Letter to a Suicide Survivor

Note: An acquaintance tried to commit suicide last week. It wasn’t the first time. This time, it resulted in Dave [not the real name] dumping all the pills so he wouldn’t be tempted again. And then Dave had a moment of regret. He wrote me, and this was my answer.

Calla lilly © QuinnCreative

Your story and regret is not surprising. None of it.
You have regret because you closed the secret escape door, forcing you to find new solutions to problems, living with them instead of taking the unsolved way out.

Difficult because it forces you to change—-not one big, dramatic sweep—-that was yesterday–the drama, the thrill, the heroism.

Today is the day of putting it together, of figuring out the “how”—-that’s a lot harder. That demands traction of your action.  Courage is often rash—we jump to follow a gut feeling of bravery before we realize the long-term results. Then we rationalize our way out of it. It’s much harder to live with that moment of bravery. Most often, there is no medal or party to celebrate, just confused friends and relatives who want us to be “normal.” And the relief that we did not leave children, relatives, friends behind to try to untangle the confusion of “why did Dave choose this?”

This is the way of a troubled life. First, you re-live with excitement the rush of terror, of danger, of suffering. That was clean, bright pain with the rush of adrenaline, it was a torture we can point to in horror. And then there was the dull aftermath, the stuff we drag along, day to day. Not so much bright, more dull, and we build our stories around that, making the clean pain into dirty pain. This is the stuff we use to make our stories—-the stories we tell ourselves to make it OK not to change. It’s an excuse to behave the way we always

This calla lilly is a surprise--I was told they could not survive in a pot through out hot summer.

have. Change is hard, it’s complicated. Change requires re-thinking the ways “we’ve always done it.”  The dull day-to-day stuff of gauging others needs and choosing others instead of yourself is hard for you. It is hard for everyone. Something you never learned when your world was about survival, not growth.

Dumping the pills puts you in charge, but with different choices.  You are dealing with what shows up, demanding new choices from yourself. You are freely giving up control of ending your life to make others wrong–because that is what suicide is–“see, you made me do this,” and throwing your lot in with those who live in the moment, who don’t know when death will come. That is a new way to live—-with uncertainty, with certain death but uncertain time, making every moment count so that when we are struck down, we don’t have regret, and we have memories, will to continue, and resources when much, maybe all we knew before,  is taken away. How wonderful that you built this chance, this choice to do it in a new and healthy way. And how scary for you. It will not be easy to re-think the choice of suicide and choose a harder one–living with problems, not being able to fix them all. It’s a struggle, this life. Choosing life is often harder than choosing death. But choosing death makes others responsible, raises questions that can’t be answered. Thanks from your friends and kids for not leaving us to wonder. And wander without you. You did a hard thing; I hope the next week you’ll see it was also worthwhile.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach.

8 thoughts on “Letter to a Suicide Survivor

  1. I think your letter to your friend is full of wisdom and warm empathy. It gives him credit too, for being brave enough to really see the other choices in his life. But….I’m not sure I agree with your statement that suicide is a person’s way of saying “See…look what you made me do…” As a person in healthcare, I have seen and been effected in various ways by those who have either attempted suicide, or thought about it – and they are folks with all types of mental illnesses, emotional disturbances, debilitating handicaps or chronic disease. Some of these individuals are struggling with intense physical and/or emotional pain each and every day, and despite their acknowledgment of the psychological damage they may or may not do to their loved one, often see suicide as the only release from the pain. In the end, I believe it’s not such a good idea to try and convince a suicidal person to change their mind based on what someone else might feel. As a clinician, I believe it really is all about them.

  2. Thanks to LuAnn for such an honest comment, and Quinn, your letter was right on, too. I, too, was once told by a wise therapist, many years ago, that children never really recover from the death of a parent by suicide.

    Sometimes, when living is too hard for oneself, it helps to keep in mind the people one loves. Do your best for them. And then the hard times pass, and choosing life becomes a very good choice.

  3. A movingly honest and insightful post, Quinn.

    I’ve had more than my fair share of suicidal thoughts over the years. Something a friend said in college successfully short-circuited my more serious attempts to act on them. (She’d lost a loved one to suicide.)

    She said, “If you won’t live for yourself, then consider this–your act will create tremendous pain for those who love you, for the rest of their lives. They will blame themselves for your act. They will never really get over it.

    It’s selfish to inflict so much pain on people who simply care about you, because you don’t care about yourself.”

    It was quite the smack in the face/ego. *I* was being selfish??!! I was creating pain in others? I thought I would be doing everyone a favor! Made me think….

    I know there are people who are so overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness and despair who simply can’t see that. But as long as *I’m* able to see that, to understand the consequences of my actions, I’m okay. I can choose better. I can at least choose not to harm my family, my husband, my children. I can choose not to be be cruel to them.

    And if I can make that one, tiny, better choice, then….maybe I can make other tiny, better choices, too.

    Realizing I always have options to choose from helps me walk away from that sad and terrible place.

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