Monday, June 22, 2015

Article: What My Dad's Suicide on Father's Day Taught Me About Life

I thought I’d share this article I found titled What My Dad’s Suicide on Father’s Day Taught Me About Life. It says a lot of the same things as my last post titled Another Father’s Day, about how losing my dad makes me grateful that my daughter has her dad. It also talks about how losing a father to suicide is different from losing a dad to natural causes.

What has the suicide of your loved one taught you about life?


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Another Father's Day

Another Father’s Day has come and gone. This was my sixth Father’s Day since I lost my dad, but it was different in a major way. This year instead of focusing on my dad, I focused on the new dad in my life – my husband. This was his first Father’s Day. (Not technically, but it feels like a first because last year our daughter was only a few months old, and we didn’t feel like celebrating anything. We were just trying to survive!) We didn’t have a huge celebration, but we had a good day together as a family.

I was thinking today about how lucky my daughter is to have a dad like my husband. I know he will always take care of her. That doesn’t mean he won’t make mistakes or let her down occasionally, but I am confident that he will never let her down in the huge way my dad did when he committed suicide. He will always be there for her, never abandon her, or intentionally put her in harm’s way. I see his love for her in their every interaction, and she runs to the door to greet him when she hears him come home from work.

It’s scary to think about all the things my daughter might have to face over her lifetime. I pray every single night that she will not have to go through any of the trials I’ve gone through, and that she can keep her childlike innocence. My husband is not like me. He’s had an easy life, very little to complain about. Not me. I could fill several blogs with all the stuff I’ve been through, but I find our opposition comforting. Our daughter is growing up with an optimistic dad and a realistic mom. She’ll have a dad who will encourage her to be the best she can be, and a mom who will understand her when she encounters roadblocks. When I tell her that her bad times will get better, I can say it with confidence.

I also pray that my daughter doesn’t lose her father prematurely. I hope that every day she knows how lucky she is to have him, and that she’ll appreciate all the things he has done for her. I know that’s not the way of kids. We all grow up and hate our parents and blame all our problems on them, but one day, I hope she finds a wonderful man who will be an amazing father to her kids just like her dad was to her.

And I hope that the man she finds is also as loving and as amazing of a man as my father. Now that I have a child, I can get a glimpse of the love he must have felt for me. It makes it harder to understand why he would chose to put me through such pain if he loved me so much, but I can also understand that maybe he saw his choice as an act of love. He probably thought he was sparing me from the pain he’d put me through if he stayed alive. I’ll never know.

I love my father will all my heart. How he died isn’t going to change that. He lived an honorable life, and he deserves recognition for all the sacrifices he made hoping to give his daughter a good life. Other than his suicide, none of the trials I have had were in any way his fault. In fact, I have him to thank for raising me to be resilient and forgiving. He was my safe spot to land when I needed him.

Thank you for being my dad! Thanks to my husband for being a wonderful dad! And Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!


Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Click here to see what Goodreads has to say.
Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

This book is about a teenaged girl named Hannah Baker who committed suicide by swallowing pills. Before she died, she recorded her story and the reasons why she committed suicide onto cassette tapes and put them in the mail. The tapes circulated to the thirteen people she mentions in her story, each explaining how their actions either positively or negatively influenced her decision.

This book was a confusing one for me. What I knew about suicide didn’t match what I was reading. I got the impression that the author has never been suicidal or had any experience with suicidal people because Hannah sounded like an ordinary teen to me. Maybe that was the point. The purpose of the book was not to glamorize or berate teen drama, but to make us see the consequences of our choices. If I wasn’t a suicide survivor, I would probably like this book better because I would pay more attention to the message of the story instead of the details.

This book also hit a couple of triggers that made reading uncomfortable at times. I thought a lot about what my dad would say if he left tapes for me explaining why he committed suicide. Would I want to listen? Would I like what I hear? Would it help me understand his decision? I’m not sure there is ever a good reason for suicide even if it is detailed out.

This is what I liked:

This book kept my attention. I couldn’t but it down. The characters were interesting, the writing was good, and the dual-narrative format was a good choice. I thought Clay responded appropriately to what he heard, and they he genuinely cared for Hannah. I like that after I read this book, I wanted to be nicer to everyone I met. This book illustrates how even our small actions can negatively or positively influence those around us. She didn’t commit suicide over one event, it was a “snowball” of little things that built into something out of her control.

