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sarah boardman-miller

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How do you move beyond why, when someone takes their own life? How do we get beyond the shame?

I wrote an open letter to my dad, my dear friends, those that have also been left to move forward. http://sparkignitefire.me/2012/02/14/open-letter-to-those-that-chose-that-moment/
It has had 1000's of reads in just over 2 months. This is a conversation that is desperate to happen.

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Closing Statement from sarah boardman-miller

The gratitude I feel is almost overwhelming.
Thank you for being raw, able to be loved and sharing your hearts.
Let's continue the conversation.
I adore you.

  • Apr 23 2012: To say suicide is a 'choice' implies there was logical thought before the act. It is not a choice in most cases, but the only way out of a hopeless life full of both physical and mental pain and self-loathing. When you've got an endless loop going through your brain telling you how worthless you are, how nobody wants you, how you're nothing but crap; when you can't feel love or joy or find the tiniest pleasure in life; when the pain of living overcomes the fear of death, suicide happens. How can there be shame? Why do people care so much what others 'think' - especially when it was someone you love so very, very much that could not face another day?

    I made no secret that my son died of depression almost 5 years ago. I mentioned depression and asked everyone to be aware of the signs in his obituary. I got nothing but good feedback and thanks for bringing it into the open, where it needs to be.

    We have no right whatsoever judging others. Period.
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      • Apr 24 2012: Thank you, Adriaan.

        Preston (elder of two boys), 31, made no secret of his depression and wish to end his life. I tried to help him for years, but he got to the point he didn't want help - he wanted out. He had constant thoughts of worthlessness, that he was a burden, that we'd be better off without him. It caused him physical pain, esp. in his back and stomach. He had horrible nightmares. He self-medicated with alcohol and drugs. He was happy for a few minutes when he married and had a son, but he managed to sabotage that with his erratic behavior. He just didn't feel he belonged here. He was popular, had friends, no bullying, girls loved him. He was handsome and had a brilliant mind like so many of the suicides I know of.
      • Apr 28 2012: I know they are, too, and please accept my condolences on your daughter.

        Preston saw a psychiatrist briefly and got better for a bit, but couldn't afford his anti-depressants and we didn't know or we would have helped (even though I am anti-psychotropic drugs). By the time we knew, he didn't care anymore. When he had scrapes with the law, I wrote letters begging them to mandate treatment and was ignored...twice.

        Maybe it wasn't a life gone wrong. Maybe he was clearing up his karmic debt.
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      Apr 24 2012: Joni,
      Thank you so much for sharing. I am so sorry for the loss of your son.
      You are a courageous mom.

      Suicide should not be swept under the rug. Everything that leads to that moment needs to be talked about. The helplessness one feels trying not to be a bystander to the spiraling depression, addiction/alcoholism, or in one friends case-a traumatic brain injury that lead him down that path.

      No secrets.
      Sending you love.
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      Apr 24 2012: Joni, what a wonderful resource the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors is. Please visit http://www.allianceofhope.org
      • Apr 24 2012: Thank you! It's been almost 5 years since Preston left and I joined the AOH a year and a half ago to let new members know there is life after suicide.
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          Apr 24 2012: Thank you for sharing your experiences and your thoughts.
          May you find comfort, peace and healing and as you help others with this most sad experience.

          Sending you love also,
          Mary M.
    • Apr 24 2012: Joni,

      Thank you for your words. You are the first person who posted here who seems to truly understand suicide. I have personally struggled with depression and suicidal ideation for most of my life (I'm currently 41). It has little to do with circumstances and much to do with the physiology of the brain. Depression is like being stuck in a bog. Every little daily thing takes so much effort that it would be easier to just not do anything. But people are depending on you. You have to get up and make yourself do it, even if it hurts both physically and emotionally. It is this constant struggle, this knowledge that you are a drain on those you care for most, that leads to the feeling of worthlessness. Especially in a society dominated by the Puritan work ethic. In this society we are valued far more for our accomplishments than just for being, or at least that is what we are led to believe. However, if it were true, then suicide would be a relief to all involved. It isn't because our real value is in just being. We are loved for just being. And that is what keeps me alive during the dark times.
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        Apr 25 2012: Tina
        You are amazing.
        You are courageous.
        You are here to teach us how to serve you better.
        thank you for sharing your story.

