So many movies and tv shows reference suicide – either as a storyline or in casual conversation. There are conversations at work, with friends, even in public with strangers inappropriate things are said. Social media, songs, you name it. We’ve even heard comments in church. The comments are everywhere. “I have the worse migraine ever. I want to jump off a bridge.” “If I have to do that one more time I’m going to off myself.” “If I hear her say that again I’ll kill myself.” It’s especially lovely (I say with sarcasm dripping off each word in the sentence) when someone holds a pretend gun to their head and shoots themselves. Jesus, really? That just happened to me last week during a conversation. Do you understand where my mind goes when you do that? I know, I know. They just weren’t thinking. They didn’t mean to be hurtful. I get that, truly. But that doesn’t change the impact it has on me.
In the beginning I didn’t know how I thought about these comments because I was too consumed with trying not to puke. Then I started to get angry – with myself. I thought I had to toughen up. Then I started to get angry – with everyone else. I thought they were being insensitive. I remember the first time I took a stand – it wasn’t pretty but in hindsight it was what I needed. I was at work and a customer had donated a bunch of clothes for the teen mom babies. Before I unloaded all of them in the teen mom room I asked someone where the Director was keeping the clothes these days. Before answering my question the person said “She will probably want to shoot herself in the head.” She knew my circumstances… But that wasn’t on her mind when she said this to me. That day, that comment, I didn’t hesitate: “That’s the cruelest thing you could ever say to me.” She immediately burst into tears and apologized profusely. I felt bad for her. I knew full well she didn’t mean to be hurtful… It was just one of those off the cuff remarks that had crept into her vocabulary over the years. But I felt worse for me. And on that day – about 7 months after Drey had taken his life – I had had enough. So I let her know. I resumed putting the donation of clothes in their proper place and afterwards sought out my friend to see if she was okay. She wasn’t. She was still crying and felt horrible. I hugged her and told her I knew she didn’t mean anything by it. But I didn’t tell her I was sorry for snapping at her – and I wasn’t sorry. I had heard – and continue to hear – those comments regularly. And on that day I let someone else carry a small little bit of the emotional burden for a change.
So how bout now? More time has passed. I can “handle” the comments I suppose. They impact me and I still have to pray myself through. Sometimes I’ll say something to the person and over time I’ve learned to be more polite. But still sometimes I won’t say anything.
With all this said I definitely don’t want anyone to be afraid to talk to me. I don’t want to be avoided for fear something hurtful might slip out in conversation. Anyone who knows me knows I can say some pretty stupid stuff myself! If you realize you’ve made an inappropriate reference to suicide – anytime really – but especially in front of someone directly impacted by it – just acknowledge it… “That was an insensitive remark. I’m sorry.” Then just keep talking. A simple acknowledgement means a lot to a survivor of a suicide loss. And it makes it clear to everyone around that it’s hurtful to talk about something so tragic in a careless way. No other words are needed.
I’m a runner and have a subscription to Runners World. I was reading the latest issue just yesterday… Terrible choice of words Steve Prefontaine…
I have had this happen to me, as well. My sister in law did the point to her head thing as a gun while I was helping her set up for her granddaughter’s birthday party. She saw my stricken look and immediately began to cry and apologize. Like you, I felt badly for her but I felt worse for myself. I am very bold about putting people in their place when they have been insensitive to suicide and those of us left behind. There is just no way to prevent it from happening but I think we should respond just the same. Perhaps it will make these people think before they act or speak.
There are so many ways in which people are not only insensitive, but just plain cruel. Careless comments about suicide, overdoses, mental illness, and even grief can be so hurtful. I’ve also found that people can be very ignorant about how intrusive their pushy questions can be. Just the other day I was at a small orientation meeting (to find a good dog trainer) and the trainer kept asking me how many kids I had and how old they were. I was deliberately vague, while trying not to cry, but he kept asking and wanting to question my parenting techniques. He couldn’t read any of my obvious discomfort and signals that I didn’t want to have this discussion. (We’re definitely not going to use him – if he can’t read people signs, he won’t be able to understand dog signals.) If there hadn’t been other innocent bystanders in the room, I might have told him to mind his own business.
HI! I want to comment on this…finding it hard this second… but want you to know I read it and am thinking of you…thinking maybe I’m knowing this to well, too…and am soo sorry you are experiancing it… suicide, homicide….all just fun and games to all to many…will say I feel you are really brave..don’t think I’ve ever called anyone out on it…these careless comments….always kept all the responsiblity to myself…..and then when it just right there in the media, commerical, billboard whatever…ahh even better…..have a memory, women I worked with gave me a “mystrey murder” game as a wedding gift….find the killer…yea, for sure was not my idea of fun….wtf….they even make these as “games”….or better yet, have a mystrey murder night for a fundraiser……what I’m going to complain they are trying to raise money??? …as always thank you so much for your blog…..you give me a voice too….I just so sorry that you do…..I love you and awesome Drey man too….Maybe I’ll find my voice too, take some courage and strength form you….. make the suggestion, maybe use a different theme for the next fundraiser???
I’m sorry, Sony. I imagine you hear about murder all the time and definitely every time you turn on the tv. I wish I would’ve been more aware of your pain when your Mom was killed. I love you.