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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Suicide As Mercy: a strange and confusing calling home

(trigger warnings, suicide, depression)

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This past Saturday the news broke that Pastor Rick Warren’s 27 year old son Matthew had taken his life after a life-long battle with depression.

Within a few hours I received several messages from friends online to this effect: “thinking of you as I read this news and praying for their family and yours.”

At first I didn’t know how to feel, coming to mind whenever someone encounters suicide.  But then I realized that people think of me because I have a unique perspective on this devastating type of loss.

As for me, every time I hear of someone taking their life I freeze up and a lump the size of a grapefruit forms in my throat.  My mind drifts off to the family receiving the raw news, their souls smacked with the impossibility of it.  The grasping denial leading to utter confusion.

About a month back I was asked to help with childcare for a funeral at a local church, so we loaded the car with diapers and Gluten Free snacks and headed off to help.  I was chatting lightly with a friend when she was told that we were working a suicide funeral.

I spent the rest of the morning in a shroud of memories and heartache, reliving the moment where I curled up on the bathroom counter, unable to speak or cry after my brother called to deliver the news of my own Mother’s suicide.

My mind flashed back to her funeral, slowly dragging my weary body down the aisle behind my mother’s casket.  Turning around a seeing hundreds of familiar faces, all in shock that she took her life.

We hung on every word the pastor said, hoping he’d give us something to make sense of it all.

I haven’t known all forms of grief, but I think suicide grieving is a rare bird, a hard road, a lifetime of thoughts to be sorted through.

How could they do this?
Why couldn’t life be enough for them?
Didn’t the love we shared matter?
What could we have done differently?
And the hardest one for me:  Why didn’t God send healing?

Scriptures like John 14:14 still make me a little angry.

“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Inwardly I ask God what fault he found in my prayers for my Mom?  What spiritual blockage was stopping Him from breaking through the crust of her pain and depression?

Why didn’t He send healing and deliverance?  Why didn’t He hear our prayers and set her free, deliver her from that evil pain?

Those who lose loved ones to Mental Illness have an especially cruel burden to carry because many people question the faith of the deceased.  They wonder if their journey with Christ was phony and negated by the manner of their death.

I get it, even I went through a season of questioning my Mother’s faith, it’s hard to figure out what happens to the soul while the mind languishes in pain.

Yet in the end I will tell you that my Mother died from depression, that her mental illness finally ended her life.  Just as breast cancer or heart disease may have stolen someone you love, depression stole my Mother.

Some days, good days, I see her as brave and long suffering.  She fought against her depression for over 30 years, for my entire life and longer.

My mother placed her daughter in a group home and buried her husband on a cold March afternoon and still she fought on.

She lived in her own private, painful world and got up every morning to fight another day for years, until one evening she couldn’t anymore.  On that evening, tragically, depression won the battle.

On the days when I see her as brave, I view her death as the most confusing kind of mercy I’ve ever come across.

Sometimes I wonder if God’s timing was right and he called her home in a way that we on earth cannot mentally process.  It seems like the most heretical thing in the world, suggesting that God uses suicide to call a child home, yet Cancer ends in death and no one questions it.

I’m not sure, even I don’t know what to do with this idea, suicide as mercy.  

But can you imagine going years without feeling joy?  I’m not sure I want to even try.

I found a lot of connection in the letter that Pastor Warren wrote: “Kay and I often Marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain.  I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said: “Dad I know I’m going to heaven, why can’t I just die and end this pain?”

The Warrens view their son as a courageous man who fought on for years and not as a quitter who took the easy road out.  And I get it, really I do.

There’s no easy answer or black and white perspective when it comes to suicide. But, for those who have seen the long suffering of our loved one, a beatitude that describes depression perfectly, sometimes we wonder if it is a mercy.

A strange and confusing calling home.

Join me in praying for the Warren family as they burry their beloved son this week.  Pray also that we as a church give grace and love and that harsh words and judgement be minimal if not non-existant.  

(If you are considering suicide, please seek help immediately, please don’t this as an encouragement to take your life.  Call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255)