        You being here is such a gift.
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      Apr 20 2012: oh Chris,
      stunning, thank you for sharing.
      Forgiveness is the key to so many things.
      It takes courage and love.

      love love love,
      thank you,
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    Apr 19 2012: This is what I know.

    Why is the wrong question. It leads nowhere. It is just your brain searching for a rational explanation and there is none.

    The appropriate question at a time like this, as a survivor, is 'what am I to learn from this?' That question, along with the greater understanding that sometimes it is not my lesson, is the only way the rational part of your brain can effectively deal with these issues.

    That being said, the how is irrelevant. 'My son is dead' will be understood by everyone everywhere. Every mother and father on the planet can imagine that pain. Every sister, every brother. Grieve and let them grieve with you. I admire cultures where people rub ashes all over themselves in the grieving process. There is something symbolic in that. A symbol to the world. Because anyone that has experienced that level of grief understands that the rational mind is no longer in control. That unreal feeling of literally loosing your mind is part of the process.

    Then, what's left is resolving the suicide within your own mind. It is only there where shame resides. What other people think or say will contribute to your own shame but that is within your control. No one can shame you without your permission.

    What I can tell you is that a suicide is done because the pain is no longer bearable. There are no other viable options. As someone on the outside, of course we see options, but the person in pain does not. Understand, no other options.

    The last thing is not to get caught up in the 'If only..' game. It is in our nature and it is part of 'what am I to learn from this.' But assigning blame does no one any good. It is far better to ask 'what am I to do now?' Movement is the only thing that gets a person through the next five minutes, five days, five months...

    On the other side of grief, there will be beautiful memories. Cherished moments a precious time. A little grief will always be there but that is the lesson.

    That is what I know
    • Apr 24 2012: Thank you for sharing and for being so insightful. You are right that when a person takes their life it is because they simply want the pain to end and that they have exhausted all other options. I've been there before and I'm sure I will be there again.
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        Apr 25 2012: Tina take good care of yourself. Make sure to surround yourself with people who understand and love you. Remember to catch it early because like all pain, it is easier to prevent than to get it under control once it starts. Thank you so much for your story and I truly understand.
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    Apr 19 2012: I experienced the suicide of a close childhood friend just over a year ago. He was struggling with sobriety and ended up taking his own life as a way to escape the hardships of that battle.

    The emotional toll it took on me was egregious: I rarely show physical signs of emotion, but I cried often, slept rarely, and constantly asked myself, "why?" for an extended period of time. I still occasionally think about my friend, still asking myself "Is there anything I could have done? Was I there enough for him? Why didn't he come to us (his close friends) with these buried issues?"

    The answer is that the only real way to deal with a loved one's choice to take their own life is time. I was upset when I was first told this, but it is true. There should be NO shame in discussing your loved one's passing. It was their choice, not yours. You should not be ashamed, or feel shame for them. If they were capable of telling us now, I know that the emotion of 'shame' could in no way compete with the complex gathering of emotions that forced them into such an abrupt conclusion.

    Remember them for who they were, the good in them. Do not let their suicide taint the great impression that they left on the world to cause the grief of their loss. I remember my friend as a great man who was capable of making an entire room laugh, ease tensions, and lead when everyone else followed. His poor decision towards the end of his life will never make me feel shame towards or for him.
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      Apr 19 2012: Martin, I am so sorry.
      Suicide is sudden and as I said in my earlier reply, sometimes truly unexpected.
      The poet Ted Berrigan said "when someone dies they move from the outside of your body to the inside". I love this.
      What society says about how he died is truly irrelevant. You lost someone dear. You won't see or hear them again. That is the pain for me.