This is what I didn’t like:

  • While Hannah takes full responsibility for her choice and claims that these tapes are for information and not placing blame, that’s not how her story sounds. My experience is that people who attempt or commit suicide do so because they feel like they are a burden to those who know them. Hannah almost sounded like she was doing it out of spite.
  • Building on the previous bullet point, Hannah’s tone also didn’t sound like someone who was clinically depressed. It was lively and strong, and while she talked about depression and suicide, I didn’t get those vibes from her.
  • Her reasons for committing suicide seemed petty to me. I feel bad typing this, but I want to be honest. I know you can’t understand what’s happening in someone else’s life. We all experience adversity differently, and the pain it causes is very real to the sufferer even if it’s minimal to everyone else. Hannah admits that there was more to the story than what she was telling her listeners, but her experience sounded so typical of high school life that it’s hard to imagine it would push her over the edge. I’m not saying that what she experienced was easy, just that it’s nothing uncommon. (Sad, but true.) But hey, I’ve been out of high school for 14 years. What do I know? Teens think and a feel a lot differently from adults. If I was a teen, maybe I would understand Hannah better.
In conclusion, yes, I recommend this book. It’s a good examination of the consequences and taboo surrounding teen suicide. It’s well written, it’s gripping, and the characters are well-developed. The message is clear, and relevant to all. It can lead to some good discussions. But I would not recommend this as the authoritative guide to suicide.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Physician Assisted Suicide

An article was published today that says Stephen Hawking would consider physician assisted suicide if he were in great pain and felt he had nothing more to contribute to his family or science. He clarifies by saying that he feels that is still a long way off.

For those of you who don’t know him, Stephen Hawking is a world renowned physicist and cosmologist who has made spectacular breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe over the past century. He was diagnosed with a slow form of ALS when he was in his twenties, and he is in a wheelchair and uses a computer to help him speak.

Physician assisted suicide is legal here in Washington State where I live. (Also in Oregon and Vermont, and many other states are considering it.) The law came on the ballot for vote here in November 2008 and passed by a narrow margin. It caused many debates among my social worker and nurse colleagues. All of them had different opinions and experiences, some of them related to their clinical practice and others related to their religious beliefs.

I felt all of them had valid reasons for their opinions. The vote was a month before my dad had a stroke, and just under a year before he committed suicide. I didn’t have any experience with the terminally ill or anyone who was suffering from a severe chronic health condition. I listened to all the arguments from my coworkers, friends, and family. I read the statements put out by the hospital where I worked. It was a tough decision for me, but in the end, I voted “no.” I felt that hospice and many other end of life care programs were a better option than killing yourself.

Then my dad had a stroke that completely changed his personality and took away his memory and problem solving skills. My calm, loving, quiet, father was turned into a verbally aggressive, delusional, extremely depressed, wheelchair bound man who thought my attempts to take care of him were my way of getting to his money. It was hard. It wasn’t just hard for the people who had to take care of him, it was hard for him. He was scaring everyone away with his quick temper, and that made him feel even lonelier while he was struggling to recover. I think about the pain he was in – mentally and physically – and I want to cry. The first feeling I had when I heard about my dad’s suicide was relief. I laughed through my tears, “Thank, God! It’s over!”

I also think about Robin Williams, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just before his suicide, and also a friend of mine whose dad committed suicide shortly after his Parkinson’s diagnosis. This friend often wonders if seeing her dad crippled by the disease would have been easier than surviving his suicide.

Do you view physician assisted suicide as suicide or is it a humane way for a suffering person to die with dignity? Has your experience as a suicide survivor changed your opinion?

If I had to vote all over again, I would still vote “no.” I can see and understand how death with dignity could be considered a humane and easier way to die. I’ve seen my dad suffer from his stroke and my friends and family suffer through cancer. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, and I hate that they are in pain all the time. I think the medical community sometimes focuses more on quantity than quality of life, and that we’re a culture that fears death and tries to put it off for as long as humanly possible. Sometimes longer than we should put it off. To that I say, let’s work on getting better care to these people and making the last of their time comfortable instead of planning their escape.

From a religious point of view, I don’t think it’s ever in God’s plan for any of us to get chronically ill. I think that’s part of Him letting life happen, and He doesn’t intervene. Does God want us to suffer? No. Does he want us to take our own life when we’re in unbearable pain? Probably not. Even if we’re going to die in 6 months anyway? My answer is that whatever decision you make is between you and God, and I’m not here to judge it. What I know is that as hard as it was taking care of my dad, I would rather he be here now in whatever state he’s in than to go through the hurt of grieving his suicide. I’ll always wonder about the time we could have had.


P.S. For those of you unfamiliar with the Death with Dignity laws, you have to be diagnosed by a doctor to have less than 6 months to live. You also have to be mentally evaluated to be of sound mind and have witnesses that can vouch for this. The physician then writes a prescription for the lethal dose of medications, which you fill at the pharmacy. It’s up to you to take the medicine when you’re ready or not take it at all. It has to be self-administered, meaning you have to be able to drink the lethal dose without help. My dad, even if he lived in a Death with Dignity state, would not have qualified.