I wanted to write and share a third party experience of someone that knew me personally and reached out when my father committed suicide. A lot of people I have realized out there do not know how to react to a suicide and it can be an extremely uncomfortable experience. It seems that you almost have rules to follow in the way of saying "I'm sorry for your loss" and "if you need anything let me know". The funny part is being someone who has lost two family members to suicide and mental illness, I got this a lot and didn't know how to respond because I knew they wanted to say so much more but held back.
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Suicide happens in the world every 45 seconds if you were in the military odds of you knowing a fellow vet or hearing about one committing suicide is extremely high because 22 of our soldiers a day take their lives. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and has a growing trend that needs to be addressed it is on an upswing. So what do you do when someone you know is affected by suicide? It indirectly affects your life depending on your relationship with the person and I wanted to share an experience from a friend. Jessica is a very good friend of mine, we went to high school together but never kept in touch until the death of my father. She has been an amazing support to me and our company and I was stoked when she was willing to share her experience with me. I asked her to write to me about it so here is her experience.
Jessica said the following;
"I will never forget the day I read that your dad died. I think it was something you posted about your dad’s death on Facebook. To me, your dad was untouchable and someone that I admired. And you Eric, were way too smart for your own good and you knew it. Your dad was the hometown doctor that everyone knew in Charlotte. I have known you since middle/high school years. We never talked much in school, but I felt very drawn to reach out to you and send my condolences.
I sent my message to you stating I was sorry to read of your dads passing. I then asked had he been sick. You responded immediately, ‘suicide’. I was crushed, shocked, and heartbroken. I could barely move and of course, I had no idea what to say back. I responded with the typical “I am sorry”. You then stated, “no, don’t be”. Being very puzzled by this response, I was then even more shocked. I, of course, wanted to know more. Not just for curiosity sake, but because how could someone who was so successful take his own life? I wanted to know what had been going on in Dr. Zink’s life, could this have been prevented, did something devastating happen in his life. These are the questions most people want to know when someone takes their life. But the problem is that society themselves cannot stand to ask those questions, fearing what the answer might be! Fear has paralyzed us into allowing more deaths to happen!
I knew how our small town would react to Dr. Zink’s death and it made me sad for you and your family. Not so much that Dr. Zink was gone because of course, that was sad, but because people need to hear his story and it’s possible in our very conservative small town that they never would."
It was very touching for me that Jessica shared this with me because I remember when she reached out to me. It is confusing sometimes especially for me because of my views on suicide. If you have read my other blogs it may make more sense because the response when someone tells me they are sorry for my loss I tell them not to be. I go into my story because the awareness is so much more important to me, it's my passion. She also touched on a couple great points that I wanted to elaborate on from my point of view such as how to react to someone that has had suicide affect them and also how it is different in a small town versus a big city environment. Jessica, I thank you for the bottom of my heart sharing this with me and allowing me to address it.
So after reading that how do you talk to someone you may or may not be close to that has been affected by suicide? What do you say? Want to know the secret...... Well here it is, Listen to us. As someone who has lost a father and a wife to suicide saying "I am sorry for your loss" is nice but when we share and share our story about our loved ones it helps us heal. We remember the good times and speak with pride about them, it also helps to bring awareness. There is a huge stigma around suicide and mental illness that the only way to get people to talk is to not be afraid to talk about it. You'd be surprised how many people will share their story with you and of what happened, don't be afraid to ask. If you have experienced suicide in your life I would love to hear from you and have you share it because every story helps us bring awareness to this disease that affects so many.
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The second part that I thought was a great point is how something like this goes over in a small town verse a bigger city. My parents lived in Charlotte Michigan and it is where I grew up. It's a small farming town about 20 minutes south of the capital of Lansing. My dad was a doctor most everyone knew who he was, and when it came time for the funeral there was a lot of talk in my family of how to address his cause of death. Because of how a small town is, news travels fast and for some reason, just like every TV show, there is a lot of talk. There is a stigma about suicide and that has to end! Mental illness is real and I could not seem to get that clearly through so I respected my mom's wishes and we just said he ended his life. The unfortunate thing about not sharing the whole reason is that it adds to the stigma if someone wants to judge a family or a person with mental illness that is their choice. Those who are suffering though know they are not alone and it may cause them to reach out for help. In a big city such as LA, I live in orange county. When someone takes their life it is less talked about because the interaction among people is not nearly as great. I feel that you should never be afraid to share your story and help bring awareness to suicide and let everyone know how real it is, you never know what the stranger next to you is going through.
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I hope this has given you some information if you have a friend of yours that this has affected or a family member. It is important to remember that suicide and mental illness are real and usually those who seem the strongest are the ones that suffer. Never be afraid to check on your strong friends and be nice to the person next to you because you don't know what they are going through. I would love to hear from you and have you share your experience and what is it like for you to have others talk to you about suicide that has affected your life. Together we can help end the stigma of suicide and mental illness to the point that those hurting feel comfortable enough to be able to speak along with being listened to
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