Sunday, July 12, 2015

Thoughts on a suicide

My July 12, 2015 column.


My college best friend took her own life about 30 years ago in circumstances that still remain incomprehensible to this day. She was the type of person who was always bursting with energy although she did have moods. Like in most suicide cases, nobody had an inkling that she was suicidal.
She didn’t look like she was depressed or that she was capable of taking her own life. Things were never the same again after she passed away: her family disintegrated; her parents who used to be very social individuals retreated to themselves. I guess we never really recovered from what happened. To this day, I still think about what she could have achieved had she not taken her life.
Suicide leaves a pain that is difficult to erase because it’s one of those tragedies that one cannot achieve closure on. The questions remain unanswered and the guilt stays no matter how hard you try to convince yourself that there was nothing you or anyone else could have done to alter the series of events that led to the tragedy.
Suicide has been in the news lately on account of the death of a young artist, who also happened to be the daughter of two very respected artists. As can be expected, the case has attracted quite a number of reactions. While most of the reactions seemed sincere and appropriate, there were, unfortunately, quite a number of commentaries that were intrusive and tended to be judgmental. Worse, some of the reportage by some media quarters bordered on the sensational.
It is important that any case of suicide be treated with a lot of care, particularly by media, out of respect for the family who must be allowed space to grieve and to deal with the complex issues that are inevitably linked to every case of suicide in the family—guilt, stigma, anger, and the profound sense of loss. It’s cruel to subject families to additional trauma.
And then there’s the very real possibility of copycat suicides. It’s a real phenomenon that has been known to occur among people of a certain age. When a suicide case is highly publicized and when it involves someone with a celebrity status, there is a very high possibility that the case will embolden someone else with a mitigating factor such as depression to copy the act.
I went into counseling as a personal advocacy partly because of what happened to my best friend. In the last two decades I have come across quite a number of counseling cases that were related to suicide. I have learned that, yes, pretty much like how bomb jokes are handled at airport terminals, every hint or indication that someone is suicidal must be taken seriously. In fact, it is advisable to get the person to reveal what his or her plan is—how he or she intends to do it, when, etc.—and to immediately get professional intervention to effectively deal with the situation.
Helping a family deal with the death of a loved one due to suicide requires a lot of emotional intelligence. As can be expected, there is awkwardness as people skate around the issues. What people need to understand is that the circumstances around a suicide are most likely unclear even to the family and being made to talk about their feelings only makes it worse as the confusion becomes more and more evident. This is why most families prefer being left alone to deal with the loss and to grieve in private, and the best thing that others can do to help is to allow them space to do so. However, it is also important to show solidarity – and this can be done simply by making one’s support palpable; one thing people need to realize is that one can share in another person’s grief by just being there, without having to say anything. And perhaps what people should remember is that most families need support after the wake, particularly during important dates such as birthdays, Christmas, and other holidays.
Losing someone you love can be very painful. Losing someone in circumstances that are difficult to understand and accept is a lot more painful. We may not understand but we can always empathize and respect what people are going through.

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