Text Size

January 2005


By Linda Vigil

The loss of our daughter Mia to suicide, I feel, was a waste of life and such an unnecessary loss!

Working through my sadness, anger, guilt and grief has brought about the realization of
'necessary losses' that many times follow the act of suicide, not only with family members but with friends and acquaintances!

It's taken me time, anger, and much emotional pain to let many of these people go and to understand "Why."

When there is a loss of a loved one to suicide it brings to the surface, pain which many people have buried deep within themselves, regarding many different issues in ones life. Many times this pain has never been conscious, much less ever dealt with. At this time, the realization of our pain brings forth choices.

One choice is to deal with our pain, hoping to find a better understanding of the situation that created it and learning to put it in it's proper perspective, so we can continue to grow and learn to live, not merely exist. This does take much energy and we sometimes suffer from fatigue due to the effort of establishing priorities in our lives. This also takes courage! Those people, who choose to bury their own pain, create distance.

We are forever changed and the choice of working through our grief, including the emotional and physical pain, brings to the realization that the choices we make are always unique, and the individual paths we choose, we must sometimes walk alone.

Some family, friends and acquaintances are left behind, as 'necessary losses', so we may continue our own lives in Sharing and Healing.

We didn't cause it
We don't own it
We are not responsible
for -our loved one's suicide!


"THE ENIGMA OF SUICIDE" by George Howe Colt (Reviewed By Al Vigil)

Webster's Dictionary define's ENIGMA as : a noun ; "... like a riddle. Something hard to understand. A mystery."

Published in 1991, The Enigma Of Suicide book cover describes George Howe Colt's book as "a timely investigation into the causes, the possibilities for prevention and the paths to healing." When I first read this statement it seemed grandiose for a book with the elusive word 'enigma' in the title.

However the author makes a strong foundation, based on over a one-hundred book bibliography, over two-hundred articles and mostly very important and valuable personal interviews of suicidal and survivor case histories. This book proves itself as essentially enlightening to those trying to understand the subject of suicide.

Though not a mental health professional, a social scientist or even a suicide survivor, author George Colt presents us with a book that can serve us as a reference book and as a healing book. There are always "why's" about suicide. We know that when people kill themselves they take many of the suicide puzzle pieces with them. In this book, with all of the personal associations shared by the author and his interviews with the numerous cases, some of us may find a few more pieces and fill out a little more of the puzzle that envelops us. Suicide survivors will read and understand case histories " as being like their own" as they recognize the words and the feelings that other suicide survivors also go through.

Several poems, expressions of love and of pain, of hope and of despair, are sprinkled throughout the 500 pages of this book. The printed words are many times hard to read through your tears, but like most tears they can cleanse the soul.

The study of suicide is probably as old as mankind. There are seven instances of self-destructive behavior in the Old Testament and one completion, and one attempt is reported in the New Testament. There is even an "Encyclopedia Of Suicide." Now we have The Enigma of Suicide, a comprehensive in-depth combination of the clinical and the human sides of "the riddle. The mystery." The author sets out facts and feelings, and readers soon experience a personal understanding of what's happening in the suicide studies, as well as what's happening to them in their own lives. I read this book intently the first time, listening for the facts, and I'm going to read it again listening for the heart strings.

This is a book of insights and wisdom, possible to leaf through and impossible to put down. It's a heavy book for the heart. It's a light book -it can also help heal the heart.

But ...I still have some Why's? I lost a child to suicide.

"The Enigma Of Suicide"
A Touchstone Book is published by Simon & Shuster.

Edited from an article that appeared in

Dallas Life Magazine : 02/25/1990
Written by Sondra Sexton-Jones


On Wednesday, July 23rd, 1986, my husband Ray, pulled his truck into the garage and stretched a piece of garden hose from the tail pipe to the cab. To help hold the hose snugly in place, Ray pushed a rag around it and into the tailpipe : It held. His movements were deliberate and well planned, down to adding oil to the truck's engine, he made certain nothing would stop him. Four months past his 52nd birthday, my husband was dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. We had been married five years, seven months, eight days.

Strange people move in and through a house after a suicide. Close neighbors made their presence known, watching silently as the police and paramedics did their jobs. Sitting on the couch in the living room, my hands clenched tightly I tried to grasp what was happening. Soft-spoken strangers asked questions I could not answer. The response " I don't know," rolled out of my mouth like a priest's litany. I felt as if an invisible blanket had swaddled me, separating me from those in the room.

A police officer asked me for something written by Ray to compare it with a note he had left in the truck, I went to the bedroom. The covers of our bed were still as he had left them, folded back from his place there. Suddenly I could not remember why I was in the room.

I finished the night at a neighbor's house. I fretted in unfamiliar surroundings, sitting on the edge of someone else's bed, staring out a window. Questions quick silvered through my mind: Why? How did he reach the decision to kill himself? When? That morning? What was his frame of mind as he thought out his death? What was he thinking as he positioned the hose, as he stepped into the cab of the truck and turned on the key? Did he think of us, of me? Did it hurt to die by carbon monoxide poisoning? Where did he go? How did I miss the signs? And what did I miss?

