When I was a child, I was told, “Go out in the street and play”. I understand times have changed. I know that our cities aren’t as safe as they were years ago. Still, I can tell some harrowing stories about my youth that cause me, as an adult, to behave far more carefully. I know something else. Today, I see parents who return home from work, only to have to go to soccer games, basketball practice, gymnastics, judo, tai chi, acrobatics, cheerleading, football or baseball games that don’t end till 9 or 10 at night. And, of course, the kids can’t come home for dinner, so they’re given fast food, which they eat on the run, or in the car. Something seems wrong with this picture. The kids don’t get their sleep, their diets are terrible, their parents are exhausted and frazzled, yet they get to make a magnificent checkmark on a calendar, detailing how many practices they’ve been to and how many activities their kids are involved in. All of which they use as an index of their own adequacy. And would you believe, any time these kids have a spare moment, they claim they’re bored? They have no idea how to entertain themselves. They don’t develop a sense of creativity or industriousness and require the tv to be on, the i-pod playing in their ears and new computer games to keep them busy. Over-protected children don’t learn how to cope with problems. Do you know why? Because their problems aren’t theirs, they’re their parents’. No wonder their parents go to parenting classes to learn how to be better at raising their kids. They fear they might hurt their children by not helping them sufficiently. The truth is, they hurt their children by helping them too much.
I know I’m carrying this to an extreme. But my message is one that says, you ought to let kids learn how to deal with problems early. How to get shocked and know they’ll live afterwards. How to reach up to the stove and later say, “now I know what hot, hot means”. Why? Because you won’t be there to protect them the rest of their lives. In this world of fast food, fast service and fast lives, too much energy is devoted to fast solutions. People no longer have patience. If your computer doesn’t respond fast enough, you get a high-speed service, because your time is so precious. You don’t talk any more, you text. You don’t speak to the person next door, or the guy who parks next to you, but you get on Facebook and reveal things you wouldn’t say to your mother.
I’m all for progress, I’m all for learning, I’m all for therapy. I’m all for helping our kids to be better people. But, one of the ways of helping them is teaching them how to help themselves. The old adage, of not giving someone a fish, but teaching them how to fish really makes sense. So, if you want to help your kids (or adults) to deal with their problems, you have to let them own them. Give them responsibilities and encourage them, but do not cripple them by making their problems yours. None of this is meant to put the blame on parents of children who commit suicide, or adults who decide that, after a divorce, life isn’t worth living. Instead, I believe there comes a time when human beings have to take responsibility for themselves.
Still and all, nothing is more emotionally damaging to a family than the suicide of one of its members. It exacerbates every feeling of guilt and failure that each family member harbors. For the most part, however, that isn’t the thought that enters the suicide’s conscious mind. Because, for the most part, their conscious minds aren’t controlling what they do. Suicide is an emotional decision, based primarily on a person’s desire to protect themself from pain. Nevertheless, suicide causes pain and exacerbates thoughts such as, “what could I have done differently?” “I should have been there.” “He/she called the other day and I didn’t get back to him soon enough”, “He said he had everything under control and I didn’t read between the lines”, or, “Something I did over the years must have contributed to his/her decision. Therefore, I’m to blame. It’s my fault and I’ve got to live with this the rest of my life.” All of those thoughts and feelings are based on erroneous logic and guilty emotions. You can’t stop these feelings but, over time, you can certainly learn that, you may have made mistakes, because none of you are perfect people, perfect parents, perfect siblings, perfect spouses or perfect children. At the same time, you cannot take responsibility for another person’s behavior. Their actions and decisions are their own. If, indeed, you can pinpoint something you did wrong, the best you can do is learn from it. But, more often than not, what you have to see is that your loved one was in so much pain, emotionally, that they could not live with themselves. They must have hated what they felt and perceived about themselves, seen themselves lacking and insufficient, or felt so trapped by their situation, that they saw no other alternative than suicide. They didn’t realize and never learned that openly expressing your grief and tears and sharing your feelings with someone you trust is the best way of letting out and easing your pain. Instead, they chose to end their pain, never realizing it would cheat themselves and everyone else in their family of the joy, the love and the closeness they might have shared in the future. That decision was theirs. It was a poor one, but you making a second poor choice, i.e., assuming responsibility for their actions, doesn’t change anything or help anyone. Nor will beating yourself benefit you or the loved one you lost. It will only continue the pain that you’ve already suffered and alienate you from those who love and cherish you.
If, in fact, you’ve been fortunate and no one close to you has chosen suicide as a means of coping , be thankful. But, be aware, no one is impervious to this behavior. Therefore, you need to learn, from the experiences of others. You have to keep in touch with those you love, reassure them that you’re there and underscore that they’re allowed to fail and make mistakes. That, despite their negative feelings, they’re okay, even though they don’t realize it and that, with your support, they can solve their problems. Tell them that you’re willing to provide any help, support and guidance they need and that you have confidence in them. Essentially, the message you have to deliver is that they are stronger than they realize, that they’re allowed to feel despondent, anxious, stressed and hopeless and to even have thoughts of suicide. Because having thoughts of suicide isn’t crazy, but doing it is.