3 Things Suicide Has Taught Me

by Andrea Goeglein

Suicide.  Everyone seems to know and love someone who decided to end their life by means of suicide.  For me, the list is long and spans 30 years.  The list includes a friend’s husband, neighbors, business associates, friend’s children and grandchildren, my cousin, Gary Russo (just to list a few).  With each loss, I seem to be called to learn something new about suicide.  Here are just three of my learnings:

  1. Focusing on ‘why’ someone I knew, and love committed suicide is a way of camouflaging anger. It is easier to ask why than to face that I may be angry that they committed suicide.
  2. Focusing on ‘why’ someone I knew, and love committed suicide is a way to deny they are gone. It is easier to ask why than face I don’t get to talk to them again.
  3. Focusing on ‘why’ someone I knew, and love committed suicide is a way to remember that I knew them, I loved them, and I still love them.

Not exactly a topic you might expect from a blog devoted to increasing well-being and human flourishing. Yet the time has come for me to address exactly the topic of suicide.  I have experienced and observed that the ability to survive the loss of a loved one is exactly the type of life tragedy that the grounded work of positive psychology is called to handle.  Do not misunderstand what I am stating.  To be clear, I am not saying the application of the techniques of positive psychology can stop someone from deciding to commit suicide.  In fact, I have not found any evidence of that result.

What I am stating confidently is applying the techniques such as forgiveness (Examples: forgiving your loved one for their decision; or, forgiving yourself for thinking you potentially missed a clue) and gratitude (Example:  being grateful you had the opportunity to know the person and love them – something that never has to end), will help you to heal from your loss.  YOU, the person left to live your life after someone you love commits suicide.

Why this topic and why now?

“When you were born, you cried and the whole world rejoiced.  Live your life in a manner that when you die, the whole world cries and you rejoice.”  Ancient Proverb*

I first heard that statement at a Berrett-Kohler Author Retreat when the talented Barbara McAfee put the words to music that filled a room of authors with their voices in three-part harmony.  I never expected that within a few weeks I would use those words in Don’t Die with Your Song Unsung, which I authored with my cousin, Gary Russo.  I never expected that Gary would live to live those words to the fullest.

I pause today to write this piece because during my morning reading, writing and reflection I realized that today was the date in 2015 that I received a message asking if I knew where Gary was.  Gary was missing.  Was Gary missing?

I remember asking quite indignantly, “what do you mean Gary is missing?”  My mind floated back to the same moment in time in August 2011, when nothing could have appropriately described the joy Gary Russo was experiencing. During that time, he was walking a synchronistic journey that the best in Hollywood could not have scripted. It was a moment in time when the impossible seemed possible and the improbable was a mystery to unfold.

Four years later, 2015, over the exact period in time, again the impossible seemed possible and the improbable was a mystery, except this time it was to be a mystery that will remain a mystery.  There was nothing synchronistic about the mystery.  This time the mystery was about suicide.  Before, during and to this day, Gary’s suicide is a mystery to me. Synchronicity I understand and can teach.  Suicide is a mystery I must accept.

That is why when, again through a totally synchronistic event, author Tilly Dunn entered my life and asked to write a piece for my Living the Spirit Today blog, I reached out and connected with her personally.

Try this on for ‘meaningful coincidence’.  In 2018, I published my first online learning program, The Language of Your Success.  I also did my first online marketing effort to promote the program.  As part of that promotion, recipients were invited to partake in a free, three-part personal development learning using reading, writing, and reflections as the gateway to growth.  Of all the people who signed up to get the free program, only Tilly Dunn wrote an email of thanks.  Here are some of the other unique aspects of Tilly Dunn.

Tilly Dunn has written two books about suicide – from the perspective of a person who had been suicidal for over 50 years.

Tilly Dunn, with a team of doctors and family support, got off of the drugs that stabilized her after each manic episode and has lived symptom-free and suicide thought free for over 6 years and counting.

Tilly Dunn, used reading, writing, and reflection as some of the tools to help her cope.

From all that reading, writing and reflection Tilly Dunn has written not one, but two books, about her life tragedies and her monumental victory over suicidal tendencies.

Although, as you know, I am no literary reviewer.  I do feel Tilly’s writing gives the reader an up close and personal look at the thoughts of someone who has been “to the brink of suicide” many times and lived to write about it.  Her ability to share her story in such detail is a gift to medical professionals helping suicidal patients every day, and to the families who love someone tormented by suicidal depression.

I will close with comments from Tilly after she reviewed a draft copy of this post.

“I want to demystify suicide.  I also want to motivate those who are suffering; that it is possible to survive. Yes, one’s tenacity with resilience can lead to success!  First, I saw a light and then I was out of the tunnel.  Absolutely, I am grateful.  My life has been transformed and I am burning with desire to help others afflicted with what I have overcome…A suicidal person has to nurture their own [spirit] and that can take a number of steps.  Yes, positive psychology will not prevent suicide in someone who cannot get out of that headspace.  But I believe that there is hope for many who are ‘so close’ to giving up.”

Thank you, Tilly.  Thank you, Gary.  May your lives continue to teach us all.

Andrea Goeglein, Ph.D.
About the author

Andrea Goeglein is part organizational psychologist, part entrepreneur, and all about success—your success. She understands both the pressures you face and the dreams that inspire you. Andrea merges her experience as a business owner with her training in Positive Psychology to provide effective, efficient and challenging personal development products and services. She combines an emphasis on objective assessment with an approach that is always powered by your spirit and guided by your goals. Her professional development offerings are based in theory and backed by direct business knowledge.

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