Suicide: The Silent Adversary
Content Warning: Suicide
What brings a person to the point where driving into a tree at high speed is the best option? That taking a large handful of pills seems right? That hanging from a rope is the answer to all your problems. How is it that we, who are left behind, missed the vital signs that indicated these options were considerations? Were we too busy? Didn’t care enough? Too self-absorbed?
While I enjoyed a lifestyle many years in the making, my kids’ generation seemed to be opting out of life rather than realizing their own dreams. Three young men known within my family’s circle chose suicide over existence. Why?
Reflecting on my 50+ years, I thought life was never easy. But, somehow, I navigated my way through. I don’t for a minute regard myself as any better or smarter than the three who took their lives, but why was it that I managed to deal with the challenges and they couldn’t?
I look back to when I first became a mother and, on several occasions, I could have crossed that line—not with my life but my daughter’s life. After three months, I was still adjusting to this whole child-rearing thing. My baby had colic every evening and would scream from 7 pm for hours. As a new mom, I thought there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I calm her? Was I a bad parent? Did she hate me?
With little support around me, it took its toll. My husband often had evening meetings, which left me alone. He didn’t know I wasn’t coping. I was too proud to admit I needed help. Each day, I would become anxious as twilight approached. Every muscle in my body would tense. I became agitated and emotional. In the quiet of our neighborhood, the piercing cries reverberated; wave after wave jarred my very being. The crying had to stop!
The Stranger in My Community
One night, I was so scared of myself that I wrapped the screaming creature that was my daughter in a blanket and got out of the house. Where I was going hadn’t been considered. I just wanted the noise to stop. I walked out the front gate and sobbed silent tears of shame, unable to cope.
Ten meters from our house, a stranger appeared beside me as the late summer evening turned dark. This 40-something-year-old woman approached and said, “Hello, can I carry your baby?” Where she came from or how long she’d followed me was a mystery. The woman, who never told me her name and I never saw again, turned out to be a lifesaver. She walked the streets with me for several hours; she shared her experiences of motherhood until I was calmed and my daughter had fallen asleep in the stranger’s arms. Those hours changed so much. I realized I wasn’t the only woman to experience this. Colic was common and not a reflection of my ability to care for a child.
There were many situations while raising my children that left me questioning myself. With four kids in just over five years, there wasn’t a lot of ‘me’ time. The dirty washing basket was rarely empty. Mountains of food were prepared and devoured. Play-dates organized. Homework completed. Routines and sleep times were juggled. On occasions, I barely existed and operated in survival mode. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other, reminding myself that the incessant demands would end. I kept afloat and saw my four babies into adulthood. And, after the best part of thirty years of ‘existing,’ a new era dawned. I had carried a strength and vision with me, understanding this stage would pass, and I would be able to start the next chapter.
Where Did That Strength Come From?
How different my experiences could have been if I hadn’t met that stranger in the street? My sons might never have been born. Life may not have been as joyful. A dark cloud to hang over my head forever. With the gift of hindsight, I see how those difficulties shaped me and gave me resilience, inner strength, and an appreciation of this world. However, these realizations only came with the progression of age.
It may be that I’m one of the lucky ones whose dysfunctional family fostered resilience. Those random moments when my mother sidled up to me as a teenager, put her arm around me, and for no apparent reason, said, “You know I love you,” gave me a counterpoint. Perhaps the existence of a small external community meant that, amidst the perceived crap, it always felt like there was a person who thought I was worth something, could be someone, and reinforced I had a purpose to live for.
Where Did Our Sense of Community Go?
An African proverb says, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ The Hebrews have a term, ‘mish-paw-khaw’—a bond of kinship that joins people together into a tribe or clan.
Where did those bonds of kinship go? Thankfully for me, a villager was there to save me all those years ago. We walked the darkened paths with nothing more than dim streetlights to light our way. Anonymity and namelessness were unimportant.
Where were the villagers for Ben, Johnny, and Tyson? Maybe the boys were unaware there were people they could turn to. Perhaps they, too, felt ashamed.
I understand there will always be those that suffer in silence, and there’s nothing you can do. Some will fall between the cracks during their journey, but I’m sure the numbers would be less if we, as a society, were more aware.
Where Did Our Extended Awareness Go?
Why do we not communally carry an awareness of the vulnerability of our young? Better still, why don’t we en masse recognize vulnerability regardless of age? Kids’ are able to talk to their friends, but we adults could be more accessible and less busy. Tell the next generation there is a community there for them, full of people who have experienced life’s disappointments and pains and who can support them through almost anything. Maybe we grown-ups need to reconnect with each other and rebuild our bonds, strengthen them, and eliminate some of the barriers we’ve erected.
Looking back over the period of raising my children, I can remember less than a handful of families I knew—as in ‘spent time with’ or had a relationship with. As a child, kids in the neighborhood played together, rode bikes, joined sports teams, and pulled pranks. But our parents remained strangers to one another. This was normal. We didn’t think anything of it.
The idea of a community seems to have been broken for a long while. My father often talked of his town in Scotland. He grew up in a small community twelve miles from Glasgow. All of his childhood and adolescence, he said he and his pals were too afraid to play up because any misbehaving would find its way back to their parents. People knew and watched out for each other. If someone experienced adversity, others would comfort, help, and assist. Likewise, the celebration of a success was enjoyed as a group.
Whose Responsibility is it?
My father emigrated in 1958, which is when he said he lost that connection, that sense of being part of a larger group. I’m sure it’s different in remote and rural areas where communities are smaller, and it’s difficult to survive without support. But in our towns and suburbs where most of us reside, our focus appears more insular. Too obsessed with getting ahead. Concentrating on a personal bubble rather than checking for who’s fallen behind. As time passes and our cities get bigger, our groupings appear more and more fractured and separated from each other. We are challenged to be more than a cluster of individuals abiding in a vicinity.
As I write the word ‘we,’ I realize I need to personalize it; examine myself before looking broader. How’s my village? The three boys who took their lives belonged to my community. One boy I knew quite well. I’d known him since he was twelve—over ten years. So why didn’t I pick up that he struggled in silence? Too caught up in myself and my planned travels? Was it more convenient to turn a blind eye? Was there a subconscious thought, ‘Someone else is closer to him than me, so it’s their responsibility’? It appears easy to justify our neglect of each other.
What a Terrible Realization.
As I ponder my village, who exists in it besides my children, parents, and siblings? My neighbors are strangers to me. I often hear the sound of a toddler crying somewhere further up the street, but I never think to see if Mom and Dad are coping okay. Considering my extended family members, how distant am I from some of them?
I want to start by building with those closest to me, teaching my children how to create, live in, and draw from the experience of those around them, so they, in turn, can teach others. We’re not required to be in each other’s pockets but recognize we are more than individuals and singular family units. Wherever we reside, we need villagers.
We lost three young men in a three-month period. Unable to navigate their worlds, lost to the demons that haunted them. Never to reach their potential. Life dealt them a hand that stretched them too far… And we failed to notice.
My hope is that their souls can now rest, knowing they will always be a prompt for us who continue and do a better job of looking after each other.
They will be missed.