Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Hidden Shame

This week, someone in our immediate family decided that the pain of living was far greater than their ability to cope with that pain.  Having come to that conclusion they attempted to take their life and fortunately for them, they failed.  The long term physical and mental impact of their attempt is still being evaluated by professionals.

How does one react to such an event?  Some people feel sadness on behalf of the person who felt no way out other than the final act.  Some experience anger that the victim would leave loved ones behind without answers to their questions.  Others feel pain from the hole in their heart that would have been created had they been successful.  Some people actually feel relief, knowing that their loved one is free from the demons that dogged them.

I learned something else from people who reached out to me in support - that this is a lot more common than I was aware of and at the same time, seems to carry a lot more shame than I thought would have been normal or acceptable.

Shame?  Why is this?

My friend A. shared her story of loss that occurred only a few years ago when she was an associate of mine.  I never knew the struggle she was experiencing at the time as she became buried in a mix of pain, hurt, shame and guilt and the classic question of "why"?

Another friend of mine, D., shared her loss as well, having occurred less than a year ago.  As she explained to me yesterday - "you end up being overwhelmed with so many different and powerful emotions.  The senselessness of the act…the finality….the pain…..the anger….the guilt ….  it goes on and on".

Both A. and D. have been so blessedly helpful to me, helping me to understand the lead up to and the aftermath of such an event.  I am grateful to both of them for the powerful sharing of their thoughts, prayers and love, having experienced it first hand.

It got me to thinking this morning about how many people out there are struggling to see light where all they can see is darkness.  In an earlier blog, I shared the story of saving someone from suicide a few years ago.

Suicide outnumbers homicide deaths 2 to 1 in the US.  It is ranked as the 11th top killer in the US, ahead of liver disease and Parkinson's.  We have a sense of urgency around avoiding a violent crime or helping cure disease while this affliction continues to grow, especially in these times of uncertainty.  When someone dies of liver disease, we are comfortable admitting the cause.  When a loved one dies from suicide, we tell others it was a sudden death or a death after a brief illness.  We are ashamed to admit it was a suicide and I think this shame prevents it from becoming part of a dialog necessary to understand and help prevent it and to offer love and support for those who are struggling with it.

Someone dies from suicide somewhere in the world every 39 seconds.  Every year, there are 1 million successful suicides globally but there are a staggering 10-20 million attempts according to the World Health Organization.

Men are more successful in attempts than women but women attempt it more often. Men are more "successful" as they tend to use more catastrophic means with greater chance of finality.  Males face an additional stigma of allegedly "not being able to be depressed", "not being allowed to cry" and the rest of that silliness that causes them to be trapped within their own mind when they struggle.

With statistics like this, it suggests that we need to be very cognizant of the number of people around us who may not see the same opportunities for unlimited potential that we see.  Perhaps they do not see the opportunity for companionship and love that we experience.  Maybe their internal demons are screaming so loudly that they can't find any other way out.  Some people don't want to be a burden or don't want to admit that there is something beyond their ability to control that has seized their mind.

Whatever the challenge is, greater awareness is needed to help people who are wrestling with this. 

We all know people who for any number of reasons, are struggling to see light when all they can see is darkness.

Perhaps that person is you.  I know of at least one regular reader of my blog that is struggling with this.  You are loved.

Whatever the situation, let's make sure we pay attention to the needs of those around us, friend, family or stranger.  If we see an opportunity to share love, then by all means, share it unconditionally and help them find help (or don't be afraid to ask for help).  Don't worry about the potential embarrassment of their reaction .  The upside to reaching out to someone in love is far more important.

Yours in service and servanthood.


1 comment:

  1. Harry,
    My heart goes out to you and your family. Thank God the person was not successful. My only nephew (16 years old a few year ago) committed suicide by hanging himself because his first girlfriend left him. The pain was unbearable for my sister, her husband and the rest our family. I lost touch with God and life for 15 months and then God stepped in and I surrendered my life to serve Him. My newphew's death was my resurrection! Your family member will make have a "testimony" of this "test," all to God's Glory!

    In His Grip,
    Yolanda DeJesus