by Marcie Warrington
We hear this all the time. We preach this all the time. Yet, still, despite the wise teachings of our chosen spiritual guides and our best intentions, we continue to judge others whose shoes we have never tied much less walked in. Today, right now, I speak of suicide: the sin of many religions; the shame and guilt heaped on loved ones left behind; and the endless judgments we invariably make as human beings.
And so I share my story, not for sympathy, not for admonishment, but simply for contemplation… and to maybe, just maybe, push the mind’s boundaries of judgment and the heart’s spaciousness for compassion, in the presence of not knowing, a little broader if not wide open. “There but for the grace of God go I,” even when we cannot begin to imagine the path of “There.”
“Suicide is selfish.”
“Suicide creates negative karma in that it creates suffering for others.”
“Suicide is an escape, not an enlightened choice, from consciously being with pain and
“Pain is only pain. It need not be suffering.”
To all of these, I say, ‘STOP.” Do you hear the judgment in these statements?
November 24, 2005 was a Thursday, not just any Thursday, but Thanksgiving, my eldest son’s favorite holiday because “it is just about family, not all the presents and baskets and Jesus.” It was a day for living thanks with family, pure and simple.
November 24, 2005 was a Thursday, not just any Thursday, but six months to the day that my eldest son died, a sudden, violent, and tragic death.
November 24, 2005 was a Thursday, not just any Thursday, but the holiday my eldest son did not come home from his first semester at Boulder – the celebratory line, with an airport Thanksgiving reunion fantasy hook, I had cast months into the future to loosen my grip on the anticipation of separation.
November 24, 2005 was a Thursday, not just any Thursday, but four days until my beloved second son’s first degree murder trial would begin on Monday.
November 24, 2005 was a nightmare Thursday I could never have imagined in my wildest of dreams, much less have prepared for in any possible universe of which I am aware. It’s called Life and you never know who is going to get what or when.
I never intentionally set out to kill myself that night. There was no plan. Oh sure, in 20-20 hindsight, there may have been signs, like when I was driving to visit my locked up son in the hospital earlier that afternoon, I was, not so much looking for, but taking notice of the long wooded ravines that stretched for miles off the side of the sleepy winding road. The perfect place to run a car into a tree and tumble down a hill, unnoticed. But no alarm was sounding in my head. After all, life is relative and this was a mere passing observation, not a thunderbolt from a sunny clear blue May sky that strikes your life into ruins. I got through the day just fine under the circumstances. It was all hell back then. Hell with an occasional smile and some hair-thin semblance of surviving for my living children. My youngest son was away with his father who followed the sound grief book advice for holidays after the death of a child — change it up, go somewhere new, do something different. I was home alone, caring for my other son, and spending the evening with my large three-generation-spanning family having our traditional Thanksgiving meal.
I only lasted one hour. It was surreal. Being there alone without my three boys. Carrying on as if nothing had happened. People still capable of actually celebrating. I couldn’t do it. I downed two or maybe three glasses of wine in less than an hour and jumped my party pooper ass out the door. I wasn’t that good of an actress yet. The material was still raw, no distance at all, and I had no practice. I returned home, alone, before 7pm.
It was a chilly and dark November evening, as they usually are in Ohio, and I turned on all the lights on the first floor, left the curtains open, and turned on the Bose speaker that held my deceased son’s iPod with all of his favorite songs. Oh, and I poured a glass of wine, of course. Then I danced and sang and cried, all at once. Grief is all encompassing like that. So wide open and spontaneous. My filters died six months ago along with my son. I lived on automatic now. Just there in the moment holding the joy of his songs, singing and dancing completely uninhibited, and missing him, oh so badly missing him. Then the missing him part grew larger. Singing and dancing was no longer bringing me closer to him, connecting me. I poured another glass of wine, closed the curtains and sat on the couch. I shouldn’t be alone tonight, I thought.
I called a friend and asked her to come over. She was holed up in a guest room, avoiding her estranged spouse, whom she was once again living after his cancer diagnosis. She couldn’t leave him without a fight. I understood. Everyone I knew was with their families. At least I had my wine. I was restless. I wanted to be anywhere but in my heart pounding body, in my racing head. I needed a distraction. I turned up the music and danced yet again to Coldplay’s Yellow.
