When suicide strikes we all ask why? Maybe we ask too late?

 

In the wake of Robin Williams suicide many are asking why? Whenever I hear people ask this question, I am reminded of an elderly lady I nursed many years ago and how I learned that not everything is as we may see it.

The lady I speak of was in her eighties. She was admitted with chest pain, confusion, and a number of other medical issues. However it was not her ailments but her story which has remained with me.

She arrived into the geriatric ward the day I began there.  She had a head of white hair with a natural curl, soft skin and a smile which took years off her when she  showed it.  However those first days we rarely saw it, as she lay in bed, back to the door, and showed little interest in what was going on around her.

In the room with her was another lady who was quite unwell. In order to look after her I was in and out of the room many times, and even though I was busy, this lady kept catching my eye.  She rarely moved, despite being fully mobile. She never sat up, turned around, nor showed any interest in what was happening around her. The few times we spoke she barely answered me.

Over the next few days I spent more and more time with her. Slowly she began to unfold, and as she did so her character was revealed. She was one of those patients who would never ask you for anything, believing at all times that you were too busy, and that she would only be bothering you. She was quiet, but once engaged she was so happy to chat. In fact it was this willingness to chat and her wonderful story telling ability that kept me coming back for more, every chance I got.

We spoke about her past, her childhood and her family. However the majority of our conversations were about her early life with the man who would become her husband of almost fifty years. He had passed away two years previously, just short of their fifty year anniversary. At the time I had only recently met my now husband of over twenty years. We were enjoying those early heady days of love, and listening to me sharing my stories, brought this lady back in time to when she was a young girl.  Together we shared many stories which were very similar, just years apart

As her test results began to come back doctors were puzzled. This lady had presented with a lot of medical issues, yet now after a week many seemed to have resolved. They had no idea why.

One morning we were chatting. Her family were coming to visit and she was doing her best to apply makeup and look ‘well’. I was brushing her hair and looking at her in the mirror.  The conversation turned to my boyfriend and I remember I said something along the lines of ‘ ‘I’m  no fool, I’ll keep him chasing’. As I did so she put down her make up and looked at me in the mirror. Then she said,  ‘Don’t play games for too long my dear. I did that for seven years. Seven years I could have been with him, and I regret it every day’.

There was something in the way she said it that made me stop, just for a moment. Then, continuing on I asked, was she very lonely without him? As she began to answer me I watched her face crumble. Tears filled her eyes and spilled over. She never sobbed, just allowed her tears to fall unchecked. I knelt beside her and held her hand as she cried for a little while more.  Watching her cry I realised just how alone and lonely she was.  As quickly as she had begun she stopped, wiped her eyes and I knew she was closing down. I decided to press her, gently, so I asked her ‘Did she ever wish she was with him’ . She nodded, and over the next few minutes it all came out.small_7808465302

Living without her lifelong pal she found life unbearable. She felt a burden on her family, and could no longer find joy in any day. The idea of being with her husband had begun to appeal to her, and over time she had begun to overdose on her medication, hence her admission to hospital.

Listening to her story I was struck by the fact that this lady had lived a lie. She had said all the right things at the right time and had kept up a pretense for her family that she was coping.  I too had been fooled by her, allowing myself to enjoy her stories but never asking the questions that would have allowed her to open up.  Within the hospital she had been treated for her physical symptoms when in fact her real troubles did not need a series of tests to diagnose. What she really needed was someone who would ask her how she was, and take the time to really listen to her reply.

This week ten of our fellow Irish citizens with take their own life, by choice. They will be someones much loved daughter, son, mother, father, uncle or aunt. The methods they chose may vary, the reasons my differ, but the effects on the lives of all those who loved them will be the same. Devastating.

Something has got to change. It is time we all began to look around us, and ask questions. It is time for us to listen to those who are silently screaming, and let them know we are here, they are much loved and we care. It is time to discuss depression, and mental illness openly.

It is time for us all to play our part.
If we change nothing nothing changes. It is time.

photo credit: tanakawho via photopin cc
photo credit: Iqbal Osman1 via photopin cc

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39 thoughts on “When suicide strikes we all ask why? Maybe we ask too late?

  1. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

    One of my daughters tried to kill herself – she took a bunch of pills and went to bed expecting not to wake up. I only learned of this years later. She has battled depression for many years, something much like her father’s depression. Mental illness is a terrible beast that strikes sometimes without warning, a beast we must continue to fight against.