      Thank you so much for opening your heart to this.
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        Apr 20 2012: Sarah,
        I appreciate it. That's a fantastic quote. Please let me know if there is anything more I can do to help you; with the kindest regards and heartfelt sympathy.
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          Apr 20 2012: So kind Martin, thank you.
          My latest suicide, David, was in Jan. He was a dear friend of many years. A lover of the earth and an arborist. While there is still grief, I saw very quickly how much he taught me in life and with his death. I see him in every change in the weather, every leaf and season.
  • Apr 23 2012: One suicide can leave hundreds in pain, isolation and guilt. We believe we should have seen it coming, we should have noticed something, should have done something more. And suicide can run in series locally or within a family as one lifts the veil for other comtemplating killing themselves. The press rarely covers suicide, except in high profile cases and then the perception is that it is someone else's instigation.

    After my brother's suicide I was shocked at how many firends and acqaintances shared their own stories of family suicides.

    Suicide is a choice made by some. Most often it's rooted in mental illness, sometimes it's a completely rational response to a life of intractable pain (mental or physical) or hopeless outlook, sometimes it's an irrational and fatal outburst to a moment of intense pain in an otherwise decent life. Often we'll never really know the thinking of those who killed themselves, even if they leave a message behind.

    Isolation and lack of discussion are key triggers. Expecting the potential suicide to suddenly call a hotline isn't going to resolve most suicides. To reduce the numbers of future suicides we need to reduce the stigmatization and guilt, better heal the survivors and especially discuss openly the damage and confusion left behind.

    We are each the solution, capable of touching an at risk life and helping to lead them back from the dark abyss they find themselves fixated on. Thank you Sarah for your gift of opening this discussion.
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      Apr 23 2012: We are the solution.
      Please keep writing and sharing Peter. You have a story to tell.
      Thank you, thank you.
  • May 17 2012: Before this conversation closes:

    Thank you Sarah for initiating this discussion. It has led me to a place (Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors) where my experience and words might help others, and I am grateful to you for that.

    it takes courage to publicly discuss suicide and we need more of these discussions to better heal survivors of suicide. Healing survivors better will surely help prevent suicides.

    be well and thank you,
    Peter
  • Apr 28 2012: Tina, please - if you can - get to a naturopath. They can find out why your brain isn't functioning right. It could be any number of things - allergies or sensitivities to all the junk in our air, food, water, what we wear, what we smear on our skin, the homes we live in; hypoglycemia; a systemic yeast infection; thyroid malfunction; a nutrient deficiency. There is all kinds of alternative health info on the internet and books like Nature's Prozac by Judith Sachs and Depression-Free, Naturally by Joan Mathews Larson (see her website).

    You are important to many people and the world, too. You shouldn't be suffering.
  • Apr 22 2012: Addressing stigmatization is very important in suicide survivors. Briefly, mental illness is just that an illness. It can be just as fatal as any other disease. Suicide is often from mental illness but not always. The complicating factor is, something about suicide brings out the harshest of comments from others as opposed to the more common responses of comfort (or at the very least respectful silence.) Support groups or individual sessions can be helpful as each persons journey is unique. Thank you for helping to destigmatize this topic by bringing it out. When you try out Ms. Browns concepts you might want to try it with a single person first then expand as you gain confidence; remember she also talks about going through her pain with an objective person.
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      Apr 22 2012: Carla,
      Yes, I agree. Most people know someone or have experienced suicide close to home. Thank you for bringing up that mental illness is a fatal disease. We see it all the time and do not even know it. When someone is an addict/alcoholic and deep in their disease, you see not only the effect, but the outward signs of that mental illness-bruising, jaundice, hormone imbalance, etc. Mental illness takes all forms, it is not just the person taking to themselves and hearing voices.
      Ohh the places we could go on mental illness.

