by Tamás Merila
Illustration: Jessica Stuck
For the victims, survivors and bereaved families of suicide, the words “yes we can” speak volumes. They mean that suicide is unthinkable, that death is an intolerable absence of hope for the future. Yet when we talk about suicide, we often refer to this horrific act as “natural”. We use this association to cover up the facts about the decision to end one’s life, to obscure the need for help, and to silence the cries of pain and injustice.
Over the last few years, I have been sharing my experience with a particular “acceptable” language of suicide. I was prompted to act after I experienced a huge amount of distress during the last years of my husband’s life. I would find myself wondering, why can’t he cope? The conversation stopped being about “life”, to me, it became almost pornographic: he was now dead; why did that need to end him? What is there to replace him?
I soon started to realise that most of the people who had so much to offer had now been crushed beneath the bed, and that they needed to know how to go on. Many of us are not just suffering from loss, but from panic, shame, guilt, disgust, physical pain and anguish. We are not trying to commit suicide. We don’t understand how to be apart from those that we love, and are seeking to bury our true selves.
Life is too difficult for many people. The tragedy of suicide is that it is the last and most decisive way to stop struggling, to meet a natural conclusion to a tragic, complicated, tortured journey of grief. Suicide can silence those who are silent, and so help them to say goodbye to the person they love. Yet somehow, everyone seems to want to avoid that confrontation. In many cases, one is in denial about the reason for the loss, and the need to be seen, to talk, to get help. We find ourselves trapped in a never-ending cycle of grief, the finger pointing at an invisible enemy.
As an experienced mental health professional, I think the way we talk about suicide is a key to uncovering its truth. It is by challenging these conventions that we are able to find a way of lifting the veil of secrecy that surrounds this huge and brutal act of violence. The more we speak about suicide, the more we may well find that the culprits of suicide are not much of a surprise. The 90% of suicide that is never talked about is often the aching pain of love, loss and a longing for eternal life. The seven million people in the world who are survivors of suicide – that is just the number of those who survive one suicide attempt – should be the source of constant worry. They are the real culprits of suicide. Suicide is a decision: a sad one that has been made, whose full picture may never be known. The end may be not the resolution, but the start of an endless path of suffering, of grief and of seeking to extract meaning from the shadows of a ‘life lost’.
David was the widower of Jodie ‘that girl’ Davies. He had been married to her for 23 years before she took her own life in 2008, aged 32. As part of a First Global team, David works with people facing one of the most difficult periods of their lives.
This text is taken from our new documentary, In Words: The Journey to Healing Through Suicide, which you can watch on Facebook Watch now.
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