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April 2008


By Al Vigil

We know that the ones we lose to suicide find themselves in an 'endless tunnel with no light at the end.' The light is of course used to describe hope, with a belief that choosing life can still be an option. I believe that the pain of a suicidal person, the hopelessness, the helplessness, creates this tunnel vision.

It brings such pain that stopping it becomes the only option and never seeing the light at the end of the tunnel becomes something they cannot envision. They do not believe that they will ever emerge into the light again so they choose to stop where they are in their tunnel.

Thirty two thousand people every year stop their journey in the tunnel.

Many survivors of someone's suicide also go through the tunnel. I have been there. I have felt the pain of grief so strong that the light, if there was one at the time -was indeed very dim. And faded. Obviously the tunnel light brightened and I was able to emerge into the sunshine again.

But I have been scared for myself, for members of my family, and for many suicide survivors that I have met.

We need to recognize that we can be the bearers of 'light.' We need to know when to pick up and hold high a light of hope. The light can take many forms. It can be a touch, a telephone call, a note, or a smile. We don't always have to know 'the right thing to say.' We just need to know what is the 'wrong thing to do.'

And the wrong thing to do -is to do nothing. The wrong thing to is to pretend someone we care for is not grieving and hurting.

The person who said to me, during the darkest part of my tunnel, "I care for you," held up a lighted candle. Later someone else added, "We're thinking of you," and that added even more lights.

Then during the early days of grief, after our daughters suicide, we were at a suicide survivor meeting and we began to feel that we were not alone with this pain. Thus more candles were lit and soon all those lights merged to become a beacon at the end of our tunnel.

Unfortunately, we loose so many special people who do not Choose Life, and are lost in the tunnel and see no light at the end.

The light at the end of the tunnel has been made brighter because Sharing & Healing is part of people's lives all over the country. They have Chosen Life.

Please let us know what has happened to you and what has added light to your tunnel.


By : Jaime Clayton

Some people underestimate the strength of currents

The power they have to sweep people off their feet

Or the ability to change someone's life in such a short time

Withstanding the power of the current is almost impossible

Somehow it finds its way around all the obstacles thrown at it

No one can dodge it and everyone encounters a wave at one point

Some are smooth and everlasting and others can be rough and full of regret

It can be exhausting to get through it and seems pointless at times

However the end result can be beautiful and life changing

The ride is long and strenuous and never easy

It requires sacrifices, patience, loyalty, and trust

Without these things the outcome is questionable

It is single-handedly the scariest ride in life

And, without a doubt, the most exhilarating

Facing this journey is a great display of character

To show the experience commitment and passion

Have compassion and always be happy

And remember that your partner is on the same scary ride

And they put forth just as much effort to face the current

Just so they could say they accomplished it with you


"With much wisdom comes much sorrow;

the more knowledge, the more grief."

Those ancient words are all too true for those who

face the sobering impact and frequency of suicide.

Death has been called the 'the new obscenity,' the nasty thing which no polite person nowadays will talk about in public. If that's the case, suicide is the proverbial elephant in the room that everyone would rather ignore than talk about.

While suicides often take place in isolation, they never are unnoticed by others.

There are over one million suicides worldwide every year, each leaving behind at least 6 and often 10 or more survivors to wrestle with the aftershock. About 3,200 suicides occur in the US alone each year. That's one every 17 minutes, making it the eleventh leading cause of death. More people in the US die each year by suicide than HIV or homicide. It is estimated that in the US alone there are well over 5 million suicide survivors, and more than 12,000 children who will lose a parent this year to suicide.

While those numbers alone are staggering, it's even more sobering to learn that for every death by -suicide there are 25 attempts. Yet such statistics do not reveal the vast oceans of despair behind them.

WHO'S AT RISK? Who is most vulnerable to suicide? Although there are many exceptions, gender, race, and age are all factors.

GENDER - While males are four times more likely to die by suicide, females attempt suicide three times as often as males. The disparity in these numbers has to do with the fact that males usually choose more lethal means. Males use a gun 60 percent of the time, while females often use a drug overdose.

