Not long ago I wrote about what I called the Silent Sisterhood of women who have experienced the death of one of their children. That sisterhood circles many heartaches brought by death. Those of us who have dealt with and grieved over the suicide of a family member have yet another sisterhood, yet another thing we keep silent about until we find another of our own.
Today I met two more women who are suicide survivors, which seems like an odd term to me. It sounds as though the person tried to commit suicide and survived, rather than a person who is left surviving after the suicide death of a family member.
Meeting these women brought home to me yet again that we can never know how many of the people around us every day have suffered some terrible emotional blow. Most of them cope, "soldier on," and don't show us their private grief.
The women I met today are dealing with not only the aftermath of suicide in their families, but the continuing depression of other family members and the family ignorance about it, fear of "being crazy" or having a "mental illness" that prevents them from recognizing or learning about depression. It's sad that in our day there are still people who hide in shame, whose loved ones may make matters worse by misunderstanding both depression and suicide, who are ashamed to talk about it.
There are so many awful things that can happen to us. I have been most fortunate in my life in many ways, yet I have experienced the tragedy of the suicides of both my father and my son. Both hid their depression well. Both men probably thought that, like the carefully cultivated public persona they presented, they could (and should) handle it themselves. Isn't that what "real" men do?
But they did not handle it, in the end, just as those I heard about today are not handling depression well, or understanding the suicide of their family members. In the end, their pride or their lack of recognition of depression kept them from getting medical help. And we are left to live our lives without them now, missing them, wishing we could have done something to help . . . when we didn't even really know help was needed at the time. Feeling somehow guilty that we didn't know, even though they hid their need.
Speak out. Don't hide. Don't hide either your need for help, or lie about how a loved one died. If we don't begin to acknowledge the truth, if we don't start to educate, if we don't let the world around us know how many suicides there really are, how destructive depression is, many more will die without help, thinking they have to keep their misery secret.
I am thankful for every photo I see with a real, happy smile on Leif's face, not a false smile he obligingly "put on" for a camera. I am thankful there were happy moments and happy times.
But I will always lament the deep, deep sadness we never fully knew or understood.