Thursday, September 16, 2010


I had a few rants which I had planned for my next post, but a tragic event has put some perspective on what's really important. The brother of a very dear friend (a friend who is practically a family member) ended his life the other day, leaving everyone in a state of shock and deep sadness. I did not know the deceased very well, having only met him a few times, but his bereaved brother is very dear to me and to my family. He had talked about his brother to me, and I understood him to be a gifted but troubled person, but without any hint of ever being suicidal. It is so sad that he felt he had no other choice, and that he did not explore other options for whatever he was feeling that led him to take such a step.

Any death is sad, but death by one's own hand is not just sad, but leaves its survivors with so many unanswered question: Why ? What could I have done to stop it? Did I miss any signals? And , again, Why?

For many years, I worked at a mental health agency, first on the crisis line, then as a trainer of volunteers for the crisis line, and then as director of the community education program. As a volunteer I fielded calls from suicidal clients. I trained other volunteers to handle such calls. We had the advantage that if people called a hot line, they were ambivalent about actually going through with ending their lives. We also did have people call who had already taken pills and needed help to survive. It was frightening, rewarding work.

When I moved into eh community education program, my staff and I developed a number of programs dealing with mental health issues, including a school based suicide prevention program, in which we helped kids understand that there were school and community based resources to help them wrestle with family and personal issues which might cause them to feel desperate enough to consider suicide, that there were other options. From that we developed workshops for educators, social workers and church personnel to familiarize them with warning signs and resources. We were quite busy with requests for these programs, which, alas, are no longer available regularly in the community because of budget cuts.

One of the last workshops which I designed was on the aftermath of suicide, the impact on those left behind. The participants were social workers, ministers and educators. I had a number of people as presenters who had experienced the loss of a loved one in this way. a father, a mother and a widow. All had experienced guilt and anger along with the pain of loss. All had worked through their grief over a number of years, but it was a powerful experience, hearing their stories.

I bring all of this up because, even though I have worked with this issue, and have talked with suicidal people, there is still something so terrifying, so mysterious, so painful when it happens and when someone you know and care about is having to face that kind of nightmare. I know my friend will get through it; he has a lot of good friends, but I wish he didn't have to.

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