RACE - White Americans are twice as likely to die by suicide than all other racial backgrounds.

AGE - While the overall rate of suicide among youth has slowly declined since 1992, suicide still remains high and is third leading cause of death among young people ages 15-24 and the second leading cause of death among those 22-34. Surprisingly, suicide rates increase with age and are very high among people 65 and older, especially those who are suffering with physical illnesses or are divorced or widowed. In fact, the group most vulnerable to suicide is white American males over the age of 65. In spite of the desperation suicidal people battle with, the real victims of suicide are not those who die but those who are left behind to face the aftermath of a self-inflicted death.

WHO SUFFERS? - A self-inflicted death does to the hearts of surviving loved ones what a suicide bomber does to the bodies and souls of his victims. Those closest to the emotional blast experience not only the physical impact but also the emotional devastation of a suicide. But whole communities are also deeply affected.

THE IMMEDIATE FAMILY - Family members are the first and most obvious of the unwilling victims. One woman (now in her forties) spoke of the horror of finding her mother hanging in her bedroom closet after she returned from a date her mother didn't approve of. She was 17. She has relentlessly questioned her own judgement ever since. One father left a suicide note instructing his 12-year old son to clean up "the mess" from the shotgun blast in the basement so that his mother wouldn't have to deal with it later when she came home after work. The stains on his heart and soul still linger 50 years after he'd scrubbed his hands raw cleaning up the basement floor and walls. He still keeps the note tucked away in the back of a dresser drawer, reassuring himself that at least he obeyed his dad's final request. But family members are not the only survivors.

THE COMMUNITY - Where the individual worked or went to school also suffers. The suicide of a student touches everyone -not only other students but teachers, administrators, and support staff. In a very real sense, the school itself becomes a community of survivors I remember my son's experience as a college sophomore when one of the seniors in his dorm committed suicide during spring break. When my son arrived back on campus, the whole tone of the school had shifted. The chapels were different, the faculty was shaken, and students spent hours talking late into the night. They were all taking a crash course in suicide survival that no one had signed up for.

THE CHURCH - Where the person worshiped will have members who will question God's lack of intervention the value of their own faith, and what went wrong that another's faith didn't seem to be enough. In the aftermath of a suicide, questions about eternal destiny, loss of hope, and forgiveness will most likely surface as well.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD - Where the individual lived is also impacted, especially if the suicide took place in the home. I remember the phone call from my parents informing me about the suicide of an elderly neighbor who lived across the street from us when I was growing up. He had long since retired from the police force and was caring for his ailing wife. Apparently he had lost all hope of any meaningful quality of life in their future together. So one night after getting ready for bed. He shot his wife with his service revolver and then turned the gun on himself. Even though I was removed from direct contact with them by years and distance, I was not immune to the impact of their deaths. The peaceful street where I grew up was now changed by a violence that left it's damage. The sudden impact of this man's irrevocable decision left a lingering sadness for my parents and the rest of the neighbors.

JUDY COLLINS, known for her remarkable singing career, is also the author of "Sanity & Grace." Her grief journey and recovery from her son Clark's suicide, in 1992, at age 33. She writes in the hope the book will shed more light upon the dark taboo of suicide. The book is her personal journey and part resource guide for others recovering from the suicide of a loved one.

- The following are selected questions and remarks Ms. Collins made to BeliefNet

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

-A Painful Book to Write

Yes, but there are very few things you can do with these sorts of experiences except try to share them -to hopefully help people.

-Recovering from a Suicide Can be a Spiritual Journey

Well, if I had not been already been meditating, I would certainly have had to start. I've treated my own depression for many years with exercise and meditation, and I've found that to be a tremendous help. Recovering from the suicide of a loved one, you need all the help you can get, so I very much recommend a meditation program. The whole picture of how to recover from this has to do with body, mind, and spirit. That's applicable to any kind of depression. I have something I call the "SEVEN T's" that I like to use to help people going through this recovery. They're basic and mundane, but they help.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


TRUTH - Is that there are no guilts in suicide.

