A Letter To The Families For Whom Suicide Prevention Failed

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National suicide prevention awareness month is now behind us.

I haven’t engaged it at all on any social media outlets, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t effect me.

Any time suicide becomes a popular discussion item in the news, I struggle. I struggle not only because it brings back painful memories, but because I feel like something as traumatic as suicide is hard to discuss in a tweet or Facebook post.

This does not mean that we should remain silent and I hope with all my heart that this month of awareness prevents suicide. That the hotlines help and that the resources made available pull drowning people out of the sea of depression and into vivid life.

I wish that had been the case for our family. And from my family to yours, here is what I would like to share about suicide.

For those of you who don’t know my story, my mother took her life nearly five years ago after a very long struggle with depression. She had experienced a hard road after my sister’s damaging car accident and my father’s sudden death from a heart attack.

She was tired after fighting depression for a long, long time and she had become a shell of the person God created her to be. In fact I often wonder if I ever met the person God created her to be, my memories of her are more her illness than the person underneath it.

And then suddenly she was gone through a gruesome and bold death of her own choosing. Now it’s a part of our story, her story, my story, my family’s story and a really hard story I will someday have to tell my children.

The problem I have had with this month of suicide talk on social media is that, as I said above, it is really hard to have a real, gritty discussion about something so complex as suicide in a Facebook status. So, for better or for worse, here are a few thoughts I had, but didn’t share this September and I am going to share them as an open letter to the families for whom prevention did not work.

(These are just MY thoughts on suicide, my own personal reflections, if you are considering suicide, call a professional or reach out to a friend. I never, ever endorse suicide as a good idea. If you have no one to call, please call the suicide hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255)

Dear friend,

I am so sorry that your best efforts to save your loved one didn’t work, mine failed as well. Likewise I am sorry that the word suicide now carries such dreadful weight in your story, it always seemed to me like a distant thing that happened “out there” and not in my own family. Yet here we are, sitting with the massive darkness, trying to make sense of it all.

I’d like to hear your story, to listen as one who understands and who will nod without gasping, I know how hard it can be to tell new friends about your loss. It happens to me too. Does the memory of what happened flash in your mind at odd moments? Like suddenly you’re in the pickup line of your kids school or brushing your teeth and you imagine it happening in vivid detail?

I have that, I hate it. It’s an awful image to shake.

Can I confess something to you? When my mom died I felt 98% sad and shocked and 2% relieved, because so much of my life revolved around worrying about her, trying to take care of her and then feeling unspeakably frustrated and angry when my interventions failed. I couldn’t help her, she was in this unreachable place that couldn’t be touched by counseling, meds or even joyful moments of life.

I don’t understand how she could leave me, and my kids. She left with one grandchild on the way, in the middle of planning her son’s wedding. I will never understand why we weren’t enough joy for her to stick around. I know this is because I don’t understand the darkness of her illness, it’s really hard for those of us left behind to understand how our loved ones were feeling.

Does it help you to talk about what really happened with people or do you prefer to keep it buried?

They tell me that my Mom wasn’t the one who acted that night, the night she killed herself, they tell me it was the depression who did it, not her. I think I believe that, usually I do.

Either way I start to hyperventilate around trains, and I can’t really bring myself to drive over the train tracks where she took her life without panicking and going into a dark space in my mind. I hate that, I just want to feel normal. I want a normal story and I hate that suicide gets to play such a huge role in how both of our stories get told.

I don’t know exactly how you are feeling, but in the broader sense I get it. I hope that you are able to find friends who will sit with you as your spend a lifetime sifting through the aftershock of what happened.

I hope that you can forgive your loved one, or whatever it looks like for you to find freedom from it, I pray that you can find a space where you can admit it happened in your life but that it doesn’t become you.

I don’t understand why our prayers didn’t work, I don’t understand why God intervenes sometimes and other times he doesn’t. I admit that suicide has to do with depression and sickness and that God grieves it too.

And I don’t think that suicide keeps you out of heaven, I have a lot of thoughts on this that I don’t really dare share on the internet.

There are a lot of things I don’t understand about suicide, far more than I do understand. But I believe that talking about it helps, that sharing our stories brings us a power to overcome them. So here I am, feel free to share your story with me in this space or on facebook, I will respond in love,

Sincerely,

Leanne Penny.

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  • Megan Hall

    I totally understand. I am in that place right now where I have to “take care” of several people in my life. But my therapist said that I can’t live like that. It is their choice as awful as it sounds. I don’t mean this in a inconsiderate way. We need to give them support and love and help. But being consumed by it is not healthy. It is warring me down. I just started counseling so I still feel a huge responsibility for those in my life who I don’t know if they are going to be here each day. I have been known to “carry the world on my shoulders”. And that is probably not going to end in today or tomorrow. It takes time. I can’t imagine the loss if that ever happens. I am truly sorry for what happened. I hope you continue to heal. <3

  • Anne

    Thank you for sharing this. I lost my brother several years ago to suicide, and I resonated with so much of what you say here. So many questions for God, all unanswerable. I wonder when to tell my children and what type of effect it will have on them. I avoid stories with suicide in them, cringe at “jokes” and the casual phrases. I certainly do not believe it keeps one out of heaven. He was a kinder more loving person (marked by his love for Jesus) than I or most people will probably ever be and that didn’t save him. Your thoughts on grief, pain, and suicide are why I follow your blog. I don’t know too many people outside my own family who have had this experience with a family member. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Holly

    Thank you for your heart, honesty and bravery. Truth surrounding things like suicide can be so hard. But necessary if those left behind are to heal and continue in this world. Thank you.

  • Mark Allman

    Leanne,

    It is hard to read your story and not cry for it takes me to ours. When I hear someone committed suicide it takes me to that feeling that we did so much to try to pull my dad from the darkness he was in but failed. He and I had talked the night before after the Saints had won the Super Bowl and that was the last time. I still wonder if he saw me calling him that day and ignored my calls?

    I am thankful that he had been unsuccessful a couple of earlier times in that it gave all of us children a chance to reinforce with him that we loved him.

    Besides being hurt I was angry because I felt he was selfish in that fact that his action would leave in it’s wake years of hurt. I have wished that he could have died almost any other way.

    So even as I write this I am hyperventilating and holding back tears. I am thankful as well that I know he is in heaven and healed of his hurt. I also recognize there is darkness in this world that has the capacity to envelop any of us and no one is immune to it. Life can be hell and I know we must cling to God and to those we love to get through it.

    For the most part no one even knows this is part of our families story. I don’t share it very often but willingly would if I thought I could help someone with their grief.

    I pray for you and your family as I know the hurt can show up almost anytime.