Photo by Külli Kittus on Unsplash
This is how to save a life.
Pain. It’s completely mind-consuming.
At least that’s the case with excruciating pain, like childbirth, earaches, and toothaches. Those are just the examples that come to my head immediately, and there’s a reason for that. I have an earache, and it’s been so bad I haven’t been able to think about anything else.
A hurricane could be going on outside, but my ear hurts and if the house blows away, I will somehow get another one. Maybe a hurricane is an extreme example, but you know what I mean.
But pain isn’t always physical. Emotional pain has the tendency to do the exact same thing, yet we don’t give enough credit to its power until a devastating consequence, like suicide, forces us to look at it for a minute or two. Any longer than that and we’d be caught in the trap ourselves, and I’ve seen it happen.
In the town next to me lived a young man, we’ll call him Johnathon. I didn’t know him.
Johnathon was twenty years old. Hardly old enough to make life and death decisions, but he was a police officer and a volunteer fire fighter. It seemed as if he had it together.
I don’t know why he killed himself. My guess is that the pain inside of him became overwhelming and he made a sudden decision he couldn’t take back. I theorize a lot of suicides are like that.
In one moment, it was just too much, but you make a spontaneous decision to act in the one moment.
The next moment for might not have been as bad for Johnathon, but he didn’t get to it.
It’s sad when anyone takes their own life, but this story gets even worse.
Eight months later Johnathon’s mother laid across his grave and took her own life.
Now there’s a pain I can understand.
I cried all day for her when I heard the news. I didn’t know this mother. I didn’t know her son. But I knew her pain and I knew why she’d make the choice she did. I thought about it many times myself.
In the very beginning, when I lost my 16 year old, I made my wishes known. “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I was already dead in my mind. No beauty was left on the earth. I couldn’t find anything worth waking up for in the morning.
My baby was gone. Nothing I could do would ever bring him back. Life had lost all joy and I knew the rest of it would be filled with unbearable pain.
But when I said the words aloud, I wasn’t alone in the room, even though it felt that way to me. My other son, Nic, was in the room with me. So was my daughter Tiffany, and my best friend, Martha.
They didn’t try to talk me into staying. No one pointed out how beautiful life can be. No one said the heartbreak will one day pass. That would have been a lie anyway, and everyone knew it.
What happened is that Nic said, “You go, I go.” And Tiff said, “You go, I go.” Then Martha said, “You go, I go.”
They all meant it. All three of them tied their lives to mine forcing me to make the only choice I could. I had to stay.
To say I was angry is an understatement. I was furious, but I knew it for what it was. It was love.
The only thing in the world able to break through the pain of loss is love.
My daughter told me a few minutes ago that my grandbaby, who is five years old, has a hole in her ear which is going to require surgery to correct. She’s gone through a lot of ear infections and had tubes placed in her ears. The hole, I believe, came from one of those tubes coming out when it shouldn’t have. Or something like that.
Anyway, I’m sitting here with a double ear infection and my heart hurts for little Cori, because I remember all the times she grabbed her ears when things were too loud, and asked us not to shout. We tend to be a boisterous family and the decibels increase with the laughter. We did try to tone it down for her, but because I have these aching ears, my heart hurts even more for my sweet little grand girl. Because I get it, even though I never did before.
Understanding the pain of others is important if you care at all about helping them. Empathy is often gained through experience. It’s one thing to be sympathetic to someone’s hurt, but to actually share in their hurt you must first know what it is, what it feels like.
We can walk through this world blind to the brokenness of others, refusing to see what it would take to help them, because we don’t want any of their pain to jump on us. A lot of people choose to get by this way, never really connecting on a deeper level with anyone.
It’s no kind of life.
I’ve said before it’s a tremendous risk to love others, but the alternative is you don’t live a life worth living.
If you stay in the shallows forever, chances are you won’t drown, but you also won’t be able to keep anyone else from it.
You are called on by your humanity and by love itself to enter the empty and cold spaces with other people, to trudge through the darkness with them, to give them a hand to hold on the way out.
Showing love in the hard moments can bring someone back from the brink of death and cause them to make the decision to try life once more.
I have no regrets over making the choice to live.
I have the most blessed and wonderful life, but everything could’ve ended for me the same way it has ended for countless others—choosing death instead of pain.
Part of me wishes I would’ve known the mom who killed herself over her grief. I think maybe I could’ve said something to help her. Or just been around for her when she needed a friend—let her cry out her pain with me.
The more selfish part of me sits here in relief because I didn’t know her. I cried for her all day when I found out what she’d done. Imagine how hard it would’ve been if I’d have known her and she still chose to die?
That’s what it’s like to acknowledge your humanity. Knowing you aren’t enough, knowing you don’t want to, but doing it anyway because who knows if you’ve been born for such a time as this (that comes from the book of Esther).
Life is a dilemma, and pain has a way of taking over.
People sometimes get to the point where it seems the only way out of the pain is just to end it all.
Choosing to get involved is a risk born of love. It doesn’t always end well, but it’s worth it to take the chance. Helping other people is a way to find the value and beauty in your own life—a way to focus on something besides the pain.
You never know when it will be your turn to say, “You go, I go.”
I challenge you to love someone else enough to be there for that.
This is how to save a life.
Maybe even your own.
Here are some resources to help if you or a loved one are considering suicide: