Never Forgotten

by Bill Brenner on September 25, 2010

That post about Zane resonated with a lot of people. It’s comforting to know he hasn’t been forgotten. Being forgotten. It’s everyone’s fear. I often worry that people who end their own lives will end up that way.

Mood music:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aE7rkSELM3I&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Though I’ve had many an episode with depression, I’ve never once considered suicide. That makes me no better than those who have. In my case, Faith has always prevented that line of thinking. Suicide is a mortal sin, and as bad as life could get, who wants an eternity of suffering in the afterlife, right?

My brand of depression is also different from the suicidal stripe. Mine just makes me withdrawn and tired.

But I have no reason to be high-minded about it. When I was giving in to my addictions, I was slowly killing myself. I’m not sure that’s much better than killing yourself quickly. People around you still suffer.

Whatever the case may be, I feel the need to write about old friends who committed suicide because I don’t want them to be forgotten. Suicide cases are often swept under the rug. They end up being remembered more for how they died than how they lived.

A few months ago a friend of some friends died of suicide. I wrote something at the time that’s worth repeating now. It’s sort of like an instruction manual for someone who has just lost someone to suicide:

You’re probably feeling kicked in the guts by this. You may have known your friend was depressed, even suicidal, but it never really clicked in your brain that this friend would actually DO IT.

Now you’re beating yourself over it because you’re certain that you saw the signs in hindsight and should have done something to help this person. You feel you weren’t the friend you should have been. Or brother. Or sister. Or parent.

Your brain is spinning like an old record, skipping as you replay the last few months in your head, over and over again. “How could you have missed the signs?” you ask yourself.

As everyone in your circle second guesses themselves, tensions and hard feelings bubble to the surface.

It can be too much to absorb. And the hurt will be there for a long time.

But things will get better. They always do.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned in the nearly 14 years since my friend’s death:

–Blaming yourself is pointless. No matter how many times you replay events in your mind, the fact is that it’s not your fault. For one thing, it’s impossible to get into the head of someone who is contemplating suicide. Sure, there are signs, but since we all get the blues sometimes, it’s very easy to dismiss the signs as something close to normal. When someone is loud in contemplating suicide, it’s usually a cry for help. When the depressed says nothing and even appears OK, it’s usually because they’ve made their decision and are in the quiet, planning stages.

–Blaming each other is even more pointless. Take it from me: Nerves in your circle of family and friends are so raw right now that it won’t take much for relationships to snap into pieces. A week after my friend’s death I wrote a column about it, revealing what in hindsight was too much detail. His family was furious and most of them haven’t talked to me since. They feel I was exploiting his death to advance my writing career and get attention. I was pretty screwed up back then, so they’re probably right. In any event, I don’t blame them for hating me. What I’ve learned, and this is tough to admit, is that you’re going to have to let it go when the finger pointing starts. It’s better not to engage the other side. Nobody is in their right mind at this point, so go easy on each other. Give people space to make their errors in judgment and learn from it.

–Don’t demonize the dead. When a friend takes their life, one of the things that gnaws at the survivors is the notion that — if there is a Heaven and Hell — those who kill themselves are doomed to the latter. I’m a devout Catholic, so you can bet your ass this one has gone through my mind. What I’ve learned though, through my own experiences in the years since, is that depression is a clinical disease. When you are mentally ill, your brain isn’t firing on all thrusters. You engage in self-destructive behavior even though you understand the consequences. A person thinking about suicide is not operating on a sane, normally-functioning mind. So to demonize someone for taking their own life is pointless. To demonize the person, you have to assume they were in their right mind at the time of the act. And you know they weren’t. My practice today is to simply pray for those people, that their souls will still be redeemed and they will know peace. It’s really the best you can do.

– Break the stigma. One of the friends left behind in this latest tragedy has already done something that honors her friend’s life: She went on Facebook and directed people toward the American Association of Suicidology website, specifically the page on knowing the warning signs. That’s a great example of doing something to honor your friend’s memory instead of sitting around second guessing yourself. The best thing to do now is educate people on the disease so that sufferers can help themselves and friends and family can really be of service.

–On with your own life. Nobody will blame you for not being yourself for awhile. You have, after all, just experienced one of the worst tragedies there is. But try not to let it paralyze you. Life must go on. You have to get on with your work and be there for those around you.

Don’t take what I’ve just said as Gospel. It’s based on my own experience and no two experiences are the same. But if there was something in there that’s helpful, then I’m grateful.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mary September 25, 2010 at 11:27 am

Nicely said Bill.
It’s like the stages of coming to terms with death.
Who knows, maybe the 5 steps you have penned will be published, and help others.
…Maybe if our group had these, we would have clung to each other to work thru the pain…

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