When my father died less than three years later by suicide, I monitored my emotional trajectory through shock and denial, but soon ran into a bump in the road: I was stuck on the anger rung of the ladder. And here I am, 13 years later, and I'm still there.
Let me for a moment compare my parents' deaths: my mother battled lupus, an autoimmune disorder, for my entire life. She developed every possible complication and the year before she died, her organs began to fail. What started as a common cold would be her undoing, sending the rest of her organs cascading toward failure.
Along with her team of doctors, I decided to remove her life support, and for over an hour she gasped for breath in front of me, struggling to breathe, to stay with me for a few more minutes. Her body was ready to leave this Earth, but she didn't go without a fight.
The day my father died, he was supposed to come visit me at college. Inside of getting on his motorcycle as promised, he changed his outgoing voicemail message so that when anyone called, they would hear "You have reached... Bethany's father." He last identified as my father, but he in no way behaved like it. He walked into his backyard shed and hanged himself. He left me.
I wasn't just left without the emotional support a parent brings, but I was left without the financial support as well. He assumed the life insurance policy he had taken out would take care of me; but it was void. He had lied on his application, but even if he hadn't, because he had committed suicide I likely wouldn't have received a payout.
It was easier for the insurance company to deny the claim based on the lie.
I had transferred to Rutgers University the week prior and had taken out loans for tuition; he was supposed to supply me with spending money and pay for my room and board.
Suddenly, I was in the fog of grief applying for on-campus jobs because I was out of cash, and soon found myself working more than 40 hours a week at two different jobs, which I would do for the rest of my college career to alleviate the financial pressure.
In the wake of his death, I was gently encouraged not to talk about my anger. I was told he was hurt, he was in pain, his decision wasn't rational. Yes, this is all true. What I never understood was why his feelings mattered more than mine -- more than the feelings of his daughter, a very much still alive young woman, and in agony. His feelings didn't have to be rational, but mine did. It's not fair to be angry at him they told me; but if life were fair, I wouldn't have been orphaned at 19 years old.
Noting on Twitter how to prevent a contagion of copycat suicides, Poynter Vice President Kelly McBride instructed the media:
"When reporting on suicide:
-Include resources for people who need help
-Avoid oversimplifying on the cause
-Don't get hung up in the details of the means of death, the less graphic and specific, the better
-Don't lionize the person
-Don't sensationalize the outpouring of grief"
Those last two points are notable in this renewed national conversation on suicide. We shouldn't lionize the person or sensationalize the grief. So why is it we can't discuss the anger of those left behind?
This isn't to say those who have committed suicide should be villainized, nor should it be open season on the memory of those who have taken their own lives. But what kind of message does it send to those considering taking their own lives to see only discussions of how incredible the deceased were, and how sad their deaths are?
And how does it help survivors process their feelings if we're told that only some of our emotions are valid and safe for public consumption?
Suicide is a lot of things, but neat and tidy it will never be. Let's be honest about the trauma it causes; the utter ruin left in its wake. Despite our societal taboo on talking about the subject, more suicides are happening, not fewer.
It's time to be frank about the feelings of those with suicidal ideations in order to get to the bottom of their desires, but it's also necessary to make clear the devastation they would leave in their wake if they choose to act on them.