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…