Dear Papa Bear,
A few days prior to Thanksgiving, I was informed that my aunt had committed suicide. She shot herself in the chest with a gun, and it was very sudden and tragic. She left no note, no reason as to why she did it.
I don't know how to cope with this. I've never dealt with a suicide before, especially with someone in the family.
How do I get past this? It hurts so bad to know that she's gone.
Meep (age 26)
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I’m sorry you have experienced this tragic loss. This is an important topic to address during the holidays because it is a time when suicide rates go up, so I appreciate your writing to me now. There are many reasons people commit this tragic act, but since you don’t tell me much about your aunt, I will have to talk in generalities here.
Let me start by talking about the suicidal person. You might (or might not) know from this column that I tried to kill myself at the age of 18. Like your aunt, I didn’t leave a note, which really upset my family because had I succeeded they, like your family, would never have understood why.
I will try and explain why. You must understand, first and foremost, that a suicidal person is not in their right state of mind. Depression, pain, severe anxiety can lead to irrational thinking and actions. Before I did what I did, I considered writing a note, but I honestly didn’t know what to put in it. I just wanted to be done and out of my life. So, Meep, please understand that the fact that your aunt didn’t leave a note doesn’t mean she didn’t care. She simply was too far gone to know what to do or say anymore.
You might be surprised to learn that in cases of suicides only 15%-38% (depending on which study you look at) leave a note. It’s much more common that they don’t. Even when they do, the note most often will not include a reason for the death or any sense of closure.
So, do not look at the lack of a note as a snub to you or your family. Instead, you might want to take a look at the things she left behind (photos etc.) as a better indication of her feelings for those close to her.
The other thing about suicide is the suddenness of it. I’m guessing that you had no clue that this might happen. No signs of depression or previous attempts? When my husband died without warning last year, the lack of closure, the fact that I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, burned my very soul. People have a need to say farewell. There are many ways you can do this to give you closure. One way I did this was in the dispensing of Yogi’s (my pet name for Jim) ashes on his beloved Mt. San Jacinto. I said goodbye to him there. Of course, if your family holds a funeral, that is also a good way to say your goodbyes. You can write a note to your aunt, too, telling her what your feelings are and how you will miss her. This can be therapeutic.
Finally—and this is the hardest lesson I have had to learn—you do not get past something like this. It will always be a part of you. What you do learn is how to deal with it, how to, hopefully, learn from it. The longer we live, the more people we will lose over the years, and it is important for you to understand how to cope with and accept it (I’m talking to myself, too, here). The best thing you can do for yourself is to live in the present and to better appreciate and love the people who are still in your life today.
You are not alone, remember that. Talk to others about what has happened. Hug them and love them and lean on them—and let them lean on you, too. Be there for each other.
Life is about both hello’s and goodbye’s. Both are important lessons in our lives.
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