Last week, a member of my extended family decided that life was no longer worth living and tried to end it, using an ordinary object sold at every hardware store and present in virtually every American home.
Discovered soon—but not soon enough—after making this choice, this person is currently on life support.
On its own, these facts are sad enough. The things we wish we could have said, the things we said, the things that went unheard: Oh, but you have so much to live for. These pressures you feel today are miserably heavy, yes, but can be lightened other ways than this.
You have your health. Your intelligent mind. Your dazzling looks. A roof over your head. People who love and need you.
And, as death and near-death always do, it triggers flashbacks: I remember when, having just moved in with a relative of mine, this person first began attending family gatherings. Was instantly and always the most warmly welcomed. Why? Because of being so remarkably attractive, seeming so stable and strong?
A year later, warm welcomes notwithstanding, came this person's stony silences during those family gatherings, the gazings-into-nowhere and the sudden-standings-up and stridings-out-of-rooms. A few times, I followed—but those silent stares burned right through my eyes.
Sadder still is that this week's flashbacks reach beyond this individual to others I have known who killed themselves or wanted to.
Between their self-loathing and suicide, too many among us see a straight line.
I call such people—way too many people—those of us who never made it home.
I want to say: Find help, come home. However wavery they sometimes seem, the self-destructive can be supernaturally stubborn.
As their last words often reveal, people who kill themselves tend to believe the world would be better without them in it. Realizing that their deaths might aggrieve their parents, children, spouses and/or best friends, suicidal people dismiss such grief as unwarranted. Then they use even this—their knowledge of how much their own loved ones would grieve—as further proof of their own evil, and thus their unworthiness to live. In that desperate place, this all appears perfectly logical.
In certain airless corners of depression, the idea of death at one's own hands takes on the "hey, I've got it!" glow—part relief, part anticipation—of reaching a journey's end, a denouement, a finish line. After too many please-don't-do-it conversations with too many people, including myself, I call suicide the "depresstination"—because, when one thinks oneself evil at worst, worthless at best, when life seems eerily optional for whatever reasons (and however delegitimized such reasons seem by circumstances: e.g., "You're pretty and popular; you have no reason to be sad"), suicide far too often, and far too easily, stops seeming horrible and impossible and instead assumes the power and the promise of a planned-for destination.
I know this. I remember talking with my friend L eight years ago about her yearnings to die—right in this room, right on that couch. She was very intelligent. You couldn't talk in trivialities to her.
I pulled out my best line, the one I always use at that point in such conversations when I think all else has failed. It isn't trivial. Admittedly, it's obvious and elementary. Yet it is universal. It is this:
Imagine everything and everyone you love. Imagine never seeing, doing and/or having them ever again.
Now see, that line should always work. It worked on L, but not for long enough.