Will we look back several years from now, only to realize that because of the suicide of the comedian and actor, Robin Williams, there are more honest conversations about suicide? Will we see that more people have come forward with courage to share how they have coped with the loss of their loved one to suicide? Or, how they, themselves, have recovered from an attempt or even thoughts of ending their own life? I trust we will.
Because of Robin Williams I, for one, am mustering up the courage today to talk about my father’s suicide. It’s not easy, even after forty-six years. It’s very, very different than talking about a dad who died from a heart attack or cancer.
What I’ve learned is this: suicide’s repercussions don’t necessarily fade with the passage of time, yet, somehow, something can happen to your heart as a “loss survivor”. Love for the fallen has a wondrous way of growing even stronger with time . . . if you allow. Regardless of how much love you felt for them before they were gone (or didn't feel), the love and compassion you feel can grow. There IS beauty that can appear along the journey to recovery for loss survivors left in the wake of the trauma.
It’s not easy though. The people left behind after a loved one's suicide have years, often decades, to work through sadness, confusion, anger, feeling abandoned and unloved by the one who left them. How can one not feel those things? I can’t speak for others, but for me, even though time passes, the pain still comes out of nowhere on some days.
Sometimes you feel the pain a little bit and sigh. Other times
Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter,
You do not hear
My inner cry?
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing,
You do not know
It's unimaginable that anything good can come from suicide. Miraculously, though, there can be beautiful, positive compensations to such terrific loss. They are tiny gifts, because nothing compares with having your loved one alive, yet God, in his wisdom and unfathomable love, often gives us tender gifts to ease pain or distress.
As a loss survivor your heart can be forever softened and sensitive to the pain that others around you are feeling. I think your heart can become more sensitive to beauty . . . to the beauty in all people, to the beautiful world.
What a gift.
As a loss survivor, love for the fallen father, child, friend or mother has a way of growing stronger with the passage of time if you allow. You just have to make space for it in your heart. Making space in your heart for love might take as much effort, faith and prayer as you can muster, as well as talking with a trained therapist. Once you let go of the negative feelings, a vacant space is created. You might as well fill up that newly vacated space with love.
What a gift.
The love, compassion and forgiveness I now feel toward my father are among the sweetest emotions I have ever felt. It is truly a gift to feel redeemed from anger, from confusion, from fear, and even rage. Yes, rage is a strong emotion, but suicide has a way of making survivors feel a lot of different emotions—thankfully we are not robots.
Speaking of robots, I have something to say about those whose reactions to suicide are cold and uncompassionate. I can’t count the number of times well-meaning people have commented to me that people who die from a suicide are cowards, or “what a selfish thing to do”. I don’t agree AT all. My response? I say that no one can comprehend how my dad, or any other person who dies from a suicide, was feeling.
Anyone who gets to that point was in excruciating emotional pain, physical pain, or thinking unclearly from the wrong (or too much) medication. It’s not our place to guess or judge. The only thing I feel towards my dad is utter compassion and love. I still wish he were here.
I used to fear when I was young that people would find out how my father died. I never volunteered the information. I was afraid people would think less of me, that they would see me as tainted. I was only six years old when he shot himself but no matter how old you are as a survivor . . . a six-year-old in first grade, his sixty-eight-year-old mother, or, especially, his young widow, my incredible INCREDIBLE mother, with us five little children left in the wake . . . it’s just plain hard to figure out why someone would choose to take their own life. And it hurts. There. Are. No. Words.
The thing that helped me the most was a miraculous experience I had a few years after his death. I was only eight or nine years old. I was sitting on the back porch thinking about things, and trying to figure out why our dad left us that way. Suddenly, I had this feeling: God knows that I'm sitting here right now. God knows me. God knows my family. He knows what we are experiencing.
It was such a vivid feeling. It felt like a huge, comforting, invisible umbrella of God’s love was cloaked over our whole home and yard. I felt so acknowledged. I felt so loved. That childhood moment, the sudden knowledge of God’s love for me, has been the Steady Hand at my back these forty-some-odd years since his suicide. I KNOW God is aware of the exact place where each one of us is in every moment, and that his love for us is unconditional.
I KNOW that Christ redeemed us all, including, and especially, those people whose lives end earlier than they should from situations that feel out of their control. I sometimes imagine if one hundred people from all around the world were to die at any given moment from different causes (and one of them was a good person who had died from a suicide) that Christ would run to that one person and scoop them up in His loving arms.
I have also learned, after kneeling to pray many times over the years, during moments of agony and grief, that Jesus Christ understands me. He didn't just suffer for sinners. He suffered for all who suffer. I have come to feel and know for myself that He descended below ALL things. He learned how to overcome EVERY feeling and experience for himself when he atoned for us in Gethsemane. That makes him a good teacher.
Since He learned how to successfully overcome the strong emotions I've felt, I trust Him as my teacher. I trust him as He continues to teach me how to overcome as well. He said, "I have overcome the world". He does teach me how to overcome what seems hard. He also said, "men are that they might have joy". Because of Christ I do have joy. I have so much joy. As Fra Giovanni once said, “Take Heaven…Take Peace…Take Joy.” As a loss survivor it takes work to take joy, but the Savior’s atonement makes it SO much easier to do.
This experience has opened my eyes to abundance: abundance in loving relationships, abundance of shelter and enough food on the table, and the abundance of unfathomable, and unconditional love that I keenly feel, quite often, from God, our Heavenly Father. I also feel that love from my Brother, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, who lets me know the truth of those feelings.
Two years ago I finally had the courage to visit Dad’s grave by myself for the first time. It had been forty-four years. It took that long. I love God. I love my Dad. I love everyone who has ever come to the point of wishing his or her life could be shorter.
Having lost my father to suicide, the best advice I can give to anyone who is feeling suicidal is:
If you are sad . . . call someone. The void that every person leaves behind after his or her suicide is greater than you can comprehend. I guarantee you, someone will notice you are gone and have to live with that pain for the rest of their lives.
One final word: people don't "commit" suicide. They are not criminals. They "died from a suicide".
For those who don’t want to talk with someone whom they know, there are several suicidal hotlines available. One is a texting service if you only want to listen for support. They are all available 24 hours a day:
- The Suicide Prevention Center: (877) 727-4747
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
- The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health crisis intervention line: (800) 854-7771
- Crisis Text Line: You can TEXT if you prefer not to call. Just text LISTEN to 741741
“Robin Williams: How to recognize suicide signs, where to get help”. [LA Times].
"Talking about suicide" a blog maintained by an "attempt survivor". She offers Rescources such as finding a therapist who specializes in suicidal thoughts as a first step. She is a New York based blogger.
Click here to find Resources for crisis centers, facts and statistics, warning signs to look for, ideas for suicide prevention. [American Association of Suicidology].
EMDR therapy is a highly recommended approach for anyone seeking coping skills for depression, addiction, or recovering from trauma. Click here to read about EMDR.
Several months after Dad's suicide. Salt Lake City, Utah.