suicidal thoughts in the midst of grief
(Depression)

"To those who are feeling very lonely tonight, please know that I understand how you feel. That things will get easier. Please stick around to make those happy memories for yourself."
- Joel Burns, 10/12/2010

People who are deeply depressed may need professional help. If they are not in crisis mode, it might help them to meet and talk with a counselor. Others just may need to speak to a loving, caring and understanding friend. In a crisis, one important resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The number is 1.800.273.8255. You can call for yourself or someone you care about. It is free and confidential. It is available 24/7.

[Note: I wrote this about four months after my husband died suddenly.]

In the days after I lost Doug, a close friend of mine (JC) could tell I was falling apart. While Doug was alive, JC had heard me say if anything ever happened to him, I couldn't go on. (That was despite the fact that Doug drove me crazy sometimes.)

I did not spend a night alone in the This Old House for the first month. I think friends and family stayed over in part because they were not quite sure I might not be tempted to jump out a window.

My friend had the courage and sensitivity to ask me to tell him if I had thoughts about killing myself. He also begged me not to take such an action. He said others couldn't bear it. He reminded me of the pain and guilt it would cause others.

I was not offended. I appreciated that they cared about me enough to worry. I would wager that most people have considered suicide at one time or another, particularly after such a loss.

Honestly, I do feel that my life is over. And in reality, life as I knew it IS over. It is as if I have been torn in half. (There was actually a half moon in the sky the night Doug left. Like the photo below, which I didn't take.)

Half moon. I saw a similar moon the night Doug left.

I certainly do NOT want to imagine life without Doug, even if it IS my new reality. I know it would be easier for me to not to have to deal with the pain and the hassle. I am dwelling in a very dark place right now, as I try to process grief.

I will admit that at this point, I would not be sad if I did accidentally lose my life. I would not be disappointed if I found out I had a terminal illness (as long as it didn't hurt too much or inconvenience others.) Before this, I wanted to live long and be healthy so I could continue to enjoy the wonderful life I shared with Doug. I wanted to grow old with him. When walking (which helped me managed the stress), I often thought of throwing myself in front of an oncoming vehicle. But I decided against it, because I figured it would be awful and unfair for the person who hit me, it would be very messy, and I would probably end up paralyzed for life instead of dead.

I can understand why people commit suicide then they lose a loved one. Maybe they don't want to die, but they can't bear the pain of such an awful loss. Suicide is often driven by intense mental pain: hopelessness, a yearning for escape, a sense of not belonging (such as a sudden disruption in the fabric of daily life), and feelings of being a burden to others.

However, I am not really suicidal. The main reason is personal experience. In 1980, my twin sister took her own life. She had relationship, economic, depression, health and narcotics issues. She overdosed on drugs. We know it was intentional because she left a note. Up until now, I told very few people I know about this. It is intensely personal. There is a strong social stigma associated with suicide. It is also still incredibly painful for me to think about the choice she made.

What she did changed us. My brother, who has also had far more than his share of troubles and loss, said it was almost like she gave us a gift. Despite what happens to us, we would not make that choice. We know the havoc it wreaks on those who were left behind.

Personally, no matter how bad things got, I don't think I could do that to the people I love. Even though it would be easier than dealing with the blows life deals out.

Others are so lost in suffering they cannot think of anything but their own pain. A few may want to punish someone else by killing themselves. I really don't want to punish anyone but myself. And I'll move beyond that some day.

I also don't have the courage. And I also don't believe I would get to be with Doug if I took my own life, so there's not a lot of point to it. (To me that religious belief is actually a good motive for ending your life. Unless of course you believe you go to hell for committing suicide.)

It would probably NOT be normal to NOT get sad and depressed for some period of time after such a loss. Bereaved people who claim they have not considered suicide may NOT be telling the truth. Suicide and suicidal thoughts are much more common than most people realize. If a room were filled with 1,000 people, and you asked anyone who had lost someone to suicide to raise their hand, there would be a shocking number of hands in the air.

Unfortunately, some people who make the ultimate choice give no clear advance clue of their intentions. This may be because of the stigma associated with suicide. They may be ashamed of socially unacceptable thoughts, or of appearing "weak." They may not want to worry you. They may be embarrassed. They may not want anyone to try to stop them.

You might get lucky, and recognize where they are going. Some may hint at, or tell you that they are having suicidal thoughts. If you try to stop or help them, don't expect them to be glad about it. If you are wrong, they may be offended. But ask yourself what is worse - - offending someone, or living forever with the guilt and pain of a wound that never heals.

Even with help, some people do choose to follow through. It is natural to be angry with them. However, it is not your fault (unless you were the one who pulled the trigger.) Try to remember that this was what they thought they wanted and needed. Unfortunately (for those left behind), they thought it was best.

Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC, recommends that people considering suicide "cultivate a social life, get treatment for mental-health problems, exercise, give firearms to someone else for safekeeping, and consume alcohol only in moderation." And, as Doug used to say (I can still hear his voice in my head)..."Just keep putting one foot in front other. Baby steps. You can do it!"

Dr. Matthew Nock, one of the most influential suicide researchers in the world, found that most people who had attempted suicide tend to share at least one detail - "Virtually all of them," he said, "say 'I'm glad I didn't die.'"

If you are close to the edge, please take a step back. You CAN survive.

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(10/2010)

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