A young friend of mine just lost her friend to suicide. On her Facebook page, she wrote about her experiences with depression and hopelessness. Bravely–especially in light of what had just happened–she talked about how she thought of taking her own life and then didn’t. She correctly identifies that suicide is a choice that has consequences more than anything else we can do.
It reminded me of an incident which happened over 20 years ago. I was counseling a woman who was married to a city police officer. Late one afternoon, she called me in an emotional overload. Her husband had just shot himself with his service revolver. I came over and extended comfort to the family. As a result, they asked me to speak at his memorial service. I said I would be honored to do that.
In preparation for the service, I interviewed his wife and siblings. I learned he was the second brother in that family of four policemen to commit suicide. That knowledge changed what I was going to say. I knew I could not do what is often done at funerals for the suicidal. I could not just bring comfort. I had to bring a word of instruction and a caution.
Before going into what I said, let me give some background. In counseling circles, it is a well-established fact that suicide tends to follow copycat patterns. In his best-selling book “The Tipping Point” author Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of a suicide epidemic in the South Pacific Island chain of Micronesia. Early in the 1970s a young man committed suicide in a culture in which it was virtually unknown. This set off a chain of suicides. Gladwell’s conclusion is that this kind of behavior can be caught just like the flu. But there are certain conditions that makes it easier to catch. One of those conditions results from people being unwilling to discuss how they feel about suicide.
When someone takes their own life, they are doing something that crosses the minds of most people at some point in their lives. When someone we know and love leaves the world like this–and especially when everyone mourns them and speaks only nice things about them–then others going through the same kind of depression and hopelessness get the impression that this kind of behavior is acceptable. Some may even paint it as noble. But there is nothing noble about it.
It is the ultimate act of selfishness.
Suicide is the person’s way of saying “I am in charge of my life and I don’t care what anyone else wants or thinks, I am going to do this because it would be easier and better for me than dealing with my problems some other way.” It’s what I said; selfish.
There were over 400 peace officers of various stripes at the funeral. Family members got up and told how the deceased had meant so much to them and how much they were going to miss him. This is appropriate of course and they were very sincere. Then it came my turn to speak. I thanked the family and friends for saying what they said and then I changed the subject. I began to talk about how a society works. When it works well, our culture is based upon mutually agreed standards of behavior. There aren’t that many we all hold to, but they are easily understood. Don’t hurt or take advantage of others. Pull your own weight. Speak the Truth. I don’t find a lot of people who disagree with these.
And when people break these standards of behavior, we have consequences. That’s when I looked at all those policemen and women and said one final thing. “Our biggest understanding is that we don’t kill other human beings. Including ourselves. Suicide breaks the most fundamental standard of behavior and because a person dies in the process, society is left to wonder how to proceed. A human being is not supposed to act this way. And none of us should memorialize this behavior, even from those we love.”
You could have heard a pin drop when I was done. Then, officer after officer stood and applauded. They knew what I was saying was correct. They had just never heard anyone say it before. After the service, a Juvenile Court Judge came up to me and asked for the recording of the service. I asked him what he wanted it for. “I am going to require every young man and woman who enter my court to hear that message. They need to know that the society they are violating has expectations of them. They can’t just do whatever they want in life“.
I understand most of the reasons why people commit suicide. I am a counselor and two of my clients have taken their own lives. I have conducted funeral services for five more people who have done this. I know that there is often pain, loneliness, depression, fatigue, drug use, shame and a host of other things going on before they do the deed. But I also know there are many more people who DO NOT DO IT! And I have known people with more pain than you can imagine, more loneliness than a person can seemingly endure, more abuse than anyone should have to go through–and they not only conquered through it, they contributed to this world. I could give you a reading list of a hundred books on people who overcame adversity of the greatest kind to be good citizens and even though they considered taking their lives, they rejected it as an option.
Suicide is not for anyone. It is not an option for anyone who is part of a society.
Find another way of dealing with things. Get some help. You owe that to our world and they owe it to you.