On Suicide

I cannot hear or read about suicide without internally flinching. It is sad that life can be so painful, ending it seems the only way out.

High levels of suicides among veterans, the recently reported suicide of Alexander McQueen, the 40—year-old fashion designer, are reminders that  life happens to us whether we like it or not and sometimes the pain we experience stops us from seeing the hope that is there. The savagery of some marketing and media campaigns that wrongfully say wealth and fame is the way to happiness has misled many of us.

The phrase, the best things in life are free, the title of  a  song written by B.G. DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson for the 1927 musical "Good News", still holds true. My heart sings with joy at the call of a Red Tail Hawk, the feather touch of clouds on mountain range, or waking up in the morning. That’s right, waking up in the morning! What a gift! Another day!

Like many others, I’ve been touched by suicide. My birth-father committed suicide with a handgun before I got the chance to meet him; at age 23 my brother put a 22 caliber rifle to his head and pulled the trigger; at age 68, my mother, Virginia, surrounded herself with family pictures and with a mixture of drugs and alcohol, ended her life. Three of my childhood friends’ mothers committed suicide. While I will not name them, I can tell you I still love my three friends and I still love their mothers.

I would be disingenuous if I told you the idea of suicide never crossed my mind. When I was homeless many years ago the option briefly came to the surface. I remember walking on MacDonald Avenue in Brooklyn one brutal bone-chilling cold night with, once again, nowhere to go. I stopped walking and out loud said, “I give up.” I just stood there and again said, “I give up.” I wondered what exactly giving up meant? I mean when you are standing on a cold street with nowhere to go and you say I give up there are not a lot of options. Die, or keep walking. I kept walking.

Here are some things I can, in gentle tones, tell you:

  • Feeling hopeless does not mean there is no hope, it means you are having a hard time finding it; but it’s there.
  • Feeling like you have no options does not mean you have no options. They are there, and you have a right to know about them.
  • Feeling worthless does not mean you are worthless, it means you are having a hard time experiencing your worth. It’s there. Promise.

In other words, I beg of you, don’t give up.

Not giving up has given me many gifts in life. Including the gift of being able to write these words to you.