    There were times I was afraid to call my daughter, that she would never answer that phone. I told her she better stop thinking suicide because if she were to die it would literally kill me. She said my telling her that sometimes kept her from even thinking about suicide.

    The bad thing is that some parents lose kids no matter what they do or how much therapy they get the beast is still there – and sometimes the beast wins.

    1. I am so sorry to hear of your daughters struggle, and I am glad to know she kept on going.
      I think depression is like any other illness, not everyone can be cured and for some it is all too much.
      I just want us all to look around and if we are concerned to be more aware, and maybe get that chance to talk with our loved one, because many are met with suicide before ever having the conversation.
      Although I do agree that for some all the love and conversation in the world is not enough.
      Thanks again Jackie, and best wishes to your daughter I can only imagine how scary it is at times being her mom and making that phonecall.
      Thanks also for sharing you didn’t have to but it is so important that, know there are others out there.

  2. what a beautiful story, tric. so sad, and you are right it is so important to reach out, to ask questions, to listen, and sometimes just to be there )

    1. Yes, in our busy world we sometimes miss those opportunities, and sometimes we don’t ask the right questions in case we are going to upset someone.

  3. I think the public discourse on mental and suicide awareness is changing for the better, particularly over recent years. I would share much of the condemnation of mental health care workers and activists towards the lack of a national coherent anti-suicide strategy.

    ASIST is an internationally reputable training course that gives people practical skills on suicide intervention and prevention. It is usually run over two days by experienced facilitators. It’s available throughout Ireland, usually free of charge, and well worth doing. Information available through your local HSE or Google.

    1. I have never heard of this course. I will look into it and might even get a few others to do it with me. Thanks a million.
      I heard a mother speak on the radio recently. Her 17 yr old committed suicide out of the blue, and she kept saying that we need to know the signs. She is tormented by what she might have missed.
      I don’t ever want to think I missed the signs in anyone, so that course would be a great help.

  4. Ah bless her, 2 years after his death must have felt like only 2 days after a lifetime being together. You must have made her feel very safe to open up to you like that Tric xx

  5. I think we can understand why those in severe physical pain or with severe paralysis want to go to Switzerland for euthenasia, at least I think I can. I always think we put an animal out of severe pain but yet we often let humans suffer. So many people suffering mental illness are screaming silently for help though aren’t they? We do what we can to alleviate physical pain but that mental pain is ignored by most of us – a silent killer indeed.

    1. Agreed Lorna, and we need to start talking about it and losing the stigma that surrounds it.
      It’s okay to struggle mentally and it’s more common than we think. We just need to understand it better and be less judgmental about it.
      How many of us know someone who has or is struggling but we don’t tell, because we don’t want others to know. Should it be a secret?

    1. Thanks Colleen. I couldn’t watch it as I was not in the US but I found it on youtube. He says it so well.
      It’s hard for those of us who have had difficult times to understand that we got through for various reasons but others cannot. We really need to begin to understand that depression is not a choice they make.
      It must be so difficult.

      1. I had an unfortunate experience that gave me some insight to how someone with depression may feel. I was very sick for about 8 months. Nothing serious but it made me ill and I couldn’t get rid of it. The doctor had me on five or six different antibiotics. One of the antibiotics I had a severe reaction to. I became so listless and depressed. I could NOT lift my self out of it no matter what I did. Fortunately I had paid attention to the health warnings on the medications and realized it was due to the antibiotic. When I told the doctor the reaction he made note of it so he wouldn’t give it to me again. Tric it was a horrible weighted feeling. He said this medicine had a rare side effect that could even cause a psychotic break! But for those couple of weeks of build up of medicine in me, and the reaction slowly developing, then the time it took to subside-I was incapable of physically or mentally taking charge of my emotions. There’s no “buck up” ability. Depression is a physical change in one’s body. And no one would ever choose that. Very well serving post. Thank you.

  6. Love doesn’t always win. Mental illness cannot be loved away…but it would be nice if the world was more understanding about it and have more compassion on those who must endure. I am sure you were a bright light in the elderly woman’s life even if it was only for a while.

    1. How true, ‘Mental illness cannot be loved away’. You are so right it is not as easy as talking and loving, but I do think with more understanding we could do a much better job in being there when we are needed.
      Thanks so much.

  7. Suicide when one is on one’s own is one thing

    When one has a partner and family, suicide is such a selfish and hurtful thing to do to those who love you.

