The first season of “A Million Little Things” which airs on ABC television recently caught my attention after a friend recommended it. My friend was interested in the intricacies of all the things that can come up in life. But I noticed something different: suicide. The show is based around the suicide of one of the friends and the issues that come up in the wake of the suicide, one of which is the incredible depression of one of the friends who was very close to taking his own life the very day is friend died.
I’m happy this is being played out in this drama. For many people, including Joan, it’s all too real. Once again, Joan opens up and helps us all with her candor and fearless sharing.
Q. Tell us how the idea of suicide has afflicted you.
Joan: One night not too long ago, my son’s fire pager went off and like hundreds of times before, the call for a response was made. And like hundreds of times before, knowing that he would be going into service, I listened to the call as I went about my business.
That call was different than any I had heard before, however, it required my full attention. The call was for a “suicidal woman threatening to harm herself.”
When I heard the dispatcher make that statement, my heart sank and the resounding thought that went through my mind was to pray for her. Pray…pray…pray. Tears began to stream down my face as I asked God to give this woman His strength.
I don’t know why I felt this impulse, this wasn’t anyone with whom I had a personal relationship, but there was a connection; I knew all too well the decision she was making – to hang on to life or to let go.
We all hear about people that have committed suicide, but to be part of the situation as it unfolded, knowing first-hand what was going through her mind, was gut-wrenching.
When I heard that additional assistance was no longer needed, I realized that she made her decision, but at the time I didn’t know the outcome. It was hours later that I learned “the woman” had passed away and that “the woman” was a teenager.
The loss of any life is tragic, but the loss of a child is devastating. This beautiful soul who had her entire life ahead of her, who had only just begun her journey, was in a darkness so consuming that she couldn’t find a way out. She didn’t see any alternatives. In that moment, I thought, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Q. So what happened with you?
Joan: It wasn’t that long ago that I spent much of my time considering methods that would allow me to “go home” and be with my family. After I lost my mother and sister within six months (who joined my father and brother in Heaven), and when, at the same time, my husband of 23 years abandoned me, leaving me a single parent to grieve tremendous loss on my own, I was so broken that I didn’t see any hope for my future.
How would I survive without the love and security of my parents and family? How would I care for two children on my own with no substantial means of financial support? How could I be mother and father to two maturing boys? Why did everyone leave at once? Every day I sobbed because I didn’t want to be alone.
It wasn’t that I wanted to die, somewhere deep in my mind I understood that I had children to care for and that my life was of value, but the notion of surviving and moving forward day after day after day was too hard. I didn’t have the strength. Up until that point I had lived a charmed life with a wonderful family. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone – only remnants remained.
Q. I understand that things seemed quite hopeless at that time. How did you get through it?
Getting through each day, alone, and in pain, was too much to bear. I was so tired. I just wanted to be with my family and feel safe and loved. I didn’t know how to survive and I didn’t have the desire to learn, so I spent my days trying to figure out ways to get out. Ways that would let me off the hook but with minimal damage to my kids (as if such a way existed).
I even prayed to God to spare another woman that was dying (someone with a husband, children, parents, friends and family that would be devastated without her), and to take me in her place.
People close to me knew I was in pain, but very few knew the extent. I was too embarrassed. I was the rock for everyone and the rock never lets anyone see it crumble. So I hid what I was contemplating. Everyone just thought I was sad due to grief.
Q. Was there no one for you to talk to?
Joan: There was only one person that I went to for help, but he didn’t offer any, which only validated my reasoning.
On the darkest day of my life, after I made my choice and was fully ready to take action, I was saved. I don’t know why, in that moment, I opened my eyes, but I did and that day was a turning point in my journey. God offered His grace and I accepted it. I began my healing and have not looked back.
Q. What have you learned from that time in your life?
Joan: The past eight years have not been easy, there have been many ups and downs, but I have learned things about myself and have grown in ways not possible had it not been for the darkness I experienced. I have come to realize that the worst pain will bear fruit when given the chance.
I am not a medical professional, but I have been in the black hole and I know the feelings of despair, hopelessness, and brokenness. With work and faith, I survived that place, emerged stronger, and learned a thing or two.
Here is some newly acquired wisdom that I share with you:
• The sun will come up tomorrow and although this may sound cliché, a new day brings new opportunities for change of circumstance. You never know what will happen tomorrow but you must be here to experience it. Do whatever it takes to hang on for another day.
• There is always someone who cares. Even though you may not believe it, there is always someone. Find that person. It may be a friend, counselor, parent, sibling, support group, clergy member, even a stranger on the street. But you have to let the person in. People are kinder than you think.
• A trained expert has the skills and knowledge to guide you through any situation. Don’t try to go it alone; seek professional help.
• There is no shame in being sad, depressed, anxious, or afraid. Do not be embarrassed about how you feel. You are not weak, you are human.
• When you love yourself everything else falls into place. Know your value and recognize that it is not dependent upon others; what they think about you or how they treat you. What matters is what you think about you and how you treat yourself.
• Being thankful changes the way you view life. Think of one thing for which you are grateful (no matter how small) and focus on it. Acknowledge a nourishing meal, warm house, pretty flower, or hearing a favorite song … anything … then say, “thank you.” Do this every day.
• Sometimes the best medicine is to be in service to others. Offer a loving hand to someone in need.
• Trust God. Remember, if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it. Learn the lessons and search for the gifts and blessings in the situation (I promise they are there even if you don’t see them now).
As the music group, REM, so eloquently stated in the song, Everybody Hurts, “When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, hang on. Don’t let yourself go… everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes.”