This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. I have a few stories I could tell about how suicide has touched my life in one way or another, but they all pale in comparison to this:
On October 26th three years ago, my happy-go-lucky, quick to make everyone laugh, thoughtful, responsible, and loving uncle drove himself to a parking lot in a different county, put his truck in park, and shot himself in the head.
He left behind the love of his life (my aunt) and three children ranging in age from 16 to early 20s. None of them saw it coming.
The last time I saw my uncle, we were talking and laughing as we floated down the American River in tubes on a family vacation. I sure as hell never imagined that two months later, I’d be attending his funeral.
The Amercian Association of Suicidology suggests some warning signs for suicide (listed below). Some of them are obvious, and some of them are so generic that they could apply (or have applied) to every single one of us at some point in our lives. After all, who among us has never felt humiliated or suffered a severe loss?
Be Aware of the Warning Signs
A suicidal person may:
- Talk about suicide, death and/or no reason to live.
- Be preoccupied with death and dying.
- Withdraw from friends and/or social activities.
- Have a recent severe loss (esp. relationship) or threat of a significant loss.
- Experience drastic changes in behavior.
- Lose interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
- Prepare for death by making out a will (unexpectedly) and final arrangements.
- Give away prized possessions.
- Have attempted suicide before.
- Take unnecessary risks; be reckless, and/or impulsive.
- Lose interest in their personal appearance.
- Increase their use of alcohol or drugs.
- Express a sense of hopelessness.
- Be faced with a situation of humiliation or failure.
- Have a history of violence or hostility.
- Have been unwilling to “connect” with potential helpers.
We all cope with life differently. I have been guilty on a few occasions of rolling my eyes as a friend “overreacts” to a breakup, or takes an offhanded remark from a stranger "too personlly," but my uncle’s death reinforced something truly basic: emotions cannot be trivialized. The things we feel are real. Our feelings may change in five minutes or tomorrow or a year from now, but what we are feeling right this very second is real—and if that feeling is desperate enough, all it takes is a moment to end a life.
If you know someone who exhibits any of the signs above, offer help. Offer love. Most importantly, acknowledge their feelings and try to keep your feelings about their feelings out of it.
There isn't a doubt in my mind that my uncle would rather be here with us today--that he never would have wanted to his wife and children to have to experience this trauma. He was a wonderful, kind hearted man, but in that moment he couldn't see past those awful feelings. I wish more than anything in the world that we could have shown him a light at the end of the tunnel.