Suicide is one of the ways we die. Those left behind struggle to decode past conversations in which casual words and observations now carry malignant meaning and every remembered pause seems a lost opportunity.

It does not help to know that 800,000 die of suicide each year, or a third of the people we see around us have had a transient, usually passive thought about ending their lives.

We as human beings, have the ability to reflect on our existence and therefore to reflect on our non-existence. Many of us, at one or multiple points in our lives, have inched our way forward on that existential outcropping to peer over the edge. What enables some of us to crawl back and causes others to fly or fall off the edge isn’t clear.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention considers the very presence of suicidal ideation cause for alarm and encourages us to not dismiss these thoughts but to seek help from a mental health professional. We don’t know when a benign thought grows malignant. We don’t know the precise weight of suicidal rumination or the particular content that tips thoughts into action. It might not help even if we knew.

It might help to acquaint ourselves with the resources available through The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and to participate in their events and contribute to their work.

It might help to know that someone who dies of suicide dies of an illness. Sometimes the illness strikes like a heart attack –no time for intervention. Sometimes the illness is chronic, like some cancers and treatment isn’t effective or has ceased to be effective or leaves the sufferer too exhausted to travel further.

It might help to change language that criminalizes the sufferer. Suicide isn’t a crime someone commits like armed robbery. Suicide is one of the ways we die and there aren’t many good ones.

It might help to avoid quizzing the survivors about what they knew when and what signs there might have been… They need comfort in their grief which is like no other in its punishment.

It might help to consciously pursue compassion for others and ourselves in our listening, our speaking and our thinking. The title of this piece comes from a quote from Werther., “If a child arrives home earlier than expected don’t his parents run to greet him with joy? Can we expect less from our God?”

KC Conway, LCSW