Whenever I see someone speaking openly and honestly about the impact suicide has had on his or her life, I stop everything and listen with all I’ve got.
On this World Suicide Prevention Day I had such a moment. I was going through various news websites, staying informed, and I had forgotten today was designated as a day for preventing suicide around the world.
And then I saw this headline on CNN.com: “Embracing Life After Suicide Attempt.”
Melody Moezzi writes with vivid detail about her struggle with bipolar disorder and her failed suicide attempt. After getting the right diagnosis, treatment, therapy, meds, health insurance and support from family and friends, she has found a way to live with it and enjoy life. She’s clearly a brilliant woman and excellent writer.
And as I read about her survival, I felt a tremendous bond with Melody. I am a survivor of suicide, meaning I have lost someone I was close to in this horrible way. I have never attempted suicide, but to be honest, I certainly have had bad days — even in recent history — where ending it seemed so simple and easy. Why bother with the rest of life if this is how it’s going, my brain has thought at times.
But like Melody, I’ve also come to realize that suicide is not an option. It may be a temporary fix to immediate issues or problems. But the long-term impact on those left behind is too much for me to bear. I know my mother never wanted to hurt my sister or me. She loved us dearly and promised both of us that suicide was not an option for her. And I’m sure that she meant it on that late August day in 1995 when we sat on a couch together at around midnight. I looked her in the eyes, after she had been threatening suicide in Sedona, Arizona, where she had moved to start a new chapter of her life. But only six months after divorcing my father, quitting her law practice, selling the house I grew up in, and heading out west, she tumbled into a dark depression. I have read her journals from the last days of her life, looking for clues about what had made her so sad and wanting to give up. Even she wrote in certain entries that she was scared about her mental health. And that she knew that such an act would have a profound impact on her children.
Yet she did it anyway. Was it a choice? To some it may seem so. And it’s hard for me to say that there wasn’t some element of self-control or decision making involved when she went to the store and purchased three very large bottles of vodka. Then she sat in her bathtub and lit candles. The description of her final moments almost sounded like it was her own kind of ritual. And with the candles burning, it was time. She drank the vodka, poured it down as fast as she could, drank as much as she could, and eventually it worked. Her heart stopped, the medical examiner told us her blood alcohol level was .41. That’s hard to fathom.
So that’s what makes living with the aftermath of suicide so much harder than if she had died from breast cancer, or a car crash, or something that seemingly didn’t involve her own decision making. Did she really want to die? Or was it a cry for help? Her method, which to me seems less than certain to succeed, makes me think it was a roll of the dice. Unfortunately, we — family and friends left behind — come up with the losing hand.
But as it’s been explained to me many times in the past 15 years, her thinking was so fevered, so beyond anything most of us can imagine in terms of pain and suffering, that by the time she went through with it, she wasn’t making a rational decision. Her illness got the best of her. She succumbed, while Melody Moezzi did not. After a long and painful path, no doubt, back to a functioning life, Moezzi believes that more awareness, more people speaking out about this topic we prefer to ignore, is the ultimate answer to making headway on it.
“Thus, any efforts to combat suicide promise to fail miserably unless and until we begin to engage in more open and honest discussions surrounding mental illness. Not in whispers and not as gossip, but in strong and steady voices and as an issue that deserves as much attention, compassion and funding as cancer or HIV/AIDS or any other deadly disease.”
–Writer Melody Meozzi
And I couldn’t agree more. I agree based on the tremendous response I received when I shared my mother’s story and the impact on her family in a special segment called, “A Son of Suicide.” The first-person account won many awards and accolades. And that was a wonderful honor, I felt like I had finally lived up to my responsibility and done something that meant my mother’s death was not in vain.
But the greatest reward by far was knowing a life or two or three or more had been saved. I received a couple of phone calls from strangers I never met and probably never will meet. One man explained the events that led to his darkest depression and that he had obtained all the goods to carry out his plan to take his life. But he saw “A Son of Suicide,” and it made him stop and think about his family. What would they do if he was suddenly gone? And that moment — when something or someone was able to get his attention — snapped him out of it. I remember he told me that he couldn’t bear the thought of the pain he would be causing for his children.
Maybe someday, mental illness and suicide prevention will become the popular new campaign. People like George Clooney and Angelina Jolie will do spots in which they open up and reveal remarkable honesty about their own struggles or the struggles of people close to them.
But that day still appears to be far off. We need a groundswell of survivors like Melody to speak out, not the trickle we’ve had for so long now.
Until that day arrives, I will be haunted by the words of my sister, Pamela, who broke my heart when I interviewed her for my report. Talking about what my mother had done, Pamela said, fighting back tears: “She damaged me…In such a horrible, horrible way.”
Yes, indeed she did. But I have forgiven her. I’m still working on forgiving myself for not doing more to save her. But I’m alleviated of that guilt, in large part, because of the work I have done in speaking out on TV about suicide and trying my best to get the national conversation started.
On this World Suicide Prevention Day, I ask you — what are you doing to help shatter the stigma? Please….find something and do it. You may end up saving a life or two along the way.
[To View “A Son of Suicide,” go to: http://www.KevinRoyReports.com to be directed to my homepage. You’ll also find a poll and the excellent article from Melody Moezzi0].