Stuck in a Moment

The impact of suicide.

Posted Sep 19, 2019

Trigger warning: suicide-related content 

One moment is all it takes to change a life. Most Saturday mornings when I was a kid I went to the university with my dad, who was a biology professor, to help feed the animals. We were usually interrupted on this journey by the custodian, who talked my dad’s ear off to the point of usually sitting on a bench and talking to him for 30 minutes or longer. The gentleman was a bizarre man, to say the least, and 30 minutes of waiting to see reptiles is an eternity to a little kid. Hurry up Dad, why are you talking to him? But I always took notice of how my dad treated him with the same respect he treated everyone else, and how my dad politely sat and listened to him.

One day, I asked my dad why he let that guy waste our time. My dad explained that the gentleman had no family or friends, was invisible on campus due to his role, and was just lonely. So I patiently sat through more future conversations and delayed reptiles. One day, I asked my dad why we hadn’t seen the gentleman in a while. “He killed himself,” he replied bluntly.

Now I didn’t realize it at the time, but every suicide brings its own snowball of past suicide impacts to someone my dad’s age, so he responded as best he could while dealing with his own haunting memories. But what I wish he would have said was “Suicide is devastating. It will touch your life in more ways than you can imagine as you age, and will touch the lives of everyone you know. No one will talk about it, and it will be a dirty, secret, awful thing that most people deal with in such privacy that its effects are largely unseen unless you look closely. Suicide is more common than you think, and you should take the time to understand it. ” What I wish my father had told me at that moment was that suicides would affect me, and everyone I know, for the rest of my life, with regularity and always shroud in secrecy. It is a high profile mental health issue in the shadows.

Bono wrote the 2001 hit song “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” as a conversation he wished he would have had with his friend who committed suicide. I certainly understand that. My best friend committed suicide, and I will always be angry with him for that. Angry for how it robbed me of the rest of my life with my best friend. Angry for how I can’t get emotionally close to new friends because a part of my heart was ripped out, closed off, and will never return. Angry for how I can’t hunt, fish, or golf anymore because those were the things we did together. Angry for how no one knew what to say to me and how they still don’t. Angry for what it did to his family, to my family, and to our friends. Angry for the dreams I have a few times a year where I have the chance to change his mind and do, then wake up, find it was all a dream and then storm off to work. The ripples of such an act are far reaching and never ending. But most of all, I am just deeply saddened that it happened.

I’m also tired. As a friend, I’m tired of reading about overdoses and coroner’s reports that leave doubts. As a psychology teacher, I’m tired of the countless students I have taught who had their education derailed by the suicide of a family member or friend. As a forensic psychology researcher, I’m tired of listening to heartbreaking 911 calls from small children who find their parents after a suicide. I’m tired of having to talk to first responders who must deal with the scene. I’m tired of seeing photos from suicide scenes that haunt me when I walk by the locations with my family and friends and don’t say a word to them about why I got so quiet. I’m tired of the shame and secrecy that come with suicides. I’m tired of how a single moment can define the lives of so many others.  

In 2017, I wrote “The Ones the Wolves Pull Down” about the rural mental health crisis in Oklahoma. I wrote about the work that Dr. David Rudd had done in identifying and treating those at risk for suicide (Rudd, Joiner, & Rajab, 2004; Rudd, 2006). I wrote about Dr. Matthew Nock’s machine learning models that can predict those who are at risk for suicide (Nock, 2016). The people at risk are everywhere. They are sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, mothers, and fathers.

To those readers who are not quite stuck in that moment — you have value. You are important. Seek help. Find strength. Find religion or find a hotline. Find something — anything. Please, just don’t leave us. You may not think it so, but you will be missed. You will be missed by your daughter who finds you. You will be missed by your brother. You will be missed by your former college teacher. You will be missed by your hairstylist. You will be missed by your first responder. You will be missed by classmates you didn’t even know knew who you were. You will be missed by a little boy who grows up to remember you in an article 35 years later, even when you had no family or friends to miss you. And you will be missed by countless psychologists and counselors who dedicate their lives to the losing battle of making sure that no one ever feels that sad. Sure there is darkness and evil in this world. But there is more love and light.

I pray for those who stumbled in the darkness of their minds under the unfathomable weight of their sadness, dropping their candle, losing their light, and losing their way. May we all lift them up and carry their light, and may God show them the light they forgot they had.

References

Mather, R. D. (2017, December 16). The ones the wolves pull down: A rural mental health crisis and Oklahoma budget cuts threaten farmers. Psychology Today (online)

Nock, M. K. (2016, May 6). Five myths about suicide. The Washington Post.

Rudd, M. D., Joiner, T. E., & Rajab, M. H. (2004). Treating suicidal behavior. Guilford Publications: New York.

Rudd, M. D. (2006). Assessing and managing suicidality: A pocket guide. Sarasota: Professional Resource Press.