|Strawberry Fields, New York City|
This Tuesday (December 6, 2011), my brother-in-law Chuck would have turned 52. Instead of planning a celebration for his birthday, we found ourselves today at a mass whose intentions were for the repose of his soul (Chuck ended his life on November 19, 2008).
Chuck’s daughter, Kris Taylor, has begun working with suicide survivors. As part of that work, she gave this speech to the Dublin/Laurens County (Georgia) Suicide Prevention Coalition on October 25, 2011. In Chuck’s memory, and in incredible gratitude for Kris’s candor and courage, I am sharing the text of her speech with you via this post.
I would like to start by expressing my appreciation to a few individuals. First, to Denise Forbes, Ellis Tapley, and Tina Clements, I doubt there would be a Coalition today without their hard work and dedication. To the members of our local news, I would have never learned of our community trying to start a Suicide Prevention Coalition without their coverage. To Brenda Yawn for always having a friendly smile and words of encouragement when I have needed them most. To Sheri McGuinness for freely giving of her experience and always telling me we would succeed. To my Family for all the reasons only they know, and finally, but certainly not least, to the Honorable Mayor Phil Best and the County Commissioners that have come here to support us today.
|Kris Gives Her Speech|
November 19, 2008 was like any other day for me. We got up, I took my daughter, Allie, to my in-law’s house, and I went to work. I remember my daughter was not feeling well that day but I cannot remember exactly what was wrong. I do remember I decided to stay home with her that Wednesday night while my husband went to church. My daughter and I had been home for probably about an hour or so when my phone rang. I knew it was my Father’s number because his ring tone played (it was John Lennon’s Imagine). I answered the phone like always, “Hi Dad!” but this time I was answered by the voice of my step-mother’s niece, which I found odd. Then, she asked to speak to Brad, my husband. At this point, I knew something out of the ordinary was happening, but I was not overly concerned. I told her he was at church and would not be back for another hour or so. She insisted she really needed to speak with him, so I gave her his cell number. Next, without thinking, I asked, “Is Dad okay?” She paused and then said, “He’s fine.”
It seemed like it took forever for my husband to get home that night. When he finally arrived, I met him at the door asking, “Have you talked with Salina?” He said he had seen her call but was busy and really did not want to talk with her anyway. I insisted he call her back, telling him I was worried something was wrong and I had to know. I remember saying, “What if Dad’s been in an accident?” At this point, my daughter was fussing, so I went to the living room to give her my attention while Brad called Salina back. I could see him on the phone through the doorway of the kitchen. Suddenly, while he was talking, he froze and then backed out of the doorway where I could not see him. Then, he came from the kitchen, sat next to me and handed me the phone. Salina’s voice came from the phone, “Kris, your Dad shot himself.” With those words, my whole world fell apart.
My Father had just become one of the 30,000 people that die by the act of suicide every year in America.
Over the next year, as I tried to come to grips with the reality that my Dad had taken his own life, I learned things about him I had never known. For example, I learned my Dad had threatened to commit suicide before. When he and my Mother were still married, he had pulled out a gun and told her he was going to kill himself. The police even had to be called to help get the gun away from him. This happened at the time their marriage was falling apart. I had never been told this. Why was this fact about my Dad kept from me? Why had no one ever talked about it?
I believe the reason is because of the stigma associated with suicide.
What is “stigma”?
Fink and Tasman define stigma as:
“fear, resulting in lack of confidence. Stigma is loss, resulting in unresolved mourning issues. Stigma is not having access to resources, resulting in lack of useful coping skills. Stigma is being invisible or being reviled, resulting in conflicts regarding being seen. Stigma is lowered family esteem and intense shame, resulting in decreased self-worth. Stigma is secrecy, resulting in lack of understanding. Stigma is judgment, resulting in a lack of spontaneity. Stigma is divisive, resulting in a distrust of others. Stigma is anger, resulting in distance. Most importantly, stigma is hopelessness, resulting in helplessness.”
It has been said that suicide is one of the few remaining taboos today and it is often such an inconceivable act to most people that they cannot identify with it or empathize with those affected.
Many people think suicide is fundamentally wrong; many even think it is a mortal sin. The stigma is not just directed at the victim but often at the family left behind.
Think of it this way. If you knew someone who had committed suicide, when you were talking about them, you would probably say, “When John died, his family had such a hard time” . . . but you probably would not say, “When John committed suicide”.
Why is that?
If John had died from a heart attack, wouldn’t you just say, “When John died from the heart attack, his family had such a hard time”?
What is the difference?
They are both sudden, unexpected deaths.
It is because in the first situation we tend to place some blame on John (or even his family), but with the heart attack, we don’t. We imply that John had “control” over his own life and that he “alone” made the decision to end it.
Don’t you think that people who are having suicidal thoughts know the stigma that is associated with suicide or even depression?
A study was done in 2008 where researchers interviewed 115 patients that had been in and out of treatment facilities about how they perceived stigma.
Over 70% of all patients believe that most young women would be reluctant to date a man who has been treated.
Nearly 70% thought that most people would not allow such a person to take care of their children, and most employers would pass over the application of such a person in favor of another applicant.
Over half assume that most people think less of a person who has been in a mental hospital or that their opinion is taken less seriously by others.
Do you think this stigma encourages people to seek help?
Most suicide theorists note that victims are “seeking to escape emotional pain”.
This pain constricts their perception and narrows the range of available options they see. They begin to feel there are only two options: (1) live with the continuous, intolerable pain, or (2) end the pain altogether by ending their life.
You’ve broken your leg. What would you do? You would go to the hospital, get your leg treated, let it heal, and move on with your life. Right?
But what if there was a stigma attached to having a broken leg? What if people acted differently around you, treated you like you were weak or confused? What if people told you to get over it and that your broken leg was all in your head. That you just needed to be strong, that you were choosing to have a broken leg. What if you lost your friends because of your broken leg? People started whispering behind your back, because only crazy people have broken legs. People treat you so differently that you become distant from your family, and you withdraw from the world. What would you do? You are in excruciating pain from your broken leg because you never sought treatment because of the stigma, and now your pain is unbearable. You want to end the pain; you want relief, but you have no where and no one to turn to for help. . . The only way you can think of to escape the pain is by ending your own life.
I have often wondered if my family and I would we have been able to recognize the risk factors and realize that my Dad was slipping back into a dangerous emotional state if we had only been more open about my Dad’s tendencies for depression and suicidal thoughts. If we had embraced these facts about his personality, would he have felt safe enough to confide in us when he was in unbearable emotional pain so that we could have helped him from feeling hopeless and helpless? I will never be able to answer these questions. I can only hope and pray our story will help open the eyes and hearts of others, so, fewer lives will be affected by the tragedy of suicide.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help.
|The design on Chuck’s Gravestone (he loved drawing Snoopy).|