Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Unspeakable and Unimaginable

The unspeakable has happened again.
Our hearts are broken anew.
Another brilliant, gifted, valiant soul has lost his battle with depression.

The unimaginable has happened again.
Unimaginable.  That is the word my daughter used to describe suicide.

When I first heard of the death by suicide of Robin Williams, after the initial sudden wave of shock and sadness that hit me had passed, concern for those who suffer from depression, bi-polar disease, addiction, suicide ideation, or other forms of mental illness filled my mind with an all too familiar fear for their safety and well-being.  My mind began asking questions.  How will those who suffer deeply and struggle daily with these battles, these demons, respond to the news?  Will the insidious face of suicide ideation stalk the minds of those who struggle with an illness that can become so debilitating?  Will they know where to get help?  Will they get help?  Will suicide somehow become glorified?  Will the news media handle this news and all that might accompany it responsibly?

Within five minutes of hearing the news of the death of Robin Williams, my phone rang.  Having just driven into the driveway after a day spent on the road returning from a few days spent with my mother, and having just greeted my husband with a hug and a kiss, I took my phone from my purse and saw that the call was from my former husband, the father of my children. With my head still full of those questions I had just asked myself, and with a heart full of concern for others, the name on my phone screen triggered a deep reaction.  I think fear entered my mind when I saw his name because somehow I knew the call was linked to the news that we all were just hearing.  My mouth was suddenly dry when I said hello.  I struggled to remain calm as I awaited to hear the purpose for the call.  Fear was raging through my emotions.  Was something wrong?

Today, I have struggled over whether or not I should write this post.  I've questioned adding my voice to all the other voices that have been heard since yesterday's news of William's death became public.  I decided to write this post about suicide because I believe that part of my own healing involves me adding my voice to the throngs of others whom have lost a loved one to suicide.  I write this to bring suicide out of the darkness and into the light.  When we don't speak of what has been the unspeakable, those who struggle with depression and mental illness feel more alone.  The stigma of suicide becomes stronger than the message that there is hope and there is help for those who struggle.

On the evening before the day that marked what would have been the forty-eighth wedding anniversary for my former husband and myself, we spoke in voices to each other that expressed support and concern over our children.  News such as the news that has been all over the media traumatizes survivors of suicide.  My former husband, my children, other family members, and friends are all survivors of suicide.  Those who suffer the death of loved one by suicide are called survivors.  We also are quite familiar with the effects of PTSD that can be triggered very easily.  As my one daughter said to me today, "We have to give Mom and Dad a pass on this.  They have suffered deeply.  They will never get over Julie's death.  They will always fear for the rest of us.  We have to give them a pass."

I've read many things today about a subject that is just way too close to home for me.  Friends have reached out to me today expressing thoughts of concern and support.  I spoke with a trusted helper today who helped me understand why I seek to deal with those things which cannot be understood.

I will never fully understand why my daughter took her life.  I will never fully understand the pain and suffering that she endured in her life.  I will grieve her death until the day I die.  I will also celebrate the life and memory of the beautiful, talented, intelligent, funny, articulate, hardworking daughter that graced my life.  I will continue to give thanks for remaining four children whose lives enrich my life and bring me much joy and pride.

I was woefully unknowledgeable about mental illness when Julie was alive.  I am cognizant that awareness about mental health issues is where I must now focus my attention.  We all need to recognize warning signs of suicide.  We need to arm ourselves with effective interventions and treatments.  I carry a card with the warning signs of suicide in my wallet.  I have a list of them next to my computer.  I refer to the list of indicators of serious depression when I think I recognize it in others.  I ask hard questions when I think they need to be asked.  I try to keep my head out of the sand and my eyes open.  I try to keep my heart in tune so I recognize those who need a helping hand.  I will not let the stigma that once surrounded suicide silence me.

The topic of suicide has been unspeakable for too long.

The unimaginable pain that a suicide brings to those left behind is just that:  unimaginable.

Please join me in doing what you can to prevent suicide by arming yourself with information.  Visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to print out this information.

If you are in crisis, or know someone who is, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)


Jackie said...

I am so sorry, Sally.
I wish I could say more or do more for you.
My daughter-in-law's Daddy committed suicide when she was a young teenage girl. She will always grieve about not only his death but about the way he died. I cannot imagine what his suicide did to her. She doesn't speak of it often. But I know that it hurts her to this day...and probably will forever.
I have no words.

Kay said...

Hello Sally...
I'm so sorry. This is a terribly hard time for you. I'm glad you're adding your voice, not just for your healing, but to help others who don't truly understand what it's all about.

One of my daughter's dearest high school friends who was a gifted student and athlete from what we thought of then as the perfect family, committed suicide in college. They are still the perfect family because they were able to support each other and move forward... somehow. Like you and your family, the devastation is never gone.

I can't understand why Jenny chose to do this. She seemed to have so much going for her. She was a big sister to my daughter in high school. Her wonderful, supportive, loving parents were our friends. Her brother was my son's classmate and friend.

