Suicide Is Not an Individual Problem, But A Family and Community Problem

Suicide is often thought of as an individual problem. But suicide impacts families and close friends that often will become lifelong trauma survivors, particularly for a spouse, parent or children.

There’s a true story we’d like to share. A man in his late 40s lost his wife due to a brain aneurysm. It was an unexpected death. One month before then, he lost his mother to cancer who was also his best friend.

The double deaths being so close left this man reeling in unimaginable sorrow and shot of all happiness. All semblance of order in life escaped him and dreams were cut short for this man whose wife was just short of turning 49.

He recalls while he was at his mother’s funeral grieving her loss, he was also thinking about his wife who at the time was in a deep coma. Immediately after the funeral he rushed to the hospital where his wife lay in a deep sleep that would not end like a Disney film. Two weeks after, he had to make the heart-wrenching decision to let her go, that is what they had agreed upon while she was living, that there would be no attempt at resuscitation should there be no chance of coming out of a coma.

After the funeral of his wife, he was in complete despair. He quit his job which was a high-pressure job that he knew he could not do in his current state of mind, at least for a while. He was a white-collar worker, but got a job, menial work, just to get out of the house.

At his new job, word spread of his situation, especially since he was a complete misfit for that kind of work. He said he recalls there was a Japanese woman about his age who he felt something was amiss. She wore a sadness in her face that he recognized in his own. They never talked for about a month. But just by glances and frequent extra-seconds peering, he said they knew there was an indescribable bond that was rooted in deep sorrow.

One day before work started, the man pulled up to park and he saw the Japanese woman sitting in her car. He introduced himself and in the course of two weeks, they started a friendship. They’d meet in the parking lot before work for a quick chat.

The Japanese woman one morning told him that she heard about his situation as a widower, and she said she was a widow. He recalled when she told him this, there was a long pause. The man said to the woman, “I felt that when I first saw you.” He asked, “how long has been?” She said over 12 years. He thought to himself but said he did not vocalize it to her then, “that’s a long time to been in deep sorrow.”

Some time after, in a lapse of about a month, the topic came up again. He asked the Japanese woman if she would mind sharing what happened to her husband because the previous week, he had shared his story.

He said, she looked hesitant. But said she felt comfortable enough given that they both were young widowers and had that in common. She told him that her husband committed suicide. He had jumped out of a room in a Waikiki hotel. And that the suicide was planned based on the note police discovered. She was not there with him at the time. The night before she had called the police reporting that her husband was missing.

The woman said she blamed herself for her husband’s death for years and was overcome with grief and guilt. The man said he felt the burden she had to carry must have been even more tragic than his own because of the additional emotional complexities beyond grief, that of guilt, plus betrayal and confusion.

The woman said she had no insight of suicide as a possibility for her husband. She told him they were a typical married couple with challenges, financial, periodic arguments, and so forth. But still, had no clue.

She said her sister, who also worked at the same company, saved her life. About a year after her husband’s death, she too seriously contemplated suicide. But her sister Miki had her move into her home to live with her husband and children. Miki would accompany her to a bereavement counselor once a week for several months and got her hired at the same company. Prior to that, she was a housewife. The counselor recommended that she also see a psychiatrist. She was put on heavy medication.

The man recalls — after hearing her story that would be revealed to him over the course of months – thinking that if only her husband knew the intense trauma that he had inflicted upon her, perhaps, he would not have committed suicide.

He said before he had met this Japanese woman, he thought loss of a loved one by death was similarly painful. But after meeting this special woman, he realized death by suicide can be far more devastating, harrowing, for the loved ones left behind.

It should be clear that suicide is never just an individual problem. Families are hurt, communities are hurt.

Filipinos and suicide
Due to Filipinos’ Catholic faith that views suicide as a mortal sin, this could be one reason why suicide is not as common. The Philippines ranks 10th in the world in countries with the fewest suicides per population. Within the Asian community in the U.S., Filipino Americans have the lowest rate of suicide (3.5 per 100,000). Still, one death by suicide is more than plenty because as health professionals say, suicide is preventable, unlike terminal illnesses.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and public health professionals recommend that it’s a good time to talk to a family member or close friend about suicide. They say talking could save a life because as the story of this woman above, often survivors say they’d never anticipate suicide be something that would happen in their closest inner circle.

It’s said that suicide is a death of despair. How wonderful that Miki was there to save her sister whose despair could have led her down to a tragic ending as her husband.

We all have a responsibility to our loved ones and if we see despair in them that we do everything within our power to help lift them from it. No one deserves to carry the crushing weight after the fact. Let’s take care of each other. Learn the warning signs of suicide.

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