As I prepare for a lengthy and fulfilling career as a psychotherapist, one of my greatest fears is how I will help suicidal clients. My thirteen-year-old brother killed himself a week before I turned seventeen, and although his suicide is a topic which regularly invades my mind and which I openly discuss with anyone who asks, I am concerned that in a professional setting, I may not be able to maintain the sufficient emotional composure which my client-therapist relationships will require. Suicide may always be too “close to home” of a topic, despite the time which has passed since Connor’s death. But even as angry, disappointed, and frustrated as I am with Connor for killing himself, his suicide forced me to reconsider my views on the subject.
I have mixed feelings about suicide.
The health profession dictates that practitioners make every reasonable effort to keep people alive, so at face value, I should do everything in my power to persuade suicidal clients to not kill themselves, and when necessary, I should contact the proper authorities to have those clients hospitalized until they are no longer threats to themselves.
However, as a feminist, I believe that able-minded adults should always have the ultimate control over their own bodies. Personally, I feel this belief also extends to the right to kill yourself, but that should only apply to people in an otherwise adequately healthy state of mind. If someone’s suicide ideation is the result of medication or illness side effects, by all means, that person should be helped to stay alive. But for adult clients who have made a logical decision that killing themselves is in their best interests, I feel that it might not be my place to talk them out of it.
Dipping my toes briefly into the existentialist pond, why is it so important in the eyes of the medical community to keep people alive? In my eyes, we are alive simply because we were not aborted in utero. We have no pre-determined path or purpose, but while we are here on earth for our short hundred years or so — if we manage to live that long — we might as well enjoy ourselves as best we can, as long as we can do so without harming others in the process. Accordingly, I feel that people who no longer want to experience the joys of life should be able to die when and how they choose. (…within their means, of course. I would love to die mid-orgasm in my nineties on top of a pool of millions of dollars while being fed grapes by the Bounty paper towel man, but if the best I can afford is driving out to the middle of a cornfield on free Slurpee day and rolling in grass before downing a bottle of store-brand Tylenol, I might have to re-think my life exit strategy.)
So what will I say to a suicidal client someday? I don’t know yet, but one thing I do know is this: You will devastate — and I mean DEVASTATE — everyone who has ever cared about you. You will be free of the misery you are dealing with right now, but for that relief, the rest of us take on your burden. I hate to say that suicide is a selfish or cowardly act, and that the only reason to keep death’s clutches away if you are only hanging on by threads is to prevent damage to other people, but honestly, in some cases, I do believe that.
Suicide of a loved one leaves an irreparable hole in your soul.
The way my dad put it, losing someone to suicide is like losing a limb. You learn to function, but your life will never be the same. You are left with a special kind of grief, a type more sinister than grief from natural deaths; a grief that stings of rejection, abandonment, and an angsty lifetime of unanswerable questions.
My brother’s death is a sadness that I will always have, even on days when I do not feel sad. It is a hurdle I will never be able to clear, just to walk around. It is a scar that will mend but never disappear. For as long as we who loved him are still alive, his pain will continue within us all.
So you want to kill yourself? Fine… just as long as you can bear the guilt on your deathbed of knowing that you will forever maim the souls of every single person who has ever cared about you, too.
Every. Single. Person.