Maybe there's really no way to understand except to know that somehow life was just too much for them to cope with.

I'm thinking of you, Sally and sending you a hug from across the ocean.

Linda Myers said...

You are doing good things, Sally.

Terri Tiffany said...

I'm glad you have turned your grief into support for those suffering with depression. I felt I needed to add my voice as well. If more of us do, it might reduce that stigma. And save others who find themselves suffering. Keep doing what you do.

Perpetua said...

Such a brave and timely post, Sally, and I really hope it helps others. My thoughts turned to you and other survivors of suicide I know when I first heard the news. If one good thing can come out of the death of Robin Williams it will be countless people having been made more aware of the potential signs of suicide risk and how they may help others in that situation.

Marty Damon said...

I realize how deeply painful this post must have been for you to write, but it's a valuable meessage that could very well save a life.

Olga Hebert said...

You have given voice to the unspeakable. Thank-you.

Jeanie said...

Even things that can't be understood have to be spoken of and dealt with.
Your thoughts as a survivor are very important an meaningful. I hope it has helped you to write this...it is an important message for everyone who reads it.

Tom Sightings said...

Thanks for your heartfelt, insightful post. This is a terrible tragedy, and I can only hope that it opens eyes and stimulates discussions that somehow help the many others who struggle with mental illness and addiction.

Jeanie said...

I thought of you (and Keicha)when I heard of this -- your whole family, actually -- and knew that this would have a powerful impact and evoke powerful memories for you. I'm glad you wrote this post, shared your feelings, observations and experiences.

I suspect that there are few who haven't been touched personally by death by suicide and still more who fear that could be a possibility for those we love. Your efforts and cause are monumental but I know you will receive much support for all you do.

Sending love.

Jean said...

I thought of you when I heard of Robin Williams' death. I thought of a lady in my exercise class, who lost her daughter to suicide.

I can only imagine the depth of pain left behind for the survivors to handle. It must be a terrible burden.

Today I asked my dental hygienist how her children were doing. She said her son had a rough start to college last fall and had to drop out and come home. The reason? His roommate committed suicide one month into the first semester.

What a horrible beginning at college for my hygienist's son. I can't imagine....

I suspect we're all feeling saddened by Robin Williams' death. But for the survivors of suicide? I can't even begin to comprehend.

You are very much in my thoughts. Please know that.

Arkansas Patti said...

I thought of you when I heard but also my cousin's loved ones. That hole will never be filled but being proactive like you are is a help.

A Quiet Corner said...

Yes, I agree, this topic like so many other mental disorders have been swept under the carpet for far too long. At my age and seeing mental illness in my family since I was four, I KNOW what is NOT done, NOT understood, NOT for discussion...:)JP

DJan said...

My heart aches for all of us who have lost family and friends this way. And every time, it comes up fresh as if for the first time. I'm sending you my love and concern for all of us, that we help each other to make it through.

Linda said...

Since I lost my nephew, Bill, to suicide in March I have a different view of this tragedy. There is an ache in my heart for anyone who has lost a loved one in this way. I am comforted by the knowledge that God is loving and merciful and always close to the brokenhearted.

Barb said...

I thought of you when I heard the news of Robin William's suicide. We all wonder "why" but cannot find answers because we don't inhabit another's mind and heart, even if we love them deeply. Sadness and remembrance are all that's left.

Friko said...

Those lists of indicators you mention, where can I find them?

I need to do something for myself too.

If you have learnt what to do and are able to recognise the signs in others then at least Julie’s death has helped to save someone else. It is good that your ex-husband and your children all pull together and remember each other and are careful of each other on a day like this.

Mental illness still bears a stigma and there is still not enough research into causes of and treatments for the disease, for disease it is, just as much as diabetes, say, or cancer.

Take care, dear Sally.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

The news of Robin Williams' suicide and his struggle with bi-polar disorder made me think immediately of Julie and of the truly unimaginable pain you have felt in the wake of her passing. I so admire your resolve to keep other families from experiencing the tragedy of suicide, making others aware that there is help available -- and that as long as there is life, there is hope.

fiftyodd said...

My youngest brother-in-law committed suicide two years ago. I am amazed at how many of you 'know someone'. True indeed, that those left behind suffer the most.

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Sally, thank you for speaking so often and openly about your journey through grief. A few weeks ago, the 26-year-old daughter of friends took her own life. They are reeling. I kept thinking of you as we listened to them talk. Remembering your struggle helped me stay quiet and listen, and they seemed to appreciate that. They said they knew exactly why she took her life and had been in close touch with her but were powerless to change the outcome of her years-long struggle. Crushing.

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

My deepest condolences.
It is a tragic situation.
You are quite right that the silence has to end.
I have depression and I have been wrestling with finding out more information. I have been able to manage it.
Good for you. Yes, you are a survivor.

Mage said...

Thanks for this Sally. So hard to write.

troutbirder said...

Thank you, Sally, Our eldest son was taken by the effects of bi-polar. I do think like cancer was unspeakable fifty plus years ago, today public awareness and understanding of mental illness is slowly improving...