When someone we know in the news, an entertainment celebrity, a sports figure, fashion or music takes their own life, it can send shock waves through our fragile systems, and shock waves through the world.
We have been touched by their lives and sometimes feel personally assaulted without ever having met them. I remember when Spaulding Gray died. I was privately angry for years. Though I never met the man personally, I had seen him perform numerous times and, in some sense, he was a mentor for me. It was only years later that I remembered, read, and heard how much pain he was in physically, mentally and emotionally. It was then that I began to have compassion for his suffering and for his act, in acceptance. Anger left and love remained. So when Robin Williams died, upsetting as it was, I had more ready compassion for whatever suffering he dealt with, too.
We may have been told that people who take their own lives are condemned to Hell or purgatory, or to unending cycles of reincarnation, but I don’t believe in a hell or that there are unending cycles of reincarnation for those that leave this Earth early. Neither do I believe there is a God or Goddess sitting in judgment pointing a finger at those who leave by their own hands. I do believe in love, and in compassion, and in love. And who are we to judge if it is early or not, or a part of the person’s natural life cycle with a tendency to suicide written into their stars.
A friend and I were talking about suicide recently. I was telling her how I do not care to be on this earth right now. Since my mom passed I have had no joy and unending grief and sorrow, physical, mental and emotional pain. But I do not have a suicidal bone in my body.
My friend then told me that she seriously thought about taking her own life, but then she tossed the idea aside after consideration. She spoke humorously of taking a knife out of the dishwasher to see what it felt like against her skin, only to realize it was a spatula. She did this twice and laughed heartily at her ill-suited efforts. Knowing her and her suffering, it did not surprise me that she, both, considered suicide as an option and that she then tossed the idea aside.
Although a little humor in the moment can help to lighten the mood, and it served her, I am not making light of suicide and those ailed by the thoughts, and those suffering because people close to them have taken their own lives. Fortunately, my friend found support for herself. She found excellent healers, counselors, friends, and she found help by balancing hormones and the chemistry in her brain. While she got help, many don’t. Many people can’t find the right kind of help that will uniquely support them and their life circumstances. Or they are entrusted to health care professionals only for the family to find out later that the health care professionals were incompetent. Lack of supports or the inability to find the right kind of support or finding support that is incompetent only increases death by suicide.
There is a mental health epidemic. Or perhaps there is a lack of understanding mental health issues epidemic. As friends, we need to go the extra distance by listening more, by embracing and holding and hugging each other with all our suffering, woes and pain. But this may still not be enough. We may need to reach out to someone who can help our loved one, and that still may not be enough.
One day a friend called to tell me he was in bed and feeling suicidal. I told him to rest. I knew he needed it. I sent him some information. Asked if he needed me to come to where he was – I had no idea where he lived – he said no. I called him the next day. He was feeling better but bemoaned how he was a failure in his life. I yelled at him. An unusual choice and it seemed to almost becoming from my mom without any real choice at all. I just started yelling, no thought about it. She had died but the words were hers. The inflection and tone of voice were even hers. It was like I could not stop myself. I apologized and then yelled some more. Apologized and then yelled again. And I also empathized. I knew what it felt like to feel like a failure in life. I also knew this world does not reflect anything to us of the best of who we already are. We can’t trust reflections from the outer external world to always support us, by any means! My yelling at my friend struck him in such a way as to wake him to to new level of self-esteem and confidence. He was grateful!
To bear witness to the struggles of another or of our own, to be present to a person’s pain or our own, to walk into the wilderness of soul, to sit and listen to another person’s loss and terror—without thinking we have to know the way out or find their way out—to just be with them, not judging nor feeling responsible for them, is a comfort to many souls. To love and listen, and listen and love in our personal and collective times of need is a relief. To be able to suture the hurt in our hearts and restore the peace to our souls, and still many people die and will die by suicide.
I do not know what lies on the other side for those who leave early by their own hands. Whether they are young or old, and opting out of a life filled with physical, mental, emotional or financial challenges. I do know I have found compassion for those who choose to go home and rest early, who choose their deaths and the timing of it. Perhaps once “over there,” wherever there is, they’d reconsider and say, oops, made a mistake. Or maybe, like one friend thought of her sister who had died by suicide, maybe they are in peace, happy to be taking a long rest. We will not ever know. And in the grace of that unknown, whether it is a fierce grace or a grace filled with peace and joy, I bow and lift my cup and cheer and say, I hope you had the most beautiful welcome home, my dear ones. I hope you were greeted with the greatest of peace and love.
One early morning before the sun rose, my mother came to me and told me everything that I felt was okay, everything I was going through was fine. “Be however you are,” she said. My mother went on to tell that me I am so loved beyond all loved, so loved beyond all loved. Indeed the day before, I wondered if I was normal at all, if this was normal at all, how amazingly not just sad I felt but sometimes depressed and oppressed. People did not help. In this terrible grief state, still quite in shock at her death, many pushed and prodded for me to be something other than I was as if to say, “It is not normal” or “Hurry up and finish grieving.” Or they asked how are you? Hoping for a different answer than the one I gave the day before and the day before that. Or they would say that you are bringing the soul or spirit of your mother down. Trying to lift you up by making you feel guilty?! Absurd, ridiculous, and laughable! All laughable!
You cannot bring down the Enlightened Ones, of which my mother is one. And then my mom was right there, saying it is was okay and that everything I felt and moved through was okay and that I am so loved. That is my mom through and through. And her love, such great love makes me weep. That she is not here in the physical makes me weep. It makes me weep because everyone makes everything so wrong in this culture. It makes me weep because love can be so lacking, and she was the only one, along with my dad, who loved me in that way. A love beyond all love. And it makes me weep for what is lacking in my life now and in this world without her.
Many people cannot handle being with other people who struggle. Who are sad, lonely, depressed, and scared, who feel hurt and wounded. That is why some of us who grieve deeply, who suffer with traumatic loss or post traumatic stress or who suffer in any way often hide— sometimes in full public view—or we go into a cave licking our wounds until we are strong enough to survive. Being locked in loneliness increases one’s sense of isolation. Having to tend to one’s self all alone, or knowing there are too few to support you, can increase the suffering and pain. While suicide is not my path, perhaps these are some of the few contributing factors as to why people leave early: the desperation, the sense of despair, the sense of no hope and no way out. I don’t really know. There may be a million reasons unique to each person that I or we will not ever know.
Some of you who have left this world by your own hands, I have met. Many of you touched my life, but I will not ever know or meet you here. So until we meet and greet again, when I come home years from now, I thank you for the life you have given to Earth and to us all. I hope that you are smiling and will keep inspiring us all to live well, to live fully, even amidst our pain. To live authentically, learning to love our selves, to find deep rest amidst the turmoil, again and again.
I salute you all who are reading this now. I honor your lives and all that you go and move through. I wish you love. Like my mom coming to tell me that I am so loved beyond loved, I wish for you to know and always remember that someone, somewhere on Earth or in the Stars, loves you, and that you are loved beyond love, loved beyond love, loved beyond all love.
~ W. Elizabeth Welles