Suicide. It’s not a joyful topic to talk about at Christmas time, but it is affecting many people at this time of year. It’s not uncommon for it to take place in the month of December. Suicide is something that has, unfortunately, crossed paths with my life a couple of times.
On this very day in 1998- December 13- my uncle chose to leave us much too soon. He was only 39 years old. He wasn’t just any uncle either. He was an uncle who lived in my house for several years of my childhood. In many ways, he was more like a dad to me. The loss of this man will forever stand as a tragic memory in the background of my life.
And then when I was an intern in 2008, finishing up my Master’s degree in counseling, I had a young client, aged only 21 years old, who decided that her pain was too heavy to carry. I had been counseling her for seven months and had grown to care deeply about her. The loss of such a young life was hard to wrap my mind around.
And then last week, some dear friends of mine lost their loved one to suicide. Another life gone before its time. Another family left wondering if they could have done something to prevent it.
You see, that’s the worst part about suicide. Not only do you lose the person. Not only is the future potential of their life erased. But it’s a selfish way to go. It hurts the people around you even more than if you had died of an accident or a natural cause. Why? Because it leaves everyone around you with a nagging feeling of guilt.
Maybe I should have done something more to help? I knew he/she was depressed. Why didn’t I try harder to help? I knew he/she was an alcoholic. Why didn’t I force them into rehab? Maybe I should have given him/her a hug the last time I saw them. Maybe I should have called the other day when I thought about them. Maybe I should have prayed for them more. It goes on and on and on. These thoughts can torture someone who has been impacted by suicide.
Everybody says, “It’s not your fault,” and “There was nothing anyone could have done.” But in your heart, you can’t help but wonder.
As a counseling intern, losing one of my first clients to suicide, it could have been enough to make me throw in the towel. It could have left me feeling like a worthless counselor. But God…. He knew exactly what I needed in that moment.
Can I share the story with you?
I think it will help you in your journey should you ever be impacted by suicide and may even help you to know the warning signs before it happens.
It was a typical Monday evening. I arrived at Wright State University for my supervision class. Supervision class is where a small group of interns meet with a professor to discuss their clients (anonymously) and to be mentored by the professor. My professor had just returned from a conference where she heard a presentation called “Why People Die by Suicide.” She told us about the presentation and brought copies of the Powerpoint slides for each of us to keep as resources. We went through the slides and discussed the reasons why people commit suicide.
Little did I know what was coming next.
As I was driving home from class that very evening, I got a call from the counseling center telling me that my client had committed suicide. I pulled over in a grocery store parking lot and mourned the loss of this person, the loss of her potential, and the loss of her strength to bear the burdens of her past abuse. Was this really happening? My supervisors tried to talk to me and tell me that it wasn’t my fault.
The Powerpoint slides. The Powerpoint slides. Of course, it wasn’t my fault. I had just learned the reasons why someone commits suicide. All of those reasons were a perfect fit for this young girl. She was a textbook case of someone ready to commit suicide, and none of the reasons had anything to do with me. How could I have known? I didn’t even know about these reasons until after the suicide had already taken place…but before I found out about it.
God. He inserted the knowledge that I needed right in the moment that I needed it. I never had to wonder if her suicide was my fault. I knew that it wasn’t. I knew exactly why she did it, and it had nothing to do with me.
So, why do people commit suicide?
According to Dr. Thomas Joiner, three things must be true:
- An acquired capability to enact lethal self-injury- This basically means that they are desensitized to self-injury or other dangerous experiences. The reasons for this could be past suicide attempts, repeated witnessing of others in pain or violence, repeated self-injurious behavior like cutting, and physical or sexual abuse in childhood. The last one is the most common and was certainly true for my client.
- Perceived burdensomeness– They feel ineffective to the degree that others are burdened . In other words, they feel that their death is worth more than their life to their loved ones/family/society. They feel like a burden for some reason.
- Thwarted belongingness– The need to belong is very powerful in humans, so powerful that a lack of it can severely effect one’s health and well-being. Social isolation is a powerful determinant in someone desiring to die.
All three are usually present in someone who commits suicide. Perceived burdensomeness and thwarted belongingness create a desire for suicide while the acquired capability to enact lethal self-injury separates those who desire it from those who actually act on it.
I was 18 years old when my uncle died. I’m twice that age now. It grieves my heart to think of all the memories that we never got to make, all the people that he never got to meet, and all the people who miss him so much. Yes, he also missed out on all of the painful things that have happened in the past 18 years within our family. But, that’s life. For most of us, the joy is worth the pain. And it’s hard to understand why for others, it isn’t worth it. I have hope in a brighter tomorrow. I have hope that one day all things will be made new. And I hope that I will see my uncle again some day.
Whatever your situation, know that God can get you through. He has been so good to me. Trust in Him.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5