I am at my nephew's funeral, but in all this world there is no real trace of him left. A candle burns amongst a circle of vibrant flowers, but he will not find any warmth from it and the flowers will wither in days. Funerals are for the living to say goodbye to the dead, but as I scan the room I see only the dying, heads bowed as tears fall. You cannot underestimate how many smiles my nephew stole. Like the surviving victims of a crime they will recover and return to some sense of normality, but they will never forget.
They will be haunted by words and memories, followed endlessly by unanswered questions, anger and self-blame. The family unit will crumble at the edges as each of them struggles to maintain their own sanity, each to traumatized to provide real comfort to one another. Throughout the funeral service great emphasis will be placed on making family and friends understand that he is in a better place that finally my nephew is at peace. For everybody else the true nightmare begins. My niece recently wrote regarding her brothers death, "I hate how quickly I go from good to feeling hollow." As Canadian born anthropologist Lionel Tiger once said, the aftermath of suicide is "a legacy of pain."
For those who think of committing suicide "a life without them in it," the reality is so often over romanticized. The over-romanticism of suicide is something many writers and the media have been guilty of for years. In a much quoted poem, "Lady Lazarus," Sylvia Plath, American poet and novelist, flirted with suicidal ideation by writing, "Dying, Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well." Plath herself committed suicide after several attempts. Plath left behind two young children and a devastated ex-partner. In 2009 her son also committed suicide after suffering years of depression, perhaps onset by his mothers untimely and distressing demise? Life is an art, and if you accept the colours in your paint set are both bright and dark, living is something that can be done exceptionally well!
There is a lot someone considering suicide overlooks. There are those who have attempted suicide who have survived permanently scarred, or worse, brain-damaged. Just as drugs and alcohol are so often glamorized as the solution to life's problems, so too is suicide displayed as a quick and painless solution. In May 2012, Zachary Gray, 17, from Florida sought a quick and painless solution to the cruel bullying he received at school by attempting suicide via hanging. Gray's mother initiated CPR and was able to revive him, however having slowly choked and his brain having been deprived of oxygen, Gray is now brain damaged. Gray is unable to walk or talk and needs 24-hour round the clock care.
This can also a side effect of suicide attempts involving drug overdoses, often as a result of the patients airways becoming blocked with vomit. Even a gunshot to the head isn't a simple solution, people can live for hours with a hole in their head, often in pure relentless agony. Additionally so often they blow out an eye or their jaw leaving them with permanent and unsightly deformities requiring years of intensive and painful surgeries. Until 1974 suicide was a criminal Offence in Canada; when the criminal code was amended it meant that the survivors of a failed attempt at suicide could no longer be prosecuted. But as a lot of the survivors are brain damaged or permanently scarred the fact they have not committed a legal offense will be of little comfort.
In 1994 the Task Force on Suicide in Canada found that Aboriginal communities have higher suicide rates than others in the Canadian population. Suicide accounts for up to a third of injury deaths in First Nations people. Vancouver Island First Nation leaders have declared a state of emergency after a long spate of suicide and suicide attempts amongst First Nation people. The director of Aboriginal health for Vancouver Island Health Authority, Ian Knipe, stated, "Often its related to issues arising from residential schools, from apprehension, from the impact of colonization."
Between 2004 and 2005 the Ahousaht First Nation located on the West coast of Vancouver Island lost two members of their community to suicide and 65 others attempted suicide, the numbers continue to rise. On April 25, 2013, Ian Knipe met with the Cowichan Tribes, other First Nations, and the RCMP to attempt to begin resolving the issue. He hopes that the health authority will be able to offer suicide prevention training and education training. "The Cowichan are being proactive about this trying to come up with a plan and work with other partners, such as VIHA and the RCMP in terms of how to address this, so we're happy to be a part of planning and discussions," said Ian Knipe.
In May 2013, a report on suicide prevention was released by The National Aboriginal Health Organization, it emphasizes that violence and oppression and the loss of culture amongst First Nations are still factors equating to the high level of suicide attempts. There needs to be more celebration of diversity, less discrimination and access to more services. Individuals need somewhere safe they can talk without fear or shame, where they are understood and taught resilience and coping skills. Non First Nation people also need to be made aware of the problems facing First Nation people, embracing our differences and working together to improve the situation for everybody.
On September 10, 2012, it was National Suicide Awareness Day, the first of those days after my nephew's passing; on such days in the future please spare a thought for all those unable to see their way out of the darkness.
So what of my nephew? For all the world I don't think it was ever his intention to kill himself. It was a brief over romanticized thought in despair taken to far and now he is not here to see his family, not here to watch his own nephew grow up. He did not see his girlfriend attend his funeral, read her eulogy through shaking tremors in her voice as she declared her undying love. He did not see his sister's faltering steps as she so gracefully approached the stage to tell us he was the best brother in the world. He did not see his mother in the days she sat at his bedside, as his life slipped away, praying he would wake that somehow this had all been a horrible dream her heart eternally broken by his actions. He did not see me get married a small sign that life changes all around you, but to see it change you need to be there. If your considering suicide think about who you will leave behind, realise that there is always a way out of darkness without destroying everything.
Seek help, speak to somebody about your concerns be open about your feelings, there is always someone who cares.
Is there no right or wrong?
Suicide in Canada, right to die, health news