I’ve been wanting to post for some time now. A painful word that I struggle to type. That word is suicide. Painful as it is to type brings just as much pain to my heart. Suicide in the United States is under the umbrella of being a major health issue. I’ll not go into the rates or subgroups found under the percentages of people who commit suicide. The word suicide was one of the most difficult words to speak. And why?
Last week my husband mentioned to me that Anderson Cooper was having a special presentation on suicide. We typically don’t watch his program [or should I say I stay clear of news programs all together] but for some reason this particular night it was clear to my husband we needed to watch it together. I learned that I wasn’t the only person feeling the tight feeling in my stomach or anger or misunderstanding. It became so clear to me that there is no closure when a loved one takes their own life. No matter what the contents of their letter is. If you get a letter. I learned that keeping quiet only makes this silent illness even deadlier. Even now typing this for you to read makes my fingers quiver and my stomach burn. I sit here thinking back to a day I learned my friend took her life. It hasn’t been two years since Machiella ended what I thought – what I felt was a “good life”, a “happy life”, a “content” person. Machiella was as beautiful on the inside as the outside. An artist. A wife. A young athletic woman who had the laugh of a little girl and the looks of a young Sophia Loren. We spent almost two to three days a week in the mornings taking our pups to class and playdates. We met for tea and coffee. Our friendship blossomed as time went on. So the day Machiella took her life why didn’t I see something. Anything in her character saying to me she needed help. I worked with at risk youth and adults for years. Why wouldn’t I have seen a sign?
It’s been over twenty years now but I remember the day when I answered my phone and my niece was on the other end speaking through tears “he’s gone”. My sister’s best friend. Her husband. Her soulmate. A man of compassion. Someone who would give you the shirt off his back. Someone who pulled his truck off the road to help an injured animal. Alan gave his everything to those who he knew and sometimes to those he just met. My sister found him in their home. Where were the signs? Can a back injury spiral someone to the point of not wanting to live their life anymore? Can a young woman who may have not felt her life was in order end it just because of something you or I would look at as just a bad day?
I never spoke of Alan’s death openly. I was protecting my sister. I probably was protecting myself as well. Who wants to speak of suicide as the cause of death. Who wants to speak of suicde and hear “oh, I’m so sorry”. You receive a certain look. As if the one you loved was not worthy. You receive the sympathy but without words – because lets face it – what do you say to someone who just said it was due to suicide. The stigma that comes with suicide is enough to make the survivors mentally ill. I have never felt the darkness where my life was about to end. If I had a bad day it was over within hours. So I can not say to someone who has been living in darkness I know how you feel. I don’t. I can’t say to them I can only imagine. I can’t. I can’t imagine how my sister was feeling – I only know of her pain and silent grieving she kept in the privacy of her own home. Once the family and friends moved on and the months passed. Then years. After counseling and support groups. But how was she to lift her head and know people on the outside weren’t judging Alan.
After Machiella took her life I began to seek support and ask questions. Again, working in a facility that housed mental health clients, drug users and homeless doesn’t give you the tools to use when it hits you personally. Because this was not suppose to happen to me! It wasn’t until recent I opened up to my sister about Alan again. After moving away from the same state my sister resides in – I packaged that part of my life away. Not forgetting it – only keeping it safely stored where my own heart would be free of [that] pain. And sparing me from speaking the word. It wasn’t until sometime after my friends death – I was at a local cafe’ speaking to an acquaintance. Machiella’s name came up – and I quietly explained what happened. It took every ounce of my being to not throw my drink on her lap. What I did expect is for a few sympthathetic words or head shakes with a painful expression. Perhaps even the hand over heart. But what I didn’t expect was the lack of compassion and respect for another being. I didn’t expect to hear “some people” and “those people” in a sentence. The how can they. How dare they do that to their loved ones. In defense of this persons reaction – I remember having the thoughts float around my mind. How. Why. I have had the thoughts of only violent people or people who are isolated commit suicide. But those thoughts were so very long ago – so long ago even before Alan took his life. Mental Health has been placed on the back burner for as long as I can remember. And because MH is such a complicated health issue – it’s not until something drastic occurs before mental health is discussed at the table. It shouldn’t take Anderson Cooper, Glenn Close and Senator Deeds to speak out on mental health issues. But since they are a source where America can tune in and listen – whether you agree with them or not – they are speaking. We must speak. We must admit it hurts. We must allow the pain in our hearts to show. Pretending isn’t the answer. And turning our backs on those who are suffering can’t be the answer. Depression just doesn’t go away. And neither will suicide. Not without speaking.
The week after Machiella ended her life I was taking Apple to school. I was getting in my car to return home when a mom-friend stopped her car just to get out and hug me. I remember Karen’s words like it was yesterday. Cry she said. Scream she said. This is why I’m here to allow you to let it out. I was so angry at Machiella. I was so hurt that she didn’t trust me enough to say she needed help. But mostly I was angry at myself because I didn’t “see” anything. No signs. Or was there a small, quiet indication that something was different. Boxes of art supplies and photography books given to Apple within a span of two weeks. Cleaning out closets she said. Making room for a home office for her husband.
Speak up. If you think someone is not themselves – speak to them. Don’t just assume it’s an “off” day. And don’t take no for an answer. Make sure they know they matter.
National Suicide Prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255
In memory of Alan and Machiella