THERAPY - There are so many networks for recovery, places to find healing and help and communication with other people who have suffered from this loss.

TRUST - You must live your life and not shut down. There is a kind of post-traumatic illness associated with suicide, so we want to get out and talk about it, and talk about the person that we loved.

TRY - Means try to stay away from alcohol and drugs in the recovery.

TREAT - the mind, body, and spirit -exercise, meditate.

TREASURE - the moments -journaling is very helpful for this.

THRIVE - Means be positive, hopeful and loving. Know that you can get through this.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

- Faith Has Been a Teacher Through This

I was certainly raised in the Christian belief, but I have a practice that believes in all saints and all gurus. Anybody who's been on the journey can help me. I'm a multi-disciplinary person. I do a meditation discipline, which is probably eastern in its origins, but I think that everything helps.

-You Have Publicly Revealed Your Own Suicide Attempt

I talked about it briefly in a previous book, and I think I mentioned it in "Trust Your Heart." I think it is part of the bigger picture, that maybe I have a better understanding of this than other people because I'm a survivor [of a suicide attempt] myself. I think suicide is sort of like cancer was 50 years ago. People don't want to talk about it, they don't want to know about it. People are frightened of it, and they don't understand, when actually these issues are medically treatable. They're things that we know about--mental illness, depression, the body chemistry. We've seen absolutely remarkable progress -with illnesses, with cancers.

-Lot of Progress in How We Understand Suicide, Since When Clark Killed Himself

Yes, there has. Now there's more to read, there's more available. So I'm adding, I hope, to the fund of information that will be available to anyone who has this experience.

-Your Book Touches People Who Have Dealt with Suicide, as Well as Those Who Haven't

I'm hoping it will be one more voice added to the chorus of creating a new way to look at the survival of a loved one's death from suicide, to help further the understanding that this is an illness, like heart disease. I did a lot of research -this is not only a personal journey of my own, but I also incorporate things I've learned, the studies, the reading, the talks I've had with people in the field. So I'm offering a bit of a short cut from where I was after my son's death.

-Books or Teachers That Helped You

When my son Clark died, I had a group of books I used regularly. There are many tools to use, but some that helped me a great deal included Stephen Levine's book, "Meetings at the Edge." It was tremendously helpful. "Around the World with Emmet Fox" always helps me. I love the "Letters of the Scattered Brotherhood," a series of letters written by Catholics after the second World War. James Hillman wrote a book called "Suicide and the Soul," which I found very helpful.

-Religion So Often Treats Suicide as a Sin

Yes, it has! For many centuries, suicides were treated like criminals by the society. That is part of the terrible legacy that has come down into society's method of handling suicide recovery. Now we have to fight off the demons that have been hanging around suicides for centuries.


