I was just 21 when my world fell out from below me for the first time. Without warning, my father died by suicide, leaving his family behind to navigate the confusing and lonely road of suicide grief. Life as I knew it crumbled that day, and I spent the next decade-plus doing everything I could to rebuild that solid foundation that died with my father.
But one unintended side effect of being a survivor of suicide that I never anticipated? Words now have so much more power. Their emotional pull is now something I don’t have the luxury of ignoring, and if there’s one thing I wish I could tell the whole world: Please think before you speak. Or, in my recent experience, post to social media.
Last week, news broke of the suicides of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez and Cleveland Facebook killer Steve Stephens. And not even hours after it happened, I logged onto Facebook to see people saying how "glad" and "happy" they were to hear the news. Make no mistake, what Hernandez and Stephens did was unspeakably horrific, but to flippantly throw words like “happy” around when talking about suicide is incredibly alarming. Even more than that, it's damaging, as if to say their suicides fix everything and was just the perfect solution.
In reality, suicide never solves anything. To say that you're glad is insensitive to those left behind and only adds to the many societal stigmas surrounding suicide. As someone who lost her father to suicide, I can tell you firsthand that the pain and hurt DOES NOT end with suicide. It's only the beginning of a lifetime of pain. If you're able to talk about suicide so flippantly, consider yourself lucky that it's never touched you.
Suicide is something I've lived with 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 2003. And sadly, I'm not alone when it comes to being hurt and triggered by the thoughtless words of others. Anyone who has grieved the suicide of a loved one knows about the long, sleepless nights spent wondering what you could have done to save the person. They know the pain of feeling like your love wasn’t enough to help. They know the endless hours of asking why this happened and wondering how you didn’t see it coming. They know the anguish that will accompany every single birthday, anniversary and holiday for the rest of their lives.
They know all these things too well. Trust me; they didn’t get off easy and I’m pretty sure they’re not celebrating anything right now. And neither should anyone else. Because really, no one “won” anything here. People's reactions to these recent deaths raise so many issues surrounding mental health, suicide and public perception in this country. To see someone's death being treated so cruelly and heartlessly is simply unacceptable. It's beyond irresponsible and reckless.
You might want to take a moment and think about how insensitive your words are. How can we look at the grieving families that suicide leaves behind and tell them that they’re better off? How can we tell them that this was for the best? How can we even tell them that they will get over this and somehow find a way to go on? How can we say all that and then face ourselves after? At the very least, what does this say about who we are and what does this say about our character?
In the end, what you won’t hear in the news is this: There is a lifetime of pain for those who are left behind. No matter how you feel about what Hernandez and Stephens did, suicide is never something to be celebrated. It's not something that should be viewed as a happy occasion. Ever. And it's not something that should be taken lightly. Suicide is not pretty and it's not beautiful. It's ugly. You can't put it in a pretty little box and tie it up with a pretty little bow. Death, like life, just isn't that simple.