Every time it happens. I’ve known many who have died this way. Too many. Tonight, I am providing grief support to a group of teens who have lost a friend to suicide recently. Losing someone you love is always hard. Suicide adds a layer of complication over our grief. We find ourselves asking why. What could I have done? It is a helpless, powerless feeling. Maybe the person who died was struggling with a mental illness or an addiction. Logically we know that suicide is a possibility. But still. If it happens, it seems to always invite the question – what else could I have done?
The only way I can wrap my head around that kind of loss is to imagine the person swimming. They seem to be OK, or maybe they struggle a bit, but then they keep swimming along with the rest of us. You may notice them struggling a lot. You may see them looking for help, or holding on to a life preserver (a friend, a routine, a memory, a purpose). You may even offer support.
Sometimes the world weighs too heavy and they simply go under. That may happen a few times. Someone may throw them a rope, but they are too tired to swim for it. At some point, they just let go. It’s too hard. The journey is too long. The struggle feels unbearable.
There are others struggling who we don’t notice at all. The struggle is beneath the surface. They float along like a duck – smooth and calm on the surface, paddling like hell under the water. Those are the ones whose suicide surprise us. Others may not even realize themselves how hard they are working to stay afloat. Or, they experience a tragedy that knocks them flat. Letting go may be just as surprising to them as it is to us.
Clients who come to me in the midst of struggle have told me – “I want the pain to stop; I want the struggle to end. But, I don’t want to die.” The first time someone said that to me, I jolted. I had not considered that a person who dies from suicide may not have wanted to die at all. They simply wanted the pain to stop. They may have used up all the energy necessary to keep swimming. They just let go.
The challenge is that their pain is transferred to us, in our grief. My way of coping with this kind of loss has been to intentionally help them through their pain. Maybe that means volunteering with those still struggling to keep their head above water. Or, doing a random act of kindness. Maybe it is by continuing to share their light through memories and stories. Maybe it is looking at my own life and taking care of the issues or people weighing me down, making it harder for me to swim.
My clinical diagnosis on the whole thing is that it sucks. It sucks that we live in a world that is still so painful to some people that they no longer want to live in it. I want to honour the memory of all those who have died by creating a world of love and connection. There should be pockets of space where a person can float, gather strength, so they can continue to swim with the rest of us. I want to be someone’s soft place to fall.
We can change the world by seeing one another. Really seeing. Not through the lens of Facebook and Instagram – worlds of ego and status. Seeing someone with our glasses off – the good, the bad, the ugly. Loving them anyway.
Ants gather together so tightly on the water that you cannot push them under. The strength is in their numbers. Imagine a world where we are so closely connected to one another that not one of us could drown.
“When you feel like giving up, just remember why you held on for so long.”