By : Jaime Clayton

Brother or Sister

Cousin or Grandparent

Long-lived or cut short

People are still affected

Life is still lost

Husband or Wife

Best-Friend or Lover

It's still inevitable

Well expected or undetected

Life is still lost

Murder or Suicide

Old-Age or Pre-Mature

It finds everyone

Someone will suffer

Life is still lost

No one can escape it

Some ways are better than others

There is no way ro prepare for it

It's never easy to accept

Life is still lost


- Edited from several media Articles - Feb. 2008

A new five-year analysis of the nation's death rates recently released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rate among 45 to 54 year-olds increased nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2004, the latest year studied, far outpacing changes in nearly every other age group.
For women 45 to 54, the rate leapt 31 percent. "That is certainly a break from trends of the past," said Ann Haas, the research director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
By contrast, the suicide rate for 15-to-19-year-olds increased less than 2 percent during that five-year period - and decreased among people 65 and older.
The question is why? What happened in 1999 that caused the suicide rate to suddenly rise primarily for those in midlife? For health experts, it is like discovering the wreckage of a plane crash without finding the black box that recorded flight data just before the aircraft went down.
Experts say that the poignancy of a young death and higher suicide rates among the very old in the past have drawn the vast majority of news attention and prevention resources. For example, $82 million was devoted to youth suicide prevention programs in 2004, after the 21-year-old son of Senator Gordon H. Smith, Republican of Oregon, killed himself. Suicide in middle age, by comparison, is often seen as coming at the end of a long downhill slide. A defined problem of alcoholics and drug addicts.
"There's a social-bias issue here," said Dr. Eric C. Caine, co-director at the Center for the Study of Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester Medical Center, explaining why suicide in the middle years of life had not been extensively studied before.
There is a "national support system for those under 19, and those 65 and older," Dr. Caine added, but not for people in between, even though "the bulk of the burden from suicide is in the middle years of life."
Of the more than 32,000 people who committed suicide in 2004, 14,607 were 40 to 64 years old (6,906 of those were 45 to 54); 5,198 were over 65; 2,434 were under 21.

Complicating any analysis is the nature of suicide itself. It cannot be diagnosed through a simple X-ray or blood test. Official statistics include the method of suicide - a gun, for instance, or a drug overdose -but they do not say whether the victim was an addict or a first-time drug user. And although an unusual event might cause the suicide rate to spike, like in Thailand after Asia's economic collapse in 1997, suicide much more frequently punctuates a long series of troubles - mental illness, substance abuse, unemployment, failed romances.
Without a "psychological autopsy" into someone's mental health, Dr. Caine said, "we're kind of in the dark."
The lack of concrete research has given rise to all kinds of theories, including a sudden drop in the use of hormone-replacement therapy by menopausal women after health warnings in 2002, higher rates of depression among baby boomers or a simple statistical fluke.
At the moment, the prime suspect is the skyrocketing use -and abuse -of prescription drugs. During the same five-year period included in the study, there was a staggering increase in the total number of drug overdoses, both intentional and accidental, like the one that recently killed the 28-year-old actor Heath Ledger. Illicit drugs also increase risky behaviors, C.D.C. officials point out, noting that users' rates of suicide can be 15 to 25 times as great as the general population.

Looking at the puzzling 28.8 percent rise in the suicide rate among women ages 50 to 54, Andrew C. Leon, a professor of biostatistics in psychiatry at Cornell, suggested that a drop in the use of hormone replacement therapy after 2002 might be implicated. It may be that without the therapy, more women fell into depression, Dr. Leon said, but he cautioned this was just speculation.
Despite the sharp rise in suicide among middle-aged women, the total number who died is still relatively small: 834 in the 50-to-54-year-old category in 2004. Over all, four of five people who commit suicide are men. For men 45 to 54, the five-year rate increase was 15.6 percent.
Veterans are another vulnerable group. Some surveys show they account for one in five suicides, said Dr. Ira Katz, who oversees mental health programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs. That is why the agency joined the national toll-free suicide hot line last August.
In the last five years, Dr. Katz said, the agency has noticed that the highest suicide rates have been among middle-aged men and women. Those most affected are not returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, he said, but those who served in Vietnam or right after, when the draft ended and the all-volunteer force began. "The current generation of older people seems to be at lesser risk for depression throughout their lifetimes" than the middle-aged, he said.
That observation seems to match what Myrna M. Weissman, the chief of the department in Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology at New York State Psychiatric Institute, concluded was a susceptibility to depression among the affluent and healthy baby boom generation two decades ago, in a 1989 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. One possible reason she offered was the growing pressures of modern life, like the changing shape of families and more frequent moves away from friends and relatives that have frayed social support networks.
More recently, reports of a study that spanned 80 countries found that around the world, middle-aged people were unhappier than those in any other age group, but that conclusion has been challenged by other research, which found that among Americans, middle age is the happiest time of life.
Indeed, statistics can sometimes be as confusing as they are enlightening. Shifts in how deaths are tallied make it difficult to compare rates before and after 1999, C.D.C. officials said. Epidemiologists also emphasize that at least another five years of data on suicide are needed before any firm conclusions can be reached about a trend.
The confusion over the evidence reflects the confusion and mystery at the heart of suicide itself.


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