“That,” which kills...

Survivors of suicide are left behind with an eternity to try to attach meaning to the simple question, ”Why?” We struggle with all the obligatory “what if’s,” and “if only’s”, which are of course thrust into the past tense following the vacuous expanse created by the departure of a loved one by suicide.

We must consider the latest studies by noted researchers on the causes and effects of suicidal ideation, we can also cling to the practical explanations of addiction, mental illness, trauma, social isolation, hopelessness, desperation, false beliefs and any number of catchy buzz phrases such as “the permanent solution to the temporary problem.” These, however, do not provide truly satisfying answers, meaning or closure to that gnawing question of “why?”.

At the obvious risk of oversimplification, people quite simply die by suicide for one reason, and one reason alone. They don’t want to live like “that” anymore, whatever their personal “that” may be. There is a tipping point, at which, the enduring pain of life becomes too great a burden and a person simply wishes the pain to end. This phenomenon was explained to me by my former chaplain and has brought the most understanding of a loved one’s death by suicide far beyond the dozen books I have read, counseling and conferences I have attended.

What begins as a thought, evolves into a preoccupation, a disposition and finally an option to be executed at the moment of greatest sadness, anger, loneliness or brokenness as a means of escaping or ending “that”.

Conspicuously absent from this short article is an equally simple antidote to “that” and therein the preventive measure to this scourge on our society, which will end the lives of more than 45,000 of our loved ones in the United States this year, (an increase of 30% since 1999). There is no antidote because life is hard and often filled with “that”. Our only defense from the menacing specter of suicide is to build our resilience to the adversity that life presents. We must truly help each other to strengthen and balance our spiritual, physical, emotional, social and psychological resilience to push back the inevitable darkness of “that” in our worlds. By doing so, and by carrying others with us, we elevate the threshold of the decision point whereby suicide becomes an option beyond the current suffering so many experience on a daily basis.

This Sunday, I will travel to a small church in Jericho, Vermont to attend the funeral of the eldest son of my friend and Brother in Arms. This young man and fellow veteran walked into a field on Monday night and shot himself, ending “that” pain, which he could no longer endure. His extended family will be in attendance with equally broken hearts as we continue to grub for meaning in understanding this thief in our veteran’s community and our broader society.


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