I had no answers for them or for myself. Ray's death transformed me into a woman possessed -possessed with reassembling the shards of a shattered life. And I wanted answers. I quizzed friends, people he had worked with, family. The results were always the same : No one had any answers.

Guilt mushroomed. I was a mental health professional -what had I missed? I'm his wife-I should have known! I've failed my husband, my family, even my profession. And then there were the crazies, as I came to call them -behavior that could only be described as attempts to deal with my pain. They first occurred the morning after Ray's death. Standing in the doorway of our bedroom, I stared at the bedcovers as he had left them. The sheets with soft pink flowers seemed objectionable in the new circumstances. With quiet fury, I pulled them from the bed and methodically shredded the king size sheets into spaghetti-like strings. I do not recall what I did with the pile of material.

Sometimes I would stand in his closet, wrapping his clothes around me, drinking in the smell of his tobacco. His platform rocker sat in mute testimony to one gone. I alternated between sitting in it curled up, pushed into the curve of his arm, or flailing at it, screaming at his absence. Ultimately, I got rid of it.

I searched out those special places where we had spent time, retracing those moments. Pulling out cards, notes and sketches that had passed between us, I touched the richness of shared expressions. I felt an incredible pull to his grave. At first, it was to see the scarred earth, to reinforce the reality of his death. Later I would sit at the site, pulling weeds, smoothing the red clay that blanketed him. I was obsessed with wanting grass to cover the grave. I talked to him. I screamed at him. I leaned against the headstone. Sometimes in my desperate need to experience his nearness I would lie down, my body stretched over his.

My energy level was incredible even though I was sleeping and eating very little. Nights were the worst. Weeks passed before I could make myself get back into our bed. I painted the inside of the house four times in about eight months. I repeated stories and thoughts and perceptions of Ray incessantly.

It takes a long time to digest death. I am better. I recognize and accept that pieces of my life's puzzle will never fit together as they once did. Much happened in the months immediately after Ray's suicide is veiled in blurs and blissful forgetfulness.

From the beginning I decided to deal with Ray's suicide up front. I did not want it veiled. People process life's events in ways most comfortable to them. I process by talking, reading and keeping a journal. For a survivor, talking is imperative. Talking helps make the event real, lessens it's power, ultimately diffuses the horror.

Yet part of my struggle has been between loyalties to Ray's fierce feelings about privacy, and to my healing. Eventually I came to realize that consideration for Ray's feelings no longer mattered. I was the one left, he was dead. I had to deal with the circumstances of my life now, as best I could.

Time has moved incredibly slowly. I have wanted the agony of that night over and done with. Fact is, it will never be over. The pain will continue to diminish. Triggering events are less frequent; when they do happen, I smell and taste and feel the horror of that night, but the duration is shorter.

Therapy has helped. Participating in Survivor of Suicide support groups has also helped. Much attention has been devoted to individuals who kill themselves, and less to those of us left behind. Although less so now, trust has been a fragile issue. I am wary about lasting value of relationships. For not only did Ray leave, but family and friends unable to deal with his suicide pulled away, too. With the exception of one of his aunts, his family quickly fell out of contact with me.

Indeed, even professors at school, charged with teaching the act of helping, pulled away from the issue. For the most part, Ray's suicide became a non-event in the life of one of their students, brushed aside with statements of how well I was doing. At no time was Ray's suicide addressed in any of the classes I attended. The message I got was that it was not a topic to be discussed. In addition, though all the professors were trained as therapists, none asked me if I was in therapy or had sought help.

Moving forward does not mean forgetting. It means eventually reaching some sort of closure to the loss. Someone once told me that Ray's life must not be judged by the event that took him from those that loved him. In his life, he was caring, nurturing, compassionate human being. His chosen manner of leaving cannot diminish that fact.

Mixed with missing Ray, has been my rage at him for leaving, for giving up on himself, for giving up on life. It's hard to imagine a person in the prime of life giving up. If that person is one we love, it's even harder to comprehend and subsequently deal with. Questions arise about ones perceptions of someone we thought we knew so well. What I realize now is that I knew only the part Ray allowed me to see. What I fear most is never being able to remember him in any way except as he looked when I found him in the truck. So many photographs of us together, are scattered throughout the house.

I cannot change what has happened. I can and have chosen to make my life more meaningful, more compassionate, more loving, more forgiving.

Profound grief tends to make one very honest. There is little that I take for granted, for none of the old rules about life apply anymore. I am much more aware of the fragility of life. That knowledge manifests itself in my conscientiously telling people, that I love their importance. And I have discovered substance and meaning in life again, while at the same time being able to acknowledge the slender thread that holds us here.