    Bad enough to suffer the pain of losing a loved one without also having the guilt and sense of failure, wondering what more you could have done to prevent them from taking their own life – and on top of that, having to come to terms with the fact that however much you loved them and however much they professed to love you, in the end, they didn’t give a toss about your feelings and the pain their death would cause you when they decided to kill themselves

    1. I used to think like you did Duncan and couldn’t for a moment understand why they would do that. Now I have changed my tune big time. I have seen people seriously depressed. They are not thinking clearly, and for them their mind is so skewed that they think they are too much of a burden on others.
      I have also seen the awful life they live when in their depression. I can honestly say if I got up every day to the world they live in, no sunshine or joy I don’t know how long I could tolerate it.
      I have known of fathers who hang themselves forgetting their young daughters will be the first to find them. Men who adored their children. Why would they not think it through? Somehow they don’t.
      Life has also taught me that unless I walk in their shoes I cannot really comment, for I cannot truly know.
      That being said and I sound all holier than thou there, I have always said to my husband that if he ever did that, the anger would burn in me forever!

      1. Anita was married twice before she met me, tric

        She and Dennis were in their teens when they married

        She came home from work one day to find he had hung himself in the bathroom – over something as trivial as financial debt

        His death tortured her for years after !

        Her 2nd husband used to sexually, physically, and psychologically abuse her, and when in a rage, would taunt her with Dennis’s suicide – saying he killed himself rather than continue to live with her

        and while that is an extreme case, surviving partners of someone who has committed suicide, in addition to their grief over the loss of their loved one, often have to confront a societal judgement (whether implied or explicit) that they failed as a husband or wife because they didn’t notice any warning signs beforehand that might have enabled them to prevent the suicide and/or they couldn’t have been a very good husband or wife if their partner was prepared to kill themselves rather than talk things over with them

        it was only years later, when she was with me, that Anita was able to put Dennis’s ghost to rest

        she’d told me of her past before we married but I didn’t probe for details

        then one day, when we were visiting a farmers market, she gave me directions and we drove to and parked outside the house where she and Dennis used to live – she had not been back there since she found his body !

        we sat outside, and despite the intervening years, she cried her eyes out – for there is no time limit to grief

        but it was cathartic for her too

        so while I understand and sympathise with anyone suffering from depression – christ knows, it’s 4.½ years since Anita died and yet I drove to work on Thursday with tears streaming down my cheeks because a random thought had sparked a memory of her – it’s my dogs, blogging, and wine that helps me keep depression at bay – there is part of me, and perhaps it’s my Scottish upbringing, that says ‘for f*cks sake, pull yourself together and just get on with it’ !

    2. Stigma is perpetuated by ignorance….and comments like yours continue to hurt those who survive along with the harshness of their own grief. I would venture to say that if it had been your daughter and not your son-in-law who had died by suicide you would have been less inclined to look at it as a “selfish” act. What may look trivial and manageable to the outside world is usually an internal dilemma not wished or loved away and often made worse by external situations or events. Perhaps, those who die that way look at it as a sacrifice that their loved ones would “be better off without them”…that is as selfless as it gets.

      You cannot know the hearts or minds of those who have to live with mental illness….something that they DO NOT choose, like cancer is not chosen. It is not a choice EVER…rather a dark impulse brought on by chemical imbalance that sends wrong messages to the brain…a brain that can get sick just like any other part of the body!! I hope that the world will become less judgmental and more compassionate.

      1. I suggest you re-read my comment more closely, lensgirl, before firing off a post in anger

        it was my wife’s 1st husband who committed suicide – not my son-in-law !!!

        if you want to attack me, that is your right – but get your facts right first !

        my wife died of cancer and don’t you think I have suffered from depression since ?

        believe me, if I thought there was an afterlife I would have seriously considered suicide in order to be with her once more

        but I am an atheist. I don’t believe there is anything after this life. And I have sons and grandchildren to consider

        want me to describe what it feels to be depressed – the hurt, the loneliness, the pointlessness of life, the despair

        want me to describe the times I have to go to the loo at work because I don’t want my co-workers to see me crying

        want me to describe the nights I can’t get to sleep because of panic attacks ?

        don’t presume I don’t know what depression feels like, lensgirl

        when you know me and my circumstances, then you can judge !

