Two years ago … ~6 months after moving into our new house in Wilmington, the house was featured in a local magazine, the January 2016 addition of Wrightsville Beach Magazine (WBM) … the article was called “Cabana Haven”. In this January’s WBM edition, ~6 months following Lynn’s passing, one of the featured article’s is titled “Let’s Talk: Suicide – Shining a Light on a Dark Topic”. The article is centered around an in-depth round table discussion about how suicide has touched so many of us. Men and women who have lost loved ones to suicide were joined by representatives from medical, educational, and pastoral fields to have a conversation about a rarely discussed evil disease wreaking havoc on our communities. The timing of the article is quite a coincidence and very ironic. It just goes to show you how fragile life can be … one minute we’re planning for the next phase of our life together, living it out in our “dream home” … the next I’m mourning the passing of the love of my life to circumstances I would’ve never dreamed of. But coincidence and irony aside, the article is a powerful one and contains so many things that resonate with me. So let me touch on a few …
- The Person: One of the participants, a woman who has lost both her husband and a son to suicide, said … “We have to think about who they were while they were here, because we so focus on the negative things and the pain. There’s an article by Nicholas Vincent Peale that I love about a sermon he heard … It talks about let’s give this person credit for all the silent battles that [s]he’s fought and did win before [s]he took his life. Let’s remember who [s]he was and not let this one final act define who [s]he was”. Look, I’d be lying to you if I told you that I “totally get” why Lynn did what she did. I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t shake my head multiple times, every single day saying “WTF” or “I can’t believe she is gone”. But what she did in that moment of despair will never eclipse the incredible body of work her life encompassed. So yeah, I’ll remember who she was. And what I can say (and this is not an all-inclusive list) is that she, Lynn, was a strong, genuine, courageous, beautiful, smart, fun, loving, caring, compassionate, and giving wife, mother, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, niece, and friend. As you can see, she had a lot of wonderful attributes but let me focus on the giving piece for a moment. Lynn gave her time and talent to so many … whether volunteering at the Vigilant Hope homeless shelter, the Wilmington’s Newcomers Club, opening her home to family and friends, counseling family and friends through medical issues, providing that shoulder that so many leaned on, and lending the ear that loved ones could confide in. I will never lose sight of who she was. I will always honor Lynn and cherish the time that I had with her … and I’ll miss her until the day I die.
- The Bully: A doctor on the panel said “Suicide is the ultimate bully. Maybe if we personified suicide and see it not as a part of the person, but a separate thing that’s bullying that person, it might be a little bit easier to discuss it.” I agree with the basic point here but I actually think about this a little differently. To me, depression is the ultimate bully, the evil tormentor. And suicide is the result of a battle lost to this powerful disease … suicide is the tragic outcome. So as a society we need to fight this disease with the same vigor and determination that we fight any other deadly disease like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and so many others. And it starts with acknowledging that mental health is a national (and global) health issue. The American Foundation for Prevention of Suicide (AFSP) cites that over 44,000 people a year in the U.S. take their own lives … that’s over 120 per day … making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in this country. Then it’s about taking deliberate, proactive actions to address the issue … such as making “ brain health” checks a normal and regular part of our heath care routines by asking a set of questions to patients during annual heath check-ups and sports physicals. “How are you doing emotionally today”; “Have you been sad or feeling down for an extended period of time?’; “Have you had any suicidal thoughts lately?”. One of the panelists described how in our county, New Hanover, high schools have established wellness centers that provide an integrated set of services. In addition to providing resources for immunizations and sports physicals, there’s also a mental heath professional available to the students. I know some will say … but these things cost money. And my response would be that suicide costs our society ~$52 billion a year according to AFSP. And look that’s just an estimate of the financial impact … you can’t put a price tag on the emotional and mental impact put on those left behind in the wake of suicide. We’ve got to fight the bully.
- Signs & Guilt: I wrote in a prior post that depression and suicide are not a one size fits all disease or phenomena … and I know that to be true. The panelists talked about signs … “There is, I believe, a window of time, usually about a week or so, where they give you clues because they’re asking for help. They don’t want to die; they just want to escape the pain.” and “Women, before they attempt to do it, also advertise in a way that people pick it up.” Lynn’s death came as a total shock to me and everyone acquainted with her. The day before her death we had been vacationing in Grand Cayman. For months prior to her death she appeared full of hope for the future as she was successfully rehabbing from back surgery performed the prior October; she was essentially pain-free; and was significantly improving her fitness through a rigorous swimming regime and diet. But here again, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel a sense of guilt for her loss. How could I not … I spent the most time with her; I was the last person to see her alive; and I didn’t pick up on any signals … if there were any. I was her “Superman” and I did’t realize that my beautiful bride was in distress. So yes, this is a burden I’ll have to deal with for who knows how long … maybe the rest of my life.
- Purpose: As I mentioned above … I do shake my head daily and say “WTF” multiple times a day. But I’m not tormenting myself with the “why question” (trying not to anyway). As one of the panelists noted “the why question is a dead-end road. But for what purpose do I suffer? God, can you possibly use this for good in our lives to help other people? That is a life-giving highway.” So although I would have never picked this path … even if God himself had asked me … I will continue to write and speak out about this difficult topic in the hopes that I can help others.
Finally and building on a thought from a woman on the panel … she noted that “if love could keep these people alive, I would still have a husband …”. I couldn’t agree with her more because if love was the cure … we’d still have our precious Lynn … because she was so loved. But love alone isn’t enough to save people from this bully of a disease. And yes the timing of this article is ironic … but it highlights a topic that needs to be discussed and aggressively dealt with because so much is at stake and far too many of us are far too frequently impacted.
Some key resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline … 1-800-273-8255
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention … afsp.org