Emily Parnell: There’s no better time than now for a frank discussion about suicide

08/18/2014 6:54 AM

08/18/2014 6:54 AM

I’ve been planning to write about suicide for a while, now. It’s one of those things that is easier to put off than tackle.

I’ll write about it when I’m in the mood… when I have no other ideas… when I have time…

There is no perfect mood for addressing suicide, and there will always be another idea in wait. And I have time to write a column today.

I’ll address it now, before it’s too late.

There is such a thing as “too late” and “now” always comes before it.

It is the passing of Robin Williams, of course, and the flood of media and tributes and tears in his wake. This came only a couple of weeks after Nico Cruz, a friend from high school, a gregarious, fun-loving generous man, with an enormous personality and an even bigger heart, took his life. It rocked the community of friends and acquaintances who have known each other most of our lives. And then there’s weatherman Don Harman, and the shock of losing a local celebrity who brought giggles and smiles to the city every single day.

The similarities jump out. Three magnetic personalities, marked by devil-may-care spontaneity and humor that delighted others. With childlike spirits in grown-up bodies, they were people willing to think off-the-cuff, say anything for a laugh, do anything for a smile. People who hid their pain. Three people whose last decisions cut the world to the bone. Was the decision spontaneous? Was it off the cuff? Did the same impulsiveness that endeared them to everyone finally steal them away from all who loved them? We can’t know, really.

A friend of mine spent 20 years of her life counseling suicidal children. You read that right: children. It’s a thought that makes my brain hurt — doesn’t your heart lodge in your throat when you think of that?

She urged me emphatically to speak to my own kids about suicide a couple years ago. I pushed back, of course.

“They’re only 8 and 10,” I protested.

“Exactly,” she said, no trace of a smile on her face, “they’ll still listen to you. Tell them not to commit suicide. Parents don’t tell their kids that. They tell them not to play with fire, not to hit their friends, not to drive drunk — but they never tell them not to commit suicide.”

I wasn’t in the mood. I wanted to take some time to think about it. I had other fish to fry that day.

But I knew she was right. This woman who had looked kids in the face as they lay in their hospital beds — still alive, despite their efforts to end their lives — I couldn’t ignore her wisdom. I had to have the conversation before it was too late.

It was awkward. I explained that sometimes people become so miserable, they don’t know what to do, they make brash decisions, they want to escape. But that it’s not the right thing to do. We have to face our problems — and ask for help when we can’t —and believe we can do it even when we think we can’t. I told them not to consider it. Not to joke about it. Because deciding to simply end your own pain is the most painful thing for the rest of the world.

They were shell-shocked. But you know what? They got through it, and so did I.

That initial, hard conversation opened the door to smaller, easier-to-swallow chunks of conversation. I opened Nico Cruz’s Facebook page to show my kids the numerous comments of all the people who were so very sad to lose him. I explained that they’re all hurting, that he had all those friends who would have done anything for him so he could have made a different choice.

“That’s very sad,” my son said. He meant it.

It was hard. I wasn’t in the mood. We could have talked about other things. It was the right time.

Overland Park mom and 913 freelancer Emily Parnell writes for Diversions each week.

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