This wasn’t the post I had planned for September. Also, I didn’t plan to post almost halfway into September but I am embracing imperfection and sliding deadlines and so I’m getting over it. Kind of. Anyways, I had something else planned for September until I remembered that September is home to Suicide Prevention Week. I think when you are younger you recognize that death is an inevitability but it feels far away and relegated to hospitals, car accidents and drawn out illnesses. A few years ago I learned that death has a cousin. It’s still caused by illness, but often one that goes unidentified until it’s too late. It’s shrouded in secrecy and shame. It’s whispered about and feared. And it’s often the result of one very dark night.
What follows below is something I wrote years ago in a grief-filled, confusing season of death caused by an illness we were only beginning to bring into the light. So please forgive any naïveté or outdated thinking. I think its message stands while its language may be reminiscent of a time when Instagram only allowed photos.
Suicide leaves a wide path of grief. It feels different than other losses. And in a month that we dedicate to its prevention, I think it’s also important to honor those who fell by its hand. The post below is an attempt to do so. Far more of us than care to admit have felt the icy grip of this particular kind of grief. And far more of us than care to admit have stared it down in the middle of a dark night where options feel limited and the moment of hopelessness seems to stretch into eternity. If you are in the middle of one of those dark nights, I hope you will reach out towards even the smallest pinprick of light and hold on just a little bit longer. I hope you will choose to stay. Please stay.
For Papa, for Isaac, for Dena, for Ruth: You have not been forgotten. I don’t whisper your names in secret any longer. I choose to remember all of the moments you chose to live. I’m sorry we didn’t know enough then. We are trying to do better now. Rest in peace and know you are remembered for the moments you chose to stay.
In 12 months I lost four people to suicide. One year. Four souls. Gone by their own hand. Those numbers alone are staggering to me but then when I stop to consider who those people were, what roles they played in my life, I feel even more hemmed in by the oppressing darkness of this shadow called “suicide”. A family member, a fallen from grace pillar of our community, an old college friend who was as close as a sister, and an old high school friend who I had lost touch with years prior but social media kept me connected to by a thin thread. These were the people I lost in 12 short months. In those 12 months it felt like every time I had caught my breath or reached a plateau in the wretched grieving process, another would fall and I would be flung back to the starting line again, like an obnoxious slide in “Chutes and Ladders” you just always manage to land on every dang time.
This week is Suicide Prevention Week. Your social media will be flooded with stories of darkness for those who have fallen and stories of light from those who have lived to tell the tale. Staggering, mind numbing statistics will be shouted at you. Hotline numbers and support groups will be skyrocketed to the top of your scrolls. And this is so good. I wish I had done more for those four souls I had lost. I wish I had watched the signs more carefully. I wish I had called more often. I wish I had spoken up, said something, anything to change the course of their fate. I wish so much.
But in the course of that 12 months, I learned one truth that forever changed the way I viewed the demon of suicide: I lost those people to one dark night.
I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader this weekend. If you aren’t familiar with the third book of C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia do yourself a favor and read it as soon as humanly possible. Many will tell you its not the best of the seven books. They are wrong. Just plain wrong. Just for the mere presence of a talking mouse named Reepicheep, they are wrong. In this adventure we find our merry cast of shipmates on a voyage to discover the fates of seven lost lords of Narnia who were sent on a mission to find the end of their world and never returned. Decades later, the present King of Narnia, King Caspian, is determined to discover their fates and avenge their deaths, if necessary.
After discovering a few of the lords’ ends, the adventurers find themselves back at sea and heading towards a massive black island. Just looking at it from a distance, gives them all the willies and as they reluctantly steer further in for a closer look they are all overcome with terror. They bring aboard one particularly lost, dark soul from the island and discover that this is the place where all of your dreams come true. But not the good ones. This island is about the things you actually dream about. The spiders and the snakes and the people morphing into other people and the towering waves of water and the sensation of falling. Over and over again, you are overcome with the sensations that you feel when you are trapped in a seemingly endless nightmare, the kind of nightmare that when you finally awake you are dripping in sweat and breathing hard, except here you never wake up. The crew, now possessing the lord who they came to rescue, makes an about face for where they came from. They try to find the light, any light, to guide them back out but all they can see is darkness and all they can feel is the very real terror of their dreams.
This is what I lost those four souls to in that 12 months. A very very dark night. While I might not be able to fully comprehend what it feels like to want to end my own life, I can absolutely relate to knowing the darkness of a nightmare that won’t go away. This dark night is why I cry bitterly for the lives that I have lost. I think about each of their dark nights and I weep over the loneliness they must have felt and the fear that must have been banging at their doors. I wish I could go to that place with them and hold them and remind them that I love them and that it’s just a nightmare. But I can’t. The dark night won. And I am left to reel with all the emotions that accompany the wake of this demon.
But here is what I learned with that truth. The lives of those I loved are not defined by that one dark night. No! Their lives are defined by what they loved and the people that they loved. They are defined by hobbies and passions. They are defined by beach days and long walks. They are to be remembered for their love for others and their good hearts. They may have been ended by a dark night but they must be remembered for their lives of light! Its easy in the wake of suicide to be overrun by the darkness. I might even argue that it is necessary in the grieving process to feel the intense burn of anger and guilt and shame that follows such a heinous day. It is the death in which its victims are legion, and are amongst the living and the dead.
But to remember those we lost by their darkness and not by their light is a misstep on our part. It is stealing light from their lives and handing it over to the darkness. In this week of Suicide Prevention let’s take a moment to remember those who didn’t win their battle. And let’s tell their stories in a way that inspire people to live…even when their own darkest night is upon them.