“Only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.” – Richard M. Nixon
Last week a 16-year-old girl committed suicide at the school where my wife teaches.
It was a complete and horrifying shock to her friends, who had no idea she was contemplating it, nor did they know of any apparent reason .
It was a complete shock to the faculty and staff, who just the day before were talking with her in the hallway – never once noticing anything peculiar or alarming.
And truly, it was a complete shock to me.
While I’ve experienced depression and days of darkness when I just wasn’t sure I had the strength to go on, I never felt compelled to end my life. The fact that a young 16-year-old girl just starting out in the world saw this as her only way out truly distresses me.
Perhaps what’s worse is there was no explanation for her death – no note or social post to reveal why it was she chose to end her life. And while she may very well be at peace, those around her will forever be asking “why”, and unfortunately will never hear an answer.
Now having a young nephew who’s growing bigger, stronger and more independent each and every day (he’ll be 4-years-old in a few months) I look at him and pray for a future filled with love and light and hope in a world that’s often difficult to navigate through.
The thing is that’s what everyone dreams of for the children they love. But we can’t control what happens as they go out into the world and deal with the challenges of bullying and stereotypes; insecurities and acceptance. All we can do is provide them with enough unconditional love for them to know they will never be alone and can always find solace in the comfort of our presence.
Sally Brampton is the author of Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression. In it she says, “Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, “He fought so hard.” And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.”
Many of understand what it means to have a long, hard struggle to stay alive. They’ve fought the fight, tried their best not to give up, and yet sometimes in the end such a victory is just beyond their reach.
All we can really do is support our children, to let them know that they’re loved no matter what they may choose to do or who they choose to be. We must never judge them or label them based on antiquated stereotypes – never forcing them to do or be what we want because it’s the more popular choice.
I’m not at all saying that this was absent from the young girl’s life I mentioned above, or that if it was it might have saved her from her eventual fate. The reality is that sometimes, many times, you never know the full breadth of a person’s struggle until it’s too late to do anything about it.
But why not be proactive and do everything you can to make sure your child understands what suicide is, what depression is, and teach them to talk to you before they make a decision they cannot change.