In 1970, Robert Altman directed the Academy Award-nominated movie M*A*S*H. The movie was a huge hit and was the inspiration behind the television series of the same name. The theme song for the movie was called Suicide is Painless.
I liked the song when I first heard it but didn’t really understand the lyrics until life reached out and grabbed me by the collar. Suicide is Painless? Nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s hard for me to imagine anything could be more painful and agonizing then suicide. It is one of the most selfish acts a person can perpetrate on surviving family members and loved ones left behind. They are the ones who have to wrestle with the unexpected death of a loved one. It is the survivors who have to pick up the pieces and deal not only with the sadness of the person who took their own life, but also deal with their own grief, sorrow, guilt and anger.
Eleven years ago, my younger brother attempted to commit suicide. He drank over a ½ gallon of anti-freeze in an effort to end his own life. His reason: he had lost his job when the automobile business suffered during the depression of 2008 and 2009. He was adrift and his ex-wife was spending thousands of dollars and goods to keep up with the Jones’ in the neighborhood they lived in. He was depressed over his lot in life and attempted to end it all. He never reached out to any of his three older sisters or me to try and get support or help—in spite of us all offering help and support while he looked for a new tool-and-die job.
Then came the awful morning when I got the call from my younger sister.
“I hope you’re sitting down, because I’ve got some bad news,” she said. I could tell from the sound of her voice it wasn’t going to be good. “I found Mike on the floor of his apartment, and they rushed him to the hospital. He is in a coma in critical condition.
“Terry, our brother tried to kill himself last night,” she sobbed. That was 11 years ago this week. I still think about it almost every day.
For months, my brother was in the hospital in a coma. He had swallowed over 1200 c.c.’s of anti-freeze. The doctors told us that if a human being ingests 500 c.c.’s of anti-freeze they will die. Yet my brother was still living—albeit on life support. I cannot tell you the anguish, pain and heartache our family suffered during that ordeal. The questions came early and came often. Why did he do it? What was he thinking? Why didn’t we see it coming? What could we have done to prevent it? Didn’t we make our love and support over the years manifest to him?
Mike eventually pulled through, and it was nothing short of a miracle. He is not the same, but at least he is alive to watch his two children grow up. He has met another good woman, and they are happily living their lives near the shores of Lake Michigan.
Regardless, none of us who survived his attempted suicide have made peace with what happened and why it happened. We have not reconciled it in our own minds. While a tremendous sadness has always riddled our lives, there now is also anger. It enters our minds all the time. Why do we feel guilty for what he did? Why do we feel we were at fault?
Then the anger kicks in. We shouldn’t have to feel guilty or blame ourselves for the selfish act of my brother. Yet we do.
Make no mistake: suicide is the most selfish thing a person can do to their family and friends. It is the survivors who have to deal with the tragedy and search for peace in their lives—not the victim.
I have had to go through this more than once during my lifetime, one more recently. The last one brought great sorrow to a wonderful family that I have become friends with here in the county. My heart goes out to them, and I think of them often knowing what they are wrestling with and going through. I pray for them and their happiness daily.
Yet, time marches on for the living. The living have to patch their lives together and keep moving forward. And most people do, although the painful anchor that constantly pulls at their heart makes it a lot harder to get through each day.
So my message is this: if you are feeling depression, talk to your family or loved ones. Call a grief counselor. Talk to your pastor. Get your feelings out and share them with people who care about you and can help you. Don’t put the people you love the most in the situation of having to deal with your sudden death. It’s unfair. It’s selfish.
There is help out there. There is a suicide prevention hotline, and someone out there is available 24/7 to listen, care, and help. The phone number is 1-800-273-8255. Do the right thing for yourself and the people who care about you and for you. It may save your life. It will definitely spare the survivors a lifetime of sadness, sorrow and guilt.