      Great suggestions for people and once someone has reconciled the stigma, they can teach others to as well.
      Thank you Carla!
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    Apr 22 2012: I am certainly not an expert. However, I see birth and death as the first and last event in a life. Religions and cultures have assigned stigmas to conception out of wedlock and death at ones own hand among other things. There are those among us who have made a fortune treating the families of sucides and "bastard" children. They cannot heal the scars that must come from within. People are quick to establish blame even when there is none. If I am your friend I will remain your friend through any event good or bad. If I desert you I was never really your friend at all. Is why they do it really important. Closure takes many forms. Remember the good in their lives, hold your head high, and delight in the love in family and true friends. I wish you well. All the best. Bob.
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      Apr 22 2012: Beautiful, thank you for sharing.
      I quite agree. All of those that have made that choice are still the same people we loved prior.
      After my Father's death, his dear friends mourned the loss of their comrade...their bright and genuine (even though not warm and fuzzy by any stretch of the imagination) friend.
      My latest one, David was in Jan. I had known him for over 20+ years. He is missed, though in my heart I know he is happy.
      So that makes me happy.
      Thank you for your insight.
      The conversation is really wonderful.
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    Apr 20 2012: Dealing with the loss of loved ones to suicide is one of the most confusing and difficult issues I have seen in 36 years of counseling. Your question, Sarah, is very helpful one. The key to recovery and integration, in my experience, is in moving beyond questions, fear, and shame.

    It is helpful to understand that a person who commits suicide is blind. As pain and fear increase our field of vision, the frame through which view and interpret our world, becomes smaller as it focuses more and more on the pain. At some point , the pain fills the whole picture. One may be blinded by physical or emotional pain, by hopelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, or other issues, but the bottom line is that all one sees is pain, and the only end to the pain they see is death. At that moment, they were blind to the love of those around them and could not see or feel any sense of hope or help. (Helping a person move away from suicide, in my experience, is most easily done by helping them to recognize that they are blind, accept the pain as a natural part of the human condition to some degree and to see a slightly larger picture.)

    The question “why do they do it” can be answered truthfully in all cases with a simple response “because they were blind.” It is not much different than a blind person unknowingly stepping off a cliff. They simply did not fully understand their situation and the options available to them.

    Every time questions regarding how or why it happened come into our minds, it is helpful to develop the habit of answering each one with a statement, “because they were blind at the moment.”
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      Apr 21 2012: Bob, I just love this.
      Blindness, how incredible.
      The ever narrowing field of vision. Pain does that. People with chronic pain, must have it as well.

      Thank you, how amazing.
      With your permission, may I use this as a reason?
      All my best
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        Apr 21 2012: Thank you Sarah, Yes please use it anytime it may be appropriate. I have found it extremely helpful in dealing with post and threatened suicide situations. It is a natural response to narrow our field of vision when there is a perceived threat (I use a story about a deer spotting me through our living room window and then intensifying her focus when I moved. My dog came trotting around the side of the house and got closer to a deer than he ever had in his life because she was focused on me. I have found that a build up of tension has the same effect. I have made a number of videos for a class I teach and have posted them to my website www.bobvanoosterhout.com You are welcome to view them and share them with anyone who may benefit from them. There are 4 videos on what I refer to as "balance techniques" as well as video on understanding emotion, dealing with loss and chronic pain. These videos explain how and why this approach works.

        The key in managing chronic pain is not to resist it. When we resist or fight pain, we build tension which actually makes the pain worse while narrowing our focus on the pain. Narrowing one's focus on the pain increases tension further which in turn makes it worse and narrows the focus still more setting up an ever escalating cycle that leads to what I call emotional blindness.
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          Apr 21 2012: Wow bob! you are a major resource.i think many of us will spend a great deal of time reading through your site,awesome!
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    Apr 20 2012: Sarah - there is NO SHAME - pls get it in your mind . People who do such things - do not do it purposely . A particular mental condition provokes a person to go for a suicide - I can say this confidently as I have studied things in this regard . And unless and until u reach that stage [ which I'll never want u to reach ...] - you will never understand why somone did this ! What has happened had to happen - it is D E S T I N Y , my friend . But life moves on and so will you .
    Do not sit with it - move on , don't feel ashamed but think of the things u can do to make the unfortunate people happy. Give your best and you shall succeed . [ Always keep this in mind that feeling bad will neither change the past nor the present and future ]