        I choose, however, not to end my life and impose unnecessary suffering on those who love me (well I presume they love me – the buggers may just be after my money)

        other folk, of course, think differently, and are entitled to their opinion – but I stick by my assertion that suicide is a selfish act that imposes additional pain and suffering on the family and friends of the deceased

        1. Duncan, I apologize if you perceived my explanation of suicide and those of us left behind as angry. It was not meant to sound that way. I am a person who speaks from experience over the loss of my most precious son to mental illness. I defend the actions that are often misunderstood by those who think they may know about it from another perspective. It seems to be relational as to how we deal with this kind of loss. Even though, I do blame my former daughter-in-law for inciting a terrible depression in my son. I do know that there was something more complicated going on and that my love as a mother did nothing to save him. I speak from a grieving mother’s heart and not some sinister blogger who aims to make your day a bad one. Even though you profess to be an atheist, I hope you can forgive me for coming off as angry.

        2. Duncan and lensgirl you are both speaking from past experience. Neither of you is right nor wrong. Both saw suicide from a different angle, and it has coloured your view.
          Lensgirl To lose a son in any way is a tragedy, but through suicide it must be unbearable. I sympathise with you on your loss.
          Duncan you loved Anita dearly. You bore witness to the terrible legacy suicide leaves behind and you will always be sad and angry that she had to live with that. I know through our contact online how much Anita meant to you and how much you miss her. I can only imagine how hard it is to keep going.
          I hope you can both agree to differ. You both hurt in different ways, and I am sure neither of you meant to upset the other. These are your opinions based on your life experiences.
          This was a very difficult subject to write about and your comments perfectly illustrate how much suicide can hurt and effect us, as well as show us how differently two people can view it. It is not a post I wrote lightly.
          (As for your money Duncan… I never knew you had any, being a scot and all that!)

        3. Thank you. Tric. I usually relate as much as I can about my own situation whenever the opportunity presents itself as in your very eloquent post on this sensitive matter. My heart cries for any and all of us who have suffered the loss of a loved one.

  8. To Duncan: My sympathies to you for the loss of your daughter. I do not know the way she may have passed but it does not matter. Death is hard no matter how a child may die. Suicide has complicated the loss of my son. I hope you continue to blog as it has also been a part of my way of coping, too. Peace and blessings ~

    1. Duncan, I misread the statement above. I now see it is your wife that has passed. Nevertheless, my condolences for all you have and will suffer because of your loss.

  9. lensgirl

    my apologies for the tetchy tone of my reply to your earlier comment

    tric’s post evoked some painful memories and I let that colour my response to your comment

    [I am sorry to hear about the loss of your son – no parent should have to bury their child !]

    Once again, I apologise for the rudeness of my reply

    1. It is most humbly accepted, Duncan. Like Tric reminded us…it is such a sensitive subject that has many perspectives. We are not alone in trying to sort these things out. I wish you a good day (or night) wherever you may be.

  10. Thanks for sharing your touching story and for discussing this vital topic. Five years ago, my son’s good friend took his own life; he was 14. From the outside, he had perfect parents and siblings, perfect life, very involved, perfect student. But he must have been struggling inside and no one knew. It was tragic. I hope your message spreads so other lives can be saved.

    1. Oh my goodness how awful for your son and all of you. Daniels death has had a huge effect on all his friends I can only imagine how a suicide would impact them.
      I do hope in years to come we all learn to communicate better and that those who struggle for years or days can tell someone.
      Thanks for reading and sharing that. I do think it is shocking how many of us have had lives touched by suicide.

  11. That was a very moving post and brought back sad memories of my maternal grandmother, who never recovered from the death of her husband. She died a year later and I truly believe that it was from a broken heart, as she could not bear to live in this world without him xx

  12. As I read this Tric, I am texting back and forth with my son and asking him to write a blog post for me. He mentioned last night that he wanted to write something for his wife so that she would know what signs to look for if he ever reached the point of wanting to take his life once again. I have asked him to put something into writing that I could share as well. We are all different and react in different ways and my signs may be vastly different to that of a young man.
    Suicide is tragic but the fact that a person reaches the point of not knowing where else to turn to end the pain is even more tragic.

  13. I read your comment the other day but wanted time to reply to you. I am so sorry to know your son also struggles at times. To read posts written by others directly affected, is far more beneficial than those of us who have never reached that low. commenting and trying to make sense of it.
    I hope he continues to feel well for a long time to come.
    As a society we are beginning to understand depression and mental illness a bit better, but I think we have still a long way to go.
    Best of luck to you both and I’d be most interested in reading that post when or if he writes it.

  14. Thank you for this post, which went right to my heart. You are helping all of us to make needed changes in our home areas to assist people who are in such difficult circumstances.

    1. Thanks Joanne. This was a difficult subject to write about, but I think this story makes some good points. Hopefully over time society will begin to learn better how to help and understand.

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