I was 25 years old when the news reported that the lead singer of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, had killed himself. I remember thinking, “Wow, that guy had fame and fortune and was still so unhappy that he took his own life. If someone with his lot in life couldn’t be happy, who could?”
Fast forward a couple of decades and I understand suicide a lot better now. I am in the somewhat unique position of being able to speak to people on the other side who have committed suicide. And I have done countless readings for clients who are suicidal and want to find a reason to live.
I understand now that it doesn’t matter what’s happening on the outside. It doesn’t matter how much you have or appear to have. It doesn’t matter if you have a “great life” and tons of friends, a great job, a great family, and everyone loves you.
If you are in anguish, despair, or pain, the thought will cross your mind that you can end that pain by killing yourself.
I’m beginning to think that everyone gets suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives, no matter who they are or the nature of their life circumstances.
I can think of at least four times in my own life that suicide seemed like the right option to end some overwhelming emotional or physical pain. I am grateful to have gotten past those moments.
What do people say when a loved one kills themselves? “I had no idea he was in pain. I didn’t see any warning signs. Why didn’t he reach out to someone? Why didn’t he try to get help?”
This is why…
When someone asks, “How are you?” we are conditioned by society to respond “I’m good” or “I’m fine.” The casual greeting and inquiry into your current emotional or mental state does not allow for any depth at all. You don’t suddenly pour out your problems to the grocery checker just because she asked how you’re doing while scanning your bread. You know she doesn’t really care and is just being polite.
We’re conditioned to tell people we’re okay, even when we’re not.
What about family or a close friend? If you’re lucky enough to have people in your life who love you, you might be able to open up to one of them and share a bit of your pain. But people who are suicidal don’t want to be a burden on their families and friends. They don’t want to drag someone into their emotional pain. They don’t want to open up for a couple of minutes over the phone knowing that there isn’t really enough time to fix anything, so they keep their pain to themselves.
In the past six months I’ve had three friends tell me privately that they were considering taking their own life. In each and every case I would not have suspected their thoughts were taking them down that road. In each case, these friends seemed fine on the outside. On social media their lives seemed adventurous, daring, and exciting. They appeared surrounded by friends and loved ones.
I realized that there are more people in pain than we can possibly imagine, and that we have to do better in seeing, recognizing, and caring for our loved ones.
When I considered how we might help people who are suicidal, this is what I thought of…
Make a date with a friend or loved one either in person or over the phone and say, “Let’s talk and I mean really talk, about what’s going on in our lives right now. I really want to hear what you’re struggling with, what worries you, where you might feel lost. I’ve got all the time in the world for you and I will not cut our conversation short. If you want to talk for hours, I’ve got hours.”
Then listen. Listen intently, listen hard, listen long. Listen with empathy. It takes incredible trust to open up and let someone see your pain, so when someone is opening up to you, show them that you care, that you aren’t in a hurry, that you truly want to know.
Allow them the catharsis of releasing the burden they’ve been carrying alone. Listening and showing love to someone who is in pain might be enough for them to begin healing, to know that they are truly not alone. You can spend time discussing real solutions to their problems and then supporting them by checking in later.
When you check in, don’t fall back into the habit of “How are you?” and “I’m fine.” Say instead, “Where are you at emotionally right now on a scale of 1 to 10? What’s going on right now that’s challenging for you?” And again make sure you have enough time to really listen.
Someone asked me the other day if people come to Earth knowing in advance that they will suicide. No. No one comes here with the intention to suicide. Not one soul does that.
Our perception of the world and our life circumstances can lead us to anguish we feel we can’t relieve. You’re moving along the maze of your life, making decisions and taking the path to the right and then to the left and then to the left again. You’re moving, but one day you look around and realize you are not remotely where you wanted to be and – this is the critical part – you feel like you can’t ever get there.
You feel like no matter what you try, you cannot have the life you truly desire. You can’t have the love, the joy, the life purpose you want. So it won’t matter what trappings of success you carry. You will feel lost, you will feel despair, and you won’t want to continue on.
Imagine there is a rope hanging over a cliff and you’ve been slipping down that rope inch by inch, using all your strength just to keep from falling. And one day you get to the end of that rope and you lack the strength to climb back up.
That’s your choice point. That’s the moment you decide to either let go or hang on. Those who hang on are hoping their strength will come back. Those that let go simply cannot carry the heavy weight any longer.
We can help the people at the end of their rope. Don’t wait for the news of their suicide and lament that you had no idea. Find 10 people in your life and offer them your time and attention. You will be surprised how many people you know are at or near the end of their rope, and what talking to a good friend can do for them.
We must care for each other while we are on Earth. Imagine someone at the top of the cliff pulling up on that rope and yelling down to you, “Hang on, I’ve got you. Don’t let go.” You can make a difference. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Check in with your loved ones and see where they are on that rope. You just might save their life.