you’re voting for your next Chief Executive. This needs to be someone who’s smart enough and wise enough to do the job of leading a huge country that’s in serious trouble.

If you feel that, against reason and compassion, against economics and decency, you really have to vote against these policies or vote in those who oppose them, then don’t EVER complain to me about losing people you love to suicide, or maltreated illness, or poverty, or homelessness. These deaths are optional 99.9% of the time, and I have absolutely had enough of them!

This worm has turned

I used to be vigorously opposed to suicide. I spent too many hours coding people who had no choice about whether they lived or died, so that the occasional attempted suicides I treated in the ER just made the bile rise in my throat. Those idiots were bloody well going to live whether they liked it or not, and if they reached consciousness, they were getting a short and fiery talking-to from a short and fiery RN.

One day, I confided my thoughts to a longtime trauma counselor. She stopped me dead when she said, with great pain and exquisite kindness, “They do that because they can’t think of any other way to stop the pain.”

I tried to imagine so much pain and so much trapped-ness… and I couldn’t hate them any more.

And then, years later, I developed CRPS… then fibromyalgia… then dysautonomia… and, this week, I’m getting screened for a couple of cancers.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I spent a few years clinging to life by a thread. The pain, disability, and relentless, pounding losses and brutality of the world on the suddenly-disabled, on top of an ongoing roster of bereavements around me, very nearly finished me.

I was suicidal for some of that, only I was not going to screw it up; if I did it, I was going to do it properly. So there were no attempts, there was a thorough exploration of the idea. (At the very bottom of my personal root under the final level of Hell, I found … curiosity. I could not rest until I found out how this story went. Not only would I miss my funeral by several days, I’d never find out if we got a cure in my natural lifetime, if I ever figured out how to blog, what exactly CRPS is, who I had yet to meet, or anything. That was more unbearable than pain for me: unsatisfied narrative curiosity. I can’t explain it, I can only report it. I’m still working out how to crash my funeral.)

The point is, I’m pretty familiar with the landscape of endless pain.

I understand, with diamond-sharp clarity, that there is a point where a person simply shouldn’t have to put up with any more.

I know, as I never did in the innocence of my ER days, that there is such a thing as No More Options.

The word “unbearable” is no longer just an adjective; it has real meaning. Some things should not be borne, and that’s bad enough, but some things really cannot be borne. What then? Do we turn our backs and shrug, feeling we’ve done our jobs?

Those who’ve survived the suicide of someone you loved, you have my absolutely heartfelt sympathy. It’s awful, peculiarly and specially awful. There’s nothing like it.

If you’re really outraged, turn your anger onto a suitable target: the systemic failure that made that cherished person’s life unlivable.

That would honor them, in a remarkably constructive way.

I’m off to make sure I’m registered to vote tomorrow. I don’t want to sit this one out. I’m torn up and miserable, and I want to honor the memory of A and all my dear departed angels.

How

I

miss

you.

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7 Replies to “Losing Our Angels to Suicide”

  1. Thanks so much for this. Know that I do not place any blame on A! I do place blame for the depth of my sorrow on ME. I was too busy to take the time to reach out to her when she needed it. No, I don’t think I could have “saved ” her, but I could have spent time with her that will never happen now. She will be deeply missed.

    1. I understand that. Those things left undone are like knives to the soul. After the number of losses I’ve had, I’ve come to realize that death cuts people off, just cuts us right off, and there are always things left undone that we wish we’d been just a *little* more diligent about. I still torture myself over them but there is some little scrap of perspective. It’s the nature of the beast. Heartfelt condolences.

  2. I’m so very sorry to hear this news.
    Thank you for an excellent summary of something that is never far from our minds. I’ll be reading this one again, when needed, and you know that can be often.
    Thank you again and again for all the priceless info and thoughts, and for honoring Cross.
    Hope you can find some comfort tonight.

    1. Thank you, dear, I value your perspective and I’m grateful for your kind remarks. Writing this helped — it did lance the boil. I just hope it makes a difference in the bigger picture: I want to see a groundswell, a landslide, of voters storming the polls and the Capitol, rising up and refusing to be bought and sold and killed and tortured for the callow amusement and theoretical profit of the affluenza class. Nobody actually benefits from this increasingly untenable situation. It’s not like they can eat money or have their laundry washed by their banks. You have to have people in there somewhere. And there are a lot more of us than there are of them. We do have more power than that category of people, but only when we use it.

  3. The reason that these political solutions fail, is that they confuse Duty with Love.

    If I love someone, I want them to get the very best care I can get them.

    If someone is a statistical abstraction to me, I don’t feel the same urgency to find them help.

    That’s how people are constructed. Our emotional makeup, makes us care for the needs we see, and ignore the needs we know nothing about.

    When we are forced to surrender half of all we make, to a range of petty warlords who charge us “taxes” and threaten to cause grave bodily harm to our loved ones if we don’t pay, it’s a little difficult to imagine those petty warlords to be capable of actually caring about the well-being of sick people…particularly sick people who might be in too much pain to get out and vote.

    I fully realize that the Bernie Sanders supporters see me as some sort of anachronism, when I speak of voluntarism, but nevertheless, I will continue to urge people to communicate, person to person, intimately and naturally, and develop the means of self-support that they need, in order to function.

    At some point, when the missing trillions of dollars that Washington politicians “borrowed” out of the Social Security Trust Fund for many decades…spent to create thousands of bombs and missiles…then blew the bombs and missiles to smithereens in 15 years of war, leaving absolutely no recoverable worth that could be sold for recycling and used to put back even a shred of the borrowed money…are finally admitted to be GONE…then at that point, there will no longer be an illusion, that money from Washington can restore us to health. Washington politicians are the cause of the problem, not the source of a solution.

    Getting angry is a useless exercise. We have to focus on fixing what we can fix, acting locally. That’s simply how humans function.

    At some point, I am going to champion the idea, that senior citizens living in pain, have the absolute right to spend our own money, to buy our own medicine, to treat our own pain, and nobody should take any part of our medicine money away, with a tax, so they can spend that money to buy other things. Millions of us will understand, that if Washington politicians take away our medicine and cause us more pain, so they can spend the medicine money for other things, that some of us have to kill ourselves because the pain becomes intolerable. And we don’t want to kill ourselves, to help Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump conceal the bankruptcy of Social Security a few months longer, until their re-election is assured.

    That simple truth, bucks up against the wish to tweak and fiddle some more, with a coercive, government-run benefit system, and make it a little less destructive or a little less inhumane, than it already is.

    I hope, when you see us coming, that you will allow us free passage, and not try to gouge more taxes out of us. We did the work. We paid the FICA tax. We qualified for the benefits. Politicians wasted the money. We want to use what money we still get, to do, what politicians promised to deliver but refused to deliver. We Want relief, we want it now, we’re willing to pay for it, and we want the narcs and lawyers to get the hell out of our way and let us buy what we need.

    We’re going to do this, regardless of what the Bernie crowd imagine they can talk us into. Please don’t fight us over this money.

  4. Thank you very, very much for your Missal. I too shall Miss A. I understand fully the demon of pain, and being in alternative health, am fully cognizant of the whole discourse of traditional/ Alliopathic/Homeopathic treatments and when to vie for each. You are so right in placing the term “unbearable” in a proper viewpoint. It does have a lot to be said about our Medical Industry ( note i did not say Health Care) that issues like A’s cannot be afforded to be “cared for”. She brought LOVE and Peace to those she came in contact with. Let us do the same, and bring about the change in the care giving and health maintenance system to make her smile from where she will be watching.

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