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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