    What are the best things that you do ?
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      Apr 20 2012: Ayan,
      Thank you.
      I personally do not feel shame surrounding suicide. My fathers parents until their deaths felt deep shame. That somehow his choice as an adult (almost 50) reflected on them. When I think about shame and suicide, it is selfish. There is much we can learn from those that leave us. The "why" comes in and out.
      I see death, whether it be from cancer, an accident or your own hand as a window to learn and then teach others how to learn.
      Again, thank you for your kind and insightful words.
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        Apr 20 2012: Hi Sarah, you know, I often sit with my daughter so she can read along with me all these deep topics of conversations. I wanted her to read through yours.

        She asked me, mom how is shame connected to suicide? And I told her, well, it's the living that feel the shame, embarrassment at having to explain the way the family member died, I failed to tell her also, what you brought out in this comment............that we can sometimes feel other's actions reflects on us. I will certainly tell her this also.

        Thank you Sarah, for this timely conversation........having elderly parents, and not having undergone the loss of anyone in the family for the last 22 years, my children have never dealt with such an experience, perhaps this conversation will help me, help them when the time comes.

        Thank you, thank you!!!
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          Apr 20 2012: My love to you and your daughter.
          My girls 4 and 5, we talk about "papa Tom". Children are so incredible, so compassionate and I believe born empathics.
          Thank you for sharing this with your daughter.
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    Apr 19 2012: It's a horrible thing to say but it happens to every one of us at some stage in our lives when a loved one does this.When you think you don't know why they would do this,what could possibly drive them to leave you and their family and friends?Time will reveal this as time moves on but what once was is gone and the eyes of a child is the beckoning of something new.
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      Apr 19 2012: Yes, it does.
      Just as someone dies of cancer or in a car accident, there is a choice we as the living need to make. Do I make my life about grief or do I accept and bring awareness and love on the ones they left behind.

      With suicide, I feel there is another level of acceptance that has to happen. People feel like it is okay to die of cancer but not to take your own life. Regardless of where one stands on suicide being a choice, it is burdened with shame. When someone asks you, "how did they die?" does shame rear it's head or do you tell the truth?
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        Apr 19 2012: Amongst my people we raise our young around death in a peculiar way that some find strange,for 5 days if not more depending on the family we take them to our tribes meeting place and keep them there so everyone can come and spend time with them,over those 5 days we live with them,the young from babies to old,we never leave them alone though we don't eat around our dead we never "let them go cold" as the saying goes amongst my people.

        So for us we know it and understand death in all it's forms,how that person arrived at that point means nothing to us, it is the final sending that is all that matters.

        The world doesn't need to know as linda stated in her post because some react strange or go cold,it's not your problem it's theirs if you choose to tell them and it will save you alot of questions and ceremony that can make you feel that you are obliged to follow but i can only answer from my personal experiences and the culture/s that i was raised in.I used to say to people that were not of my people that "He went sideways" or "He topped himself" but that was anger at my brother speaking, now i just say it "He killed himself" as it was a long time ago.Time is the sea and the sunset is where we all sail to.
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          Apr 19 2012: I am familiar with this and we also never let the fire die for the days of song. Among my people we call this 'sitting fire.' As in "I am going to sit fire tonight for..." But part of my heritage comes from a tropical country. And because of the heat, my people there need to limit this to 3 days. Interesting. I like the 5 days better.
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          Apr 19 2012: @Linda and Ken

          How very interesting. I have a close friend whose dad died at 1 in the morning from a stroke. He lived in the caribbean. By the time she got there, he was already buried. How sad that was to see, she got no closure.

