Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.
There are survivors of suicide loss who say that we should rid ourselves of the term “committed” suicide. The idea of “committing” this final act & ending of life, began when suicide was deemed a crime, a murderous act, a sin. Instead, we are asked to say that our loved one “died by suicide.” I understand it. It makes sense on some levels, though for me, there are days when the word “commit” better suits what it is I am feeling. Those are usually the days when I am feeling angry at my father for leaving me. In the act of “committing” he stole something from me, from my family. It feels like a crime. We’ve been robbed by this final act. Robbed of a future with him.
There are still others who feel that using the phrase “killed him/herself” is too harsh, too jarring. It evokes violent images and may further push people away or stigmatize this kind of loss. Again, I get it. But still… A fellow survivor once told me, “You have to learn to live with the fact that the father you loved, killed the father you loved.” She’s right. In truth, I feel that most on the days when I’m angry, when I’m raging at my father for what he did, when I am standing knee deep in the anger stage of grief which comes in waves. And on days when I’m sad, I want to think of him as having died, not in terms of killing. Dying feels more peaceful somehow, though I can never separate out the fact that the dying was by his own hand. But those are the days when I can let in the ultimate truth, the only answer that we will ever have; that he died of an illness. His depression, his anxiety, those were the culprits. Insidious symptoms of mental illness, that took root and stole him from us.
Then of course there are the things that I used to say or do, that evoke a most visceral response now. Never to be said again by me, or taken to kindly by others…
I’m going to kill myself
I’m going to shoot myself
Kill me now
I’m going to blow my brains out
I’m going to strangle him/her
No, don’t say it in front of me. Don’t say it at all. It makes light of the very real experience that so many in our society are living with. It minimizes and belittles the issue of suicide loss. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in our country. Someone is dying approximately every 12.8 minutes.
And then there are the moments when we are tired, frustrated, angry or whatever it is and we jokingly pretend to shoot ourselves in the head or in the mouth. Or perhaps we cock our head to one side and pull upward with our hand, mimicking the act of hanging ourselves with a noose. Or maybe someone is driving us mad and we use our two hands to imitate the act of choking someone. Only now, when I see that, it cuts me to the core. It triggers the most exposed of my nerves and puts more salt in my wounds, it hurts me.
It’s not funny.
It’s not funny at all.
Please don’t do it. I won’t do it again. And it breaks my heart to think that I was ever so flippant. Who knows if someone around me might have been living with suicide loss. Who knows if someone around me had already attempted suicide, or perhaps was contemplating it.
And then comes the absolute worst language of all surrounding suicide. It is the language that feeds into stigma & isolation. It is the language that emboldens the enemy and weakens the spirit of those in the trenches. It is the language that nurtures shame…
And here it is….
The unspoken word…
Yes, the silence is the worst language of all.
It is deafening.
Because people are dying.
In the time it takes me to write this piece, another life has been lost.
In the time it takes you to read this piece, someone else will be in the process of trying to end their life.
People are dying, but we are not talking.
We are not loud enough, open enough, honest enough to speak this truth in our homes, our houses of worship, our classrooms and in our halls of government.
And so long as there is silence…
More people will die.
Over 40,000 Americans die by suicide each year and the numbers are growing. Americans attempt suicide an estimated 1 million times annually.
I am the survivor of suicide loss. My father died by suicide. He ended his own life. However I choose to frame it on any given day, the fact is that he is now counted in those statistics. He is gone. His life is over. And my family and I are grappling, struggling, day by day trying to pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts. Does it make someone uncomfortable for me to talk about it?
Maybe it does.
Do I care?
No, I don’t.
We should be uncomfortable. Uncomfortable not with the words, the language, the conversation about suicide. We should be uncomfortable about the silence, and the apathy that it breeds.
September is Suicide Awareness Month.
September 7-13 is National Suicide Prevention Week
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day
Let’s start the conversations, about mental health & suicide.
Let’s speak the words out loud.
Let’s not be afraid to share our truths.
And let’s remember that for some of us, every single day is Suicide Awareness Day. And in truth, every single day, in this country, should be Suicide Prevention Day.
Our words matter.
They have meaning.
They can hurt or they can heal.
They can shine a light or deepen the darkness.
They can enlighten or they can spread ignorance.
They can help us to reach out or they can push people away.
They can make a difference, if we use them.
They can do many things….
They might even save a life one day…
Yes, they are that powerful.
When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful. — Malala Yousafzai