Do I tell him my credentials-25+ years in and out of the profession? That I used to talk in schools and to community organization on suicide prevention? The statistics? The stories I hold dear to my heart.
The wounds that are still there as I think back and back…
Do I start with my older client who took his life? He was at a crossroad and just started in care. He had his first visit with me and we made a "therapeutic connection." I was filling in for another nurse who had left. The first meeting was overall light; it had humor and an existential component to it. He denied any thoughts of suicide when the typical question was asked.
Yes, there were stressors, financial; health the future would be better though. All would be well, I thought.
He missed his next appointment and left a message. I was busy. I didn’t return the call but asked the receptionist to call him. I had a cancelation the next day. I could see him then. The receptionist told me, he really wants to talk to you, he likes you. I was busy there wasn’t any time. There didn't seem to be any urgency in the message. He was on my schedule for the next day…
My thoughts were into the future. Annoyed that he wanted to talk by phone but had been a ‘no show’ at his last appointment. I needed to be firmer and not give in so much. I should have called. I didn’t. I didn’t know. She may have sensed something and tried to convey it to me but I wasn’t listening. He never made his appointment the next day. He killed himself. I was numb--did this really happen?
I still had her paper message on my desk. She hugged me and said it wasn't your fault. How could you have known? She then said that her father had killed himself. Ironies....His ex called me. She thanked me for the care that I gave him that one day. She didn’t seem surprised. There were problems, problems I hadn’t uncovered in our one meeting.
Lindsey. I was young when we worked together and she was even younger than I. I thought us much older than we were. I had a daughter and was married. I was 24 or maybe 25. Lindsey was maybe 19. She was a recovering addict. She was pretty and light-hearted. She had a boyfriend. Her life was back on track. We all liked her. She went to Brockport for school. She was going to be a social worker. We monitored the hall together one day on the adolescent dual diagnosis unit where we both worked. I had a Grief Group planned for later in the week, ironically. She was telling me that she had a tough week. She told me the story. It was ludicrous the semblance of disorder that occurred for her. Comical really, I laughed and laughed. She stepped back and laughed too.
But she wasn’t really laughing. She was in deep pain. I didn’t know or understand. I didn’t want to see the other Lindsey the girl who had used drugs to try to numb I don’t know what. The girl who had problems. I just saw the Lindsey at work. The lighthearted, funny likeable one. Sweet and innocent. A breath of fresh air on the unit where there could such heaviness.
That week she killed herself. Denise my friend the social worker sat me down in the lobby to tell me. I had taken a day off and hadn’t heard yet. I was devastated. The funeral was devastating.
Martha the night nurses’ son took his life the following week. He had asked his mom for the gory details of Lindsey’s death and wanted to know why she didn’t try something easier, more peaceful. The cues were there but went unnoticed. The next thing she knew he was dead. She was empty when she told us. It was unfathomable that there were two deaths back to back but this is often how it happens. My Grief group was canceled. There was too much Grief to run a group.
All these thoughts flicker as I listen to my colleague’s question. Yes, we can talk. We can meet for lunch and I will share what I know.
Maybe I could say:
Suicide is a permanent choice (that cannot be undone) to a temporary problem(s)
That the ripple of pain it leaves doesn’t go away
That life will always ebb and flow—it is never fixed. It will get better.
Change is a known entity in life
Even though it seems bleak right now, there is help
There are numbers to call (National) and in Buncombe and surrounding counties (see below)
If you reach out to someone and you don't get the help you need, keep going, don't stop trying
And to my colleague:
- Always do your best
- Be kind
- Return calls
- Really listen with a subtle eye and understand that laughter can be the flipside of pain
- And most importantly, know that we all make choices,
- and ultimately we are not responsible for others choices.
National Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Buncombe County 1-888-573-1006
*Please note this is a personal, self reflection and not meant as professional advice
If you, or a loved one or friend is suicidal please seek professional attention immediately...
**for Privacy purposes (re: my client) parts of this story have been changed.