See Jonathan’s article at the Root here.
I’ve read of the suicides of many people in the past, and no such story is a good story. Whether it’s a person who’s in the public eye or a person who was hardly noticed, we lose a person. A mother devastated by her toddler’s death. An actor who suffered in bruising isolation. A seminarian whose struggle was largely unseen. A doctor who couldn’t continue under mental anguish. A pastor who was overwhelmed by everything.
The loss is aggravated by the circumstances surrounding the death. Those left to respond rotate a series of questions, all of them in big-deal categories. We question life, ours and theirs. We wonder about God and faith. We query our social relationships and relatives. We turn to the tragic circumstances that form around an individual and try to see them.
Here are a few things I think are worth doing–commitments worth making–when someone commits suicide, in no particular order. They sound too general because I’ve written them about “a person” and I fully intend for that be come across as a person who comes to mind, a particular person, a designated individual or individuals who you love:
- We commit to being and not only doing, to tunneling into the beautiful wonder that is the self and to emerging from that wonder with a stubbornness for searching for the same in others.
- We commit to grieving, feeling as fully as possible, the deep fissures in us when someone kills herself or himself.
- We commit to becoming more human by relating to individuals differently and based upon their uniqueness all the time.
- We commit to the hard work of paying attention to what turns a person, lifts up a person, spoils a person, hurts a person.
- We commit to loving as much as possible in the present moment.
- We commit to getting mental and emotional support for ourselves and our communities in the forms of clergy who are permanently slanted in the direction of full liberation; therapists who are helpful in pursing with us our own deep change in the face of psychologically rough worlds; spiritual directors who can listen us into freedom as we journey into the company of God together; family members who embrace us unconditionally and love us lavishly; and friends who are just like family and who stay in place when family diminishes, drops, or dies.
- We commit to asking better questions, even when the question is “How are you?” and staying around for the response.
- We commit to telling another person how they impacted us, how we felt because of something they did or said, and how we are changed specifically because they matter.
- We commit to standing close when a person feels abandoned, reminding them by our physical presence when our unheard words ring hollow that we are with them.
- We commit to responding after any death with a voracious invitation to our own special life, to cultivating healthier relationships, to dealing with the destructive dynamics in our own lives, to being different and better people, and to advocating for everybody’s healthcare and self-care.
Also, if you’re in Chicago, consider attending the National Day of Solidarity to Prevent Physician Suicide.
Grief is a mixed and dangerous behavior. It is mixed because of its unpredictability. When you grieve well, you surrender to ignorance. You don’t know what you’ll do, which way you’ll turn, or how you’ll act.
There is no map for the terrain in that area. There are hints of light and markers of how others have travelled that world. But those are only markers, only signs that keep us from believing we’re alone in our peril.
It is true that grieving is isolating, but as we grieve, God keeps us looking long enough to see how many people surround us. And we adapt to our way of getting through it. We may even surprise ourselves. “I didn’t see that coming” or “I can’t believe I said that.”
Upon inspection of our selves—when we monitor our souls—we see our behavior in that moment as an instance of grief, a mixed-up flash of pain on display. Grief is mixed.
And it is dangerous. Grief changes you. To put it better, loss changes you. When you lose, you grieve, and it is the tearing that turns you into someone else.
I think I’m starting to wonder about how people have lost in life before I wonder whether I can trust them. I’m generally a cool individual. I don’t let people get rises out of me. I function mostly by keeping my energy on reserve. But I open to people who lose. I am primed toward people who express that loss.
Not in every case, but it’s incredibly helpful when I meet a person who is in touch with her losses, acquainted with his grief. Because that contact keeps a person honest. Being close to anguish keeps you humble.
It helps you maintain your proximity toward the ground. You stay at the ground of your being and you stay near the earth because, plainly, you’ve put someone or something you loved in that earth. And when you’ve placed a significant other in the ground, you look at that ground with new wonder.
That is change. You look at the world differently. You see something that wasn’t there (for you) before. And that’s dangerous. Being changed and being able to change is miraculously dangerous.
There is a misconception that abuse is limited to physicality (or heterosexual relationships) but it’s not. I believe emotional, psychic and psychological abuse is also unacceptable and just as damaging.
