Suicide and the pain of knowing there is nothing you can do

I get angry at times like this. When a high profile suicide or two happens and my Facebook feed and cable news channels fill up with platitudes and so-called expert opinions about how to prevent suicide. “Don’t give up,” they say. “There’s always help.”

Help? From what, from whom? The person contemplating suicide got that way by believing there is no help for what ails them. Are you just trying to remind them of how ‘helpless’ they truly are by calling down from your privileged non-suicidal position above the pit they are at the bottom of — “look at me, I’m doing fine up here. Be more like me!”

It’s the arrogance of it, the utter lack of the humility that we should be bringing with us when we approach the holy space that is the experience of the suicidal person. It’s holy because of its uniqueness. It’s holy because of the unbelievable intensity of it, an intensity that barely allows another human to look at it and arise whole. If you want to be let into this terrible holy of holies by the suffering person, you have to be humble first of all.

But there’s nothing humble about the intense search for pat answers about how to prevent suicide. There’s nothing humble about trying to find answers and approaches that can be taught in a short seminar. There’s nothing there that respects the uniqueness of all human experience. Above all, humans want to be seen, understood and appreciated for who they truly are. That’s something worth trying to do — being a part of helping more people feel seen. Just being kind is worth it. Don’t wait until you think someone might be thinking of ending their life.

The pain of the survivors is unbearable. It’s like no other death because questions always remain. Anger remains. Anger at their loved one for choosing to abandon them in the most final and dramatic way. Anger at the self and others for not somehow “seeing this coming” and preventing it.

We want to know. We want answers to the terrible, painful cry of the one-word question — “why??!?!” But we don’t always get to know that. Sometimes we are left with nothing but questions.

It’s not easy, but we have to work to stay there. Insisting on answers only makes the suffering person feel more alone, like people only see them like one sees a bug under a microscope.

May the memories and Anthony and Kate, two New Yorkers who came to know the intensity of fame, be a blessing to us all.

About the Author
Alan Abrams is a spiritual care educator who make Aliyah in 2014. He and his wife live in Jerusalem with their “sabra” daughter Berniki. Alan is the founder of HavLi, a spiritual care education and research center associated with the Schwartz Center for Health and Spirituality. A rabbi, Alan is scheduled to receive a PhD in May 2019 from NYU for his dissertation on the theology of pastoral care. He was a business journalist in his first career.
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