“He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this!” Gladys Bourdain.
Suicide is like that, a shock, a sad surprise. When I read what Anthony’s mother said above, I wanted to invite you to grapple with this sensitive subject, suicide. Anthony Bourdain’s death comes sadly on the heels of designer Kate Spade who also took her life a few days before. Her husband, too, expressed great shock and surprise. There were no red flags. Suicide rates continue to rise alarmingly in North America. Someone said if it was classified as a new virus suicide would be called an epidemic. In the States, statistically, you are three more times to be killed by your hand than by someone else! Japan, one of the richest countries in the world, is also known for having one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.
But really, it comes closer to home when a friend or family member attempts and maybe succeeds in leaving this world. That is why I write today, I have friends both young and old who have taken their lives. When something like that happens to a close friend, family member or associate we don’t really like to talk about it. Perhaps we feel too ashamed? Deep despair is never easy to talk about. I read today of a caller to a radio show that lambasted the selfishness of Anthony Bourdain, “How could he do this to us all?” That question: How come? It keeps being asked over and over by those who have to come to terms with a loved one’s death.
Not only are the young prone to suicide, in 2012 the highest suicide rate occurred with those aged between 45-59. Males are four times more likely to die by suicide than females! And if I may interject here, there’s another group, the LGBTQ community whose rates of suicide attempts among are significantly higher, maybe up to three times higher! But what may have surprised us most about this past week’s news is that suicide strikes even the most successful. These two celebrities both enjoyed wonderful careers that would be the envy for most of us.
I don’t have the definitive answers to the question, “How come?” But I have read enough and lived long enough to tell you that one of the greatest stressors today is the pressure to always be strong and successful. So much so we find it nearly impossible to admit our darknesses and flaws. We hate being in the furnace of self-doubt, even though, if we let it do it’s work in our lives, it can refine us and make us stronger. It takes the same grace to carry our less than perfect self as it does to live joyfully.
I believe we should teach acceptance of the fact that we all struggle with the darkness or the ‘dark side’ of who we are. All of us have an ‘achilles heel.’ The question then becomes can we carry this personal struggle honourably and with grace? Grace not shame. If society or a religious community or the workplace or our families attempt to shame us into change, rarely do we change. We merely hide. And that especially is lonely and painful.
I wish there were more answers. Being aware and connecting with those struggling with sadness or loneliness is a good start. And it is not easy to know who is struggling in a ‘social media’ culture of putting forth our best face, literally! We must allow others, ourselves included, to show up with our less than smiley faces. Creating safety allows our friends and family members to be vulnerable with us without the shame. Conversations now become safe.
Some other ides that come quickly to mind to help those in the throes of depression:
Let them know personally that their lives have meaning and bring real meaning to us.
Let them know that their struggle is not an anomaly. Others too, many others, have been through times like this.
And continue to communicate that things WILL get better. Time has a way to bring good things, better times, laughter even, to our lives. Weeping lasts a night, yes, maybe many nights. But there will be a morning when joy fills our hearts again.
Finally, telling the stories, your survivor stories, can only bring about more courage in the soul of the one who is ready to give up.