When I sat down to write this, I planned to write about intentions. But instead I found myself deep in grief and thinking a lot about suicide. I will always remember January 2017 for the death, by suicide, of a loved one.
In the wake of this loss, I didn't feel like setting goals or writing about intentions. I turned instead, as I always do in difficult times, to books I love and I found solace in meditating upon the words of philosophers and poets. I also tried to see the bigger picture, taking time to contemplate the many others who are suffering just as I am. Many people have loved or will love someone who chooses to end their life.
As a psychologist, suicide is a topic I've encountered before. But I was shocked to learn that there are over 800,000 suicides worldwide each year. That's more than 2,000 people every single day.
So, I'm writing to those whose loved ones end their own lives. This is my offering. I hope sharing my experience might be of some use to others, that these words might prove a balm to aching hearts. They're only words. But words can heal.
Something feels different about a death by suicide. It arrives with a fierce abruptness, a tearing away. We'll never know when my beloved cousin Gareth made a choice that would end his life. We are still here. And we grieve. But mostly I've noticed that we seem to be asking a lot of questions. It's a quirk of our humanity that we like to make sense of things. We like to understand. So we question not just the pragmatics of when, where, and how—we also question ourselves.
Could I have done more? Could I have done things differently? Such thoughts are a trap because, yes, inevitably, all things could have been done differently. But they weren't. And if these questions haunt us, we can only apologize to those we once held—for the things we did or didn't do that somehow contributed to their pain—and try to let go of the regret.
As I listen to my loved ones try to make sense of this tragedy, I hear some people question his intent. Did he really mean for that to work? Did he really choose to end his life? Was it just an angry and impulsive act that in the final moments he regretted? Sometimes death is a well-considered, contemplated destination. Sometimes it isn't. As for Gareth, we'll never know. And, given that it did work, debating whether he meant to die or not is unhelpful. He is gone and his actions are not for us to judge.