Then I began to wander. I did that a lot back then. Aimless wandering around my house. The anxiety in my body was ratcheting up faster than my legs could walk it off. I probably poured another glass of wine. I don’t remember. I do remember being up in my bedroom with all the lights on. I knew better than to wander tonight, in my condition, into my children’s bedrooms. The all-of-it was crashing in on me. You have no idea. I promise you that. Go to bed, I thought. Knock yourself out and go to bed. I was crying hysterically by now and rocking. I rocked a lot back then, like wandering. I took an Ambien. My mother’s other little helper. Wine and Ambien my nightly saviors. Like all stress, grief builds throughout the day. It’s not like you actually wake up empty in the morning and the pain slowly rises and accumulates like the proverbial steam in a tea pot. At most, you have an inch of morning clarity. But that’s another story for another day.
I took my Ambien, shaking, crying, rocking, and despondent beyond despondent. I wanted the pain to stop. I just wanted the pain to stop. I took another Ambien. Still awake, still writhing like a squirrel hit by a car in the middle of the road. I was scared. I needed help. I called the suicide hotline around 9pm on Thanksgiving night.
This part I actually found kind of funny. Call it distorted grief humor. I still excel at that. Anyway, the young woman who answered the phone could not have been more than eighteen years old. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was some high school senior getting her required service hours for graduation.
“Can you help me?” I asked.
“What’s going on?”
“I am thinking about killing myself.”
“Well, we don’t want that. Why are you thinking of killing yourself? “My oldest son died six months ago today.”
“I am so sorry to hear that. What happened?”
“My second son had his first psychotic break and killed his brother with a baseball bat while he sat in a couch in our living room watching t.v”
Silence… more silence… now uncomfortable silence.
“Hello? Are you there?” I asked.
“Um… I don’t know what to say. I never had a call like this.”
“That’s okay,” I said. Jesus, I was comforting her! “Don’t worry about it. I am sure I’ll be okay.”
“All right then. Don’t kill yourself.”
“Ok. Thanks, Bye.”
From here, my memory gets kind of blurry. Why was I not asleep? I should have been asleep by now. I remember thinking that. Then taking five or so more Ambien to speed things up. Now my memory gets really blurry. Somewhere before those now seven pills kicked in, I made the decision to play Russian Roulette. I did not swallow the entire container of remaining pills, only half. I remember that. Also, writing a letter to my youngest son about playing Russian Roulette and how much I love him and how sorry I was. I have no idea whatever happened to that letter or what exactly it said. Next thing is a vague memory of being wheeled in a stretcher into an ambulance and a crowd of neighbors outside looking on. Then I woke up the next morning, mortified. I made my entire family promise to never tell my baby, my son who was out of town with his Dad, what happened. It’s all I could think about. Please don’t let him know. I would never abandon him, or his brother, in my right mind. Never.
And there you have it. I was not in my right mind. I was in excruciating pain. I was akin to a torture victim in the hands of the most brutal inflictions of pain ever conceived of by a twisted human brain, or God. My only possible thought, as I am sure I share with torture victims, was “make it stop.” Yes, pain can be that big. Just try and imagine a pain so big there is nothing but pain. I was literally one with the pain. I go back to the squirrel writhing in the middle of the road. Is it kinder to drive by or run it over and put it out of its misery?
I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I did not die that night. I am not depressed by nature. I am the cup, not just half full, but floweth over. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I got the lucky that night.
This is my story. There are so many stories. So many heavy dark clouds carried in human hearts that we can never suspect much less comprehend. Say “thank you” for that. Also, don’t judge what you don’t know. Don’t blame a person for being weak, for being selfish, for not being spiritually evolved enough to handle pain and suffering the likes of which hopefully you will never know. Again, say “thank you.” Count your lucky stars.
In the face of the aftermath of suicide, the only appropriate response (other than the anguish of grief) is compassion… for the person who has taken their life and for the family, friends, and loved ones left behind. Just this.