The recent tragic passing of Cathriona White has once again brought suicide into the public eye, largely due to her relationship with actor Jim Carrey. After Robin Williams' recent suicide, the public shared an outpouring of sympathy and conversations about suicide became just a bit more acceptable. This is undoubtedly a good thing; the stigma still surrounding suicide makes many people that need help avoid seeking it out of fear. The bad thing is that their fears are all too often justified.
A while back, I wrote about my attempts to understand why my son committed suicide. Recently, I was contacted by a production company developing a film about another type of suicide, the suicide pact. Yale Productions is taking on this challenging subject in their upcoming film, "michigan", and I have agreed to contribute what I can to its promotion through this blog and social media. In the process, I've learned a lot about a subject that I hadn't known much about before.
Today's youth culture contains an interesting and tragic irony when it comes to the issue of manhood and respect. There is a widely held belief that respect has something to do with conquest and winning, as publicly as possible. Fame and money are seen by some kids, (and parents, for that matter), as legitimate life goals in their own right, rather than a reward for hard work and talent. Social status is commonly based on being more popular and powerful, whether physically, financially or otherwise. The irony that respect and long term happiness has always been achieved by living life by precisely the opposite values seems to elude many young men today.
It's time to start thinking about the new school year and the kids that are going to have to deal with their tormentors again. Let's try to make bullying a thing of the past for as many kids as possible. Too many kids are still living in fear of bullies, too many parents don't know where to turn, and too many schools still don't respond effectively to bullies in their student population. By working together, change can happen. It just takes one person to start the process, whether a parent, a student, or an educator. Be that person!
One of the most profoundly debilitating effects of losing a child to suicide are the feelings of guilt that parents are left with. No matter how many times we hear people tell us "It's not your fault", the feeling that we could have, would have, or should have done something differently is almost unavoidable. It eats into a parent's soul, an unrelenting source of pain. My own feelings of guilt have tormented me for years. The problem is that, unlike many forms of guilt which can be alleviated or even eliminated completely by making amends or fixing the problem that caused the feeling, death cannot be undone.
Why did it happen? What drove him to do it? Impulse? Probably involved, but not enough by itself. Shame? Despair? Words like those get tossed out like so many epitaphs that fail to do justice to the dead. So again, not enough. The words that explain my son's choice have not yet been written. It is my hope that by going through the process of doing so, I can find some way to understand how to accept the results of his decision. Perhaps others will gain some insight into their own loss as well. Perhaps not. Either way I need to write - to think - before I can move on. To do otherwise is not an option.
Now that summer has arrived, a lot of kids will finally get a break from physical bullying at their schools. Unlike the old days however, today's victims won't get a break from the torment. Cyberbullying has given bullies a weapon to hurt others right through the summer. Without your child's school being available to help ( assuming they do... ), and with the lack of the regular school day structure, it can become difficult to keep tabs on your child's social life. There are still ways to cope and stay aware.
"I can't even imagine what you're going through." If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that, I'd be rich. Ok, not exactly rich, but I'd have enough to buy lunch, I suppose. I jest, of course, but the truth in that statement is very real. Personally, I believe the mind is deliberately incapable of truly imagining the kind of trauma that losing a child to suicide causes, because to do so would be tantamount to experiencing it. The human brain knows better than to allow that, it's a survival instinct.