Yesterday, the counselor at the middle school in CO where most of my children attended (until we moved to Texas) passed away tragically from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This has devastated the community that we called home for so many years. This counselor was well-loved and had positively impacted many, many lives in the 15 years that he worked in the school district. He had helped so many students during their own dark times to find the light again. He will be greatly missed. He leaves behind a wife and two children.
Losing anyone we love to death is heart-breaking and hard to deal with, but losing someone to suicide adds another layer. Not only do we mourn the loss of the one we loved, but we may be left with feelings of regret, guilt, and anger.
I read many posts when Robin Williams died. One post in particular called him selfish to take his own life. I think one of the mistakes we make, as we try to make sense out of a senseless situation, is projecting our own life experiences onto someone else. We wonder how anyone could leave his or her spouse, children, parents, etc. We try to assign our own feelings to someone else. We simply cannot do that. Of course, anyone in his right mind would never, ever subject his loved ones to the pain and agony that comes with losing a loved one. No one would ever want to thrust feelings of guilt and remorse on the people he loved most.
But that's the thing. Someone who is in the frame of mind to take his own life, isn't in the same frame of mind as someone who isn't. He is not thinking rationally. He is not thinking about the long-term effects. He is not thinking about what his death will mean for those around him. Or perhaps he thinks life without him will be better for his loved ones. At any rate, we who are not suffering in this way cannot assign our own frame of reference to someone who is. We do not know what someone else is going through, We do not know the pain or the suffering or the agony that person may be enduring, even if that person appears to be fine.
Robin Williams seemed to have it all. Fame, fortune, an adoring fan base. The counselor at school lived his life to help others navigate treacherous waters of sadness and depression. He was married, had children, had a steady job, and lived in a beautiful subdivision. He was not on the radar as someone who was in desperate need of help, at least not to the general public.
We all have "stuff." We all have trials we've lived through. Some of those trials have been more public than others. Some of us share our trials and some of us don't. Some of us know when to seek help. Others don't. Some of us hide pain on a daily basis.
We cannot stand in judgment of those who end their lives, because we are not them. We do not know what is in their minds or in their hearts. Only a loving Heavenly Father can do that. We cannot condemn them to an everlasting hell because that is not our job or our role. We cannot judge others, because we do not know their hearts, their desires, their intents. We only know our own.
Suicide is still a taboo subject. We don't talk about it. Those who've been affected by it may feel a stigma and feel that the death of their loved one is different than a death from a car accident or an illness. They may feel shame and embarrassment because our society earmarks suicide as something "different" and it makes people uncomfortable to speak about it. And the cycle continues. We see suicide as something different, so those affected feel different. However the death occurred, it is still a death. People have lost a loved one. They are in pain. They are suffering. It doesn't matter how that loved one died. We need to offer support, love, and sympathy to those affected.
Suicide can also incite deep guilt because the death could have been prevented. We feel helpless and wonder what we could have done. But we cannot play the blame game. "Why didn't I see it?" "Why didn't I go talk to her?" "Why didn't I call the doctor?" "What if I'd gone to see him that day?" "What if I'd put that gun away?" "What if I'd been a better husband, wife, brother, sister, mother, father, friend?" Most of the time, those who have determined to commit suicide have thought about it and kept it a secret from those closest to them. It does no good to immerse ourselves in guilt.
What can we do? What can we learn? Maybe to be a little kinder. To be a little softer. To remember that we have no idea what someone is going through. We see what others want us to see, because people hide the dark parts of themselves. People hide the pain. The suffering.
We need to love one another. We need to be gentler. We need to treat others the way we want to be treated. We need to help those we meet along our path. We need to leave the world better than we found it. We need to reach out and comfort each other. Be patient with each other. Remember that we are all struggling along this path of life. Just because we don't have the same struggles, or just because we haven't made those struggles public, does not mean we don't have them.
Suicide affects all of us in a profound way. Some of us are affected more intimately than others. True healing comes from God. From trusting in His love and allowing Him to comfort us in these times. We may not be able to understand why someone would commit suicide, but we can do a better job of talking about it and allowing those who've been the most affected to feel our love and compassion. We can do a better job of not casting aspersions on those who commit suicide and alienating their loved ones. We can do a better job of loving each other.