I am sure that many people have seen the latest reports on the number of service men and women who have taken their lives after being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan – sometimes there have been several deployments. The number of suicides has surpassed the numbers of service women and service men who have died in combat. The latest statistics indicate that there is a suicide occurring everyday among the women and men who have served in combat. This is a very frightening statistic to comprehend and assimilate. Our question is, just what is our country doing for these veterans who have risked their lives wearing the uniform? They get out of the combat zone, only to come back and struggle in the combat zone of their own minds and souls. It is a travesty and an injustice to have these veterans come back from war, and to ignore the aftermath of what these young woman and men have seen and experienced during their time of deployment. It is impossible to expect them to come home and then to take up their former lives without some supportive exercises to help them to adjust. People are not that resilient that they can just take up where they left off. Our veterans deserve better than what they are getting. This concern is just one more example of how little is being done to provide the necessary supports for people who are very vulnerable and are suffering from some form of mental illness.
Last month, there was the quote about how mental health had repeatedly failed a young woman who eventually completed suicide. She was repeatedly thwarted from getting the proper and necessary treatment to help her combat the illness that eventually caused her death. How much longer are we going to witness people who are repeatedly being rebuffed from getting the proper treatment that they so desperately need to continue living? It is a constant reminder that people who are struggling to stay alive are not that way because they want to be. That is their plight in life and they engage in the struggle on a daily basis. Eventually they run out of steam and they conclude that they can no longer fight the fight and they succumb to their illness. Their illness wins and our society loses another gifted person.
We read about the advances that are being made in many areas of medicine, to either cure the illness or at least prolong the lives of people who have the illness. There doesn’t seem to be many advances in the field of mental illness whereby there is a significant reduction in the number of suicides. That is one of the more discouraging aspects in the field of suicide. I know that there is a lot of research going on in the mental health arena but each time a person completes suicide there is one more family beginning the tragic journey of grieving the death of a loved one from suicide. There is one more statistic where it is too late to have any effect. The person is already dead and society loses.
There is an upside to this story and that is that people are reaching out more and more for help in grieving the loss of a loved one from suicide. Suicide has come out of the dark ages and people are more willing to get the help to come to grips with losing a loved one from suicide. There has been a major lessening in the stigma attached to suicide and to mental illness. That is a tremendous breakthrough in the whole field of mental illness and suicide. I am very encouraged to see people rise above the shame and embarrassment that accompanied suicides in the past and be able to be open and receptive to get help from the myriad of support that is out in the community. I am of the opinion that our society is more open and more understanding to people who complete suicide. There seems to be less judgmental attitudes and condemnatory statements when a suicide occurs. There is more work that needs to be done to lessen the critical comments that oftentimes accompany a suicide, but as long as there is progress we are moving in the right direction. Our society has become more receptive and tolerant and understanding about people who suffer from mental illness and the same attitude is present when there is a completed suicide. People deserve our support and praise when they come forth about their struggles with mental illness or their attempted suicide, or when a family comes forth who has experienced a death of a family member from suicide. They are very courageous and should be afforded a great deal of admiration and support from the community.
As the summer progresses there is always a reminder that for grieving people, family gatherings such as family barbecues are never the same since the loss of a loved one. That is probably one of the most painful reminders that survivors of a suicide are asked to endure. Survivors are adjusting to the fact that a family structure has been permanently altered and that the family will never be the same. A significant person is missing and will always be missing. Their suicide has made their absence very final. There is no turning back. It takes a long time for a family to adjust to that fact. The void that occurs will never be closed –nor should it be closed. That loved one played a very important role in that family structure and no one should be expected to fulfill that role. During family gatherings, that missing loved one should be talked about and acknowledged. Just because they are deceased does not mean that they should be ignored or not remembered. Their absence should be recognized and talked about. There might be some tears at the beginning, but those tears will turn to laughter as time moves on. There will be comments such as, “see what they are missing”, but then there is the realization that they are in peace and out of their pain. For that reason, there can be relief that this loved one is no longer struggling and feeling miserable. No one wants to see a loved one so miserable and in so much pain. Part of the grieving process is to establish a relationship with that loved one even in death. Just because this loved one is deceased is no reason why survivors cannot have a relationship with this person –even in death. The relationship is different certainly but at least there can be a continued relationship with those who have died. That is where creativity comes into play.
As always, I want to assure each and every member of our LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis during my quiet time and I encourage all of you to do the same for each other –especially for those who have recently joined our family.
Keep On Keepin’ On,