There is so much worth rehearsing in our heads, pushing into our ways of being, and practicing in our relationships in those words and in the post below. I’ve been encountering more conversations about intimate partner violence, relational abuse, domestic violence, whichever brand you’re familiar with. And among the many things I question and consider, I come back to how I’ll raise my son to live in the world.
But I’m a pastor and a teacher, and I always (and almost immediately) question what I’m saying and showing and putting forward for the people who are a part of my spheres of ministry and influence. I hope the men especially that I know are doing the same things as they listen to the news, watch television, and engage in barbershop talk.
The sinister evil of abuse is in its pervading, serpent-like ability to creep and dance and stand in culture as if it belongs, as if the world is as it should be when people harm one another. Of course, it is a part of my faith structure, my theology, my talk about God-in-relation-to-God’s-stuff to say that the world is not exactly the way it should be and that such violence is only a grand, bold, and startling show of how bad the world is in these instances.
Relational violence is a narrow version of violence, and violence in its broadest sense is wrong and misdirected and worth our being troubled over and changed by. But this type of violence, this violence that happens between people who supposedly love each other, people who are related to each other, is so destructive.
I tell couples in my church who are preparing for marriage that marriage is so potentially and actually effective, for good or bad, because marriage is one of those mystical vehicles that God uses to initiate, enrich, or nurture grace in our lives. Of course, I can say about other vehicles and not marriage alone, but my point is to say that the impact of marriage is in its strong placement in our lives. We do marriage daily, and when we give ourselves to certain practices daily, those practices–loving practices, misshapen practices, and so forth–eventually because the ways we get whatever we perceive God has for us.
Further, or in other words, marriage specifically and loving relationships more broadly construct how we understand, accept, and exhibit love. Those relationships influence and shape us. So when those relationships are inherently and historically violent, we attach all types of meanings to that violence in the context of a relationship, right?
We think that relationships are supposed to be violent and that when violence isn’t present, the relationship is off. We believe worse things, too, like our prospects for better love or different love are low. We set ourselves into a theological or psychological framework to judge our love and our promise-keeping by our settling with abuse. We believe our faith demands that loyalty and commitment be expressed through the daily submission of our whole selves to the foolish presentation of hatred through words and gestures and the lack of good words and good gestures.
I’m grateful for all the good teachers and tutors who help me walk through the conversations (hushed though they may be) happening in the media these days. This post–and perhaps all the posts over at the Crunk Feminist Collective–needs to make its rounds. Read the full post here. And share it.
I read these strategies over at the Crunk Feminist Collective, and while they’re especially written for Black women, I think all women and all men who love women and want to love women well should ingest them. We need to know how to live, how to address the stressors in our lives, how to stop pushing away our “needs and desires down until we can’t feel them anymore.”
I think mothers, fathers, and friends of mothers and fathers need to be aware these strategies for staying alive. I think of this list, and lists like them, as little love points for the people I care about. I think these are some of the ways we ought to push each other live and thrive and flourish.
Read the full post here. Because there’s a steeped personal introduction to the tips, a poem you really need to sip, a lot words I’ve left, and a few other things that are worth seeing over in the Collective.
- Take some time to/for yourself and be unapologetic about it. At least one hour a day should be yours.
- Say no! Be impolite. Say no (without an explanation/reason).
- Reject negativity. …we don’t have to take on other people’s baggage.
- Pay attention to your body. When your body speaks, listen! And do something about it.
- Have a bi-annual or annual check-up. While sometimes our family histories can be mysteries, it is important to know what hereditary diseases or ailments you may be at risk for.
- Do a regular inventory and purge anything toxic in your life. This includes people, relationships, thoughts, habits, and hobbies.
- Let people go. If someone fails to treat you like the queen you are…on to the next one.
- Don’t be a people pleaser. Living your life for yourself and not for other people makes a world of difference.
- Have a confidante. We should all have someone in our life we don’t have to “put on” for.
- Celebrate yourself and your accomplishments even if/when you have to do it (by/for) yourself. Don’t miss an opportunity to acknowledge all of what/who you are and where you come from.
- Take care of yourself mentally, physically and spiritually. Figure out how best to take care of yourself.
- Kick it, regularly, with your homegirls. This can be magic.
- Let people do things for you. When someone offers to do something for you, let them!
If I didn’t suggest this already, read the full post here.