          I remember watching a PBS special on death. In it the speakers shared how you can make your own coffin, and even have the funeral service in your home in several states.
          And they showed how some coffins are made so that the friends and relatives can write notes on it...........I really liked this idea.........because it helps with closure. I am not afraid to talk about death and dying. I think, like you say Ken, that it is important to realize it is a part of life.

          I find going to a funeral home to hear a talk about the deceased from someone who did not know him personally a bit awful.

          and Ken.........what a beautiful quote: "Time is the sea, and the sunset is where we all sail to". I'm sorry for your loss Ken, I'm sorry.
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          Apr 19 2012: @ Mary. Yes that's how it is down there. But the people have learned that tradition is important for health and so the tradition is important.
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          Apr 19 2012: @ Linda.....I just read your comment........again.........yesterday I did not understand it. Today I do.

          The tradition is important for their emotional health........which is connected to physical health. Yes I see.

          Thank you
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          Apr 19 2012: @Ken , really beautiful. thank you for sharing
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    Apr 23 2012: I am overwhelmed by the incredible comments, responses, and personal emails. People......you are courageous. Continue the conversation, it saves lives.
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      Apr 23 2012: Well Sarah, I think I can speak for the others, THANK YOU for your courage in bringing this topic out.
      Not everyone can be as candid as you have been.
      So, thank you dear Sarah. Many of us are learning quite a bit by reading the comments being made.
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      Apr 22 2012: Adriaan,
      I am so very sorry for the loss of your daughter. One cannot know that pain of burying a child.
      Your view into the following of Swedenborg is very enlightening. Thank you for sharing.
      You and your family are in my thoughts.
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    Apr 20 2012: A new post http://sparkignitefire.me/2012/04/20/a-mighty-wind______april-20-2012/
    Thank you to all that are participating in this incredibly rich and wonderful conversation.
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        Apr 22 2012: Yes, I had a friend growing up that hung himself. We were twelve. It was not spoken about only as an accident. The children that take their own lives is the part of it that break my heart to the core. It is a quick solution for something they do not understand is permanent.
        All the bullying and suicides in children has got to stop.

        Thank you for your enlightening threads.
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    Apr 19 2012: All of us humans need to feel loved. We need purpose in our life. All too often we see people withdraw into a shell and we leave them there. Before the suicide there are always signs. Sometimes the victim comes out and says they want to end their life....."sometimes I wish I were dead"....

    I think that it would be terrible to go through the suicidal death of a close friend or family member. For me personally I would be asking myself if there was not something I could do about it.

    I liked the way Linda said, 'what am I to learn from this?'

    We need to be aware that human beings are fragile. If you see someone who appears sad put your hand on their shoulder, ask them how they are, smile at that lady who appears to be withdrawn at church, call up an old friend, talk to your neighbor, find out why your cousin has withdrawn from the family......action...............we have to show personal interest in others.

    Because, "when all is said and done, there will usually be more said than done"

    Your question and the answers thus far are excellent. I will continue to follow this thread, it is very interesting...

    Be Well Sarah...your daughters look adorable.

    Mary
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      Apr 19 2012: Thank you, the girls are a lot of fun.
      While I agree that sometimes, some are able to express themselves with outwardly sadness or depression. Others that are on this path often times do not tell anyone or express that they "want out" or are in too much pain and death is on the agenda.

      It almost seems to come out of nowhere. My father was a brilliant man and I knew from a very young age that he would die young. I honestly did not know what that meant or when it would happen. I was 25 when he left this world. His brilliance was not enough. His pain was too great.
      There is not a day that I wonder if I could have made a difference in his decision. I believe it was made a long time ago.

      Such a rich conversation,
      thank you for sharing.
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    Apr 19 2012: Can u please clarify - exactly what you want to say .
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      Apr 19 2012: Not sure what you need for me to clarify. When someone takes their own life, they leave someone, people, dogs, etc behind. I wanted to start a conversation about acceptance and moving beyond the shame of having to say "they killed themselves"

      What are your thoughts?