Suicide is not a solitary act, for the person also kills a part of those left behind. With each successful cycle of significant dates comes a strength, a quiet awareness of growing calmness inside. And I remember Ray, particularly on the anniversary of his death, his birthday, our wedding anniversary and other holidays. But the focus has shifted to his life, the gifts he brought to my life, the good times shared between us.

The reality is that I will never have the answers to all of the questions about his suicide. Answers are as far from my reach as he is. His was not the act of one crazed. It was the act of a man crumpled, thwarted by life , who not only didn't fight back, but could not, nor would he talk about what troubled him. Because of Ray's death, suicide has a permanent place in my vocabulary and in my life. Suicide has a permanent place in my soul, and I am both stronger and more vulnerable because of it.

PANIC ATTACK : A Link To Suicides

Edited by Vigil's : From AP Articles:

People who suffer recurring panic attacks are more likely than others to try to kill themselves, suggesting that this often-neglected disorder may be a major contributing factor of suicide.

The researchers said their work should encourage doctors and other providers who see people during panic attacks to offer treatment for the disorder. Many persons experiencing panic attack symptoms turn up reportedly in hospital emergency departments should be alert to this problem.

Victims often seek professional help for heart attacks, choking and other medical emergencies that mimic the symptoms of panic attack. These people are often told "it's all in your head," rather than being referred to psychiatrists, said Dr. Myrna M. Weissman, a psychiatric epidemiologist at Columbia University, who directed the study. "I think that panic disorder ought to be taken seriously. It ought to be diagnosed."

The latest finding that panic attacks are strongly linked to suicide attempts "points to a potentially serious complication of common disorder that has been relatively neglected," said Dr. Kerrin White of McLean Hospital in Boston, Mass.

An estimate of 1.5 percent, or more than 3 million Americans have recurring bouts of intense fear that strikes for no apparent reasons. Two to three times this number may have occasional panic attacks. 10% of all people experience panic attacks at some point or other in their lives.

This study found 20% of people with panic disorder had attempted suicide, as had 12% of those with occasional panic attacks, 6% of those with other psychiatric disorders and 1% of those with no disorder had attempted suicide. The researchers said that many people plagued by these attacks often think that they are going crazy or dying. Many turn to alcohol, become afraid to leave their homes or grow depressed. Suicide is believed to be triggered primarily by depression.

"We hope this alerts the non-psychiatric physician to the potential mortality and morbidity of panic disorder," said Weissman. "The bottom line is that panic disorder is another risk factor for suicide attempts." Weissman's group studied 18,011 adults living in five U.S. communities. Each participant interviewed extensively using a standard questionnaire designed to identify a wide range of established psychiatric conditions.

Just why people with panic attacks are unusually prone to suicide is still unclear. Some believe that depression may play a major role, although it does not entirely explain the increased risk. "People who have panic attacks for many years become demoralized," said Dr. Gerald Klerman of Cornell Medical School, a co-author of the study. "They stay at home and withdraw socially and become depressed. We know that depressive feelings are associated with suicide."

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, along with an editorial by Dr. Peter Reich of MIT. "It is a rare event," he wrote, "when a new and useful information about suicide appears in medical literature...by diagnosing the disorder and explaining to the patient that the cause may be biological, a physician can bring the patient some relief."

During panic attacks, people are gripped by sudden, unpredictable waves of intense apprehension or fear. The precise cause of these attacks is unclear. In some cases the tendency may be inherited. They may suffer a variety of symptoms, including difficulty breathing, palpitations, chest pains, choking, dizziness and cold flashes, among other sensations. As a result many become unable to concentrate or sleep followed by chronic fatigue and strain with increased anxiety and depression.

"Panic attacks can be controlled with medical treatment and behavioral therapy. Some people however, simply try to live with their episodes of terror," said Dr.Brian Doyle of Georgetown University.

Recognizing Seriously Suicidal Signs

By Leo F. Buscaglia
(Printed with permission)

Life is a miracle. It is the most precious and irreplaceable gift. To lose life through an accident or incurable illness is unfortunate, but to lose it through suicide is an incalculable tragedy. It is, therefore, disturbing that in the United States someone will commit suicide every 18 minutes.

Men are three times as likely to kill themselves as women, although women attempt suicide three times as often as men. The high incidence of suicide among adolescents and the elderly has reached epidemic proportions. Nowhere in the world is the rate growing as rapidly as in the United States. The number of adolescent suicides has tripled in the past 20 years, and more than 10,000 people over the age of 60 will take their lives this year.

The frightening aspect is that we don't know why a person would choose to end his or her life. There are many theories, but they are just that. We simplify the issue by saying suicide is caused by mental illness. But this is not always the case. Neither is it necessarily a result of despondency, hopelessness or loss of alternatives. Research shows that these reasons offer no conclusive answers. Suicide is committed by all kinds of people; poor, rich, educated, illiterate, despondent, content. The suicide rate among professionals, well-educated, financially secure individuals is above the U.S. national rate. The average total is 28,000 per year.

Though confusing and not definitive, suicide literature suggests recurring themes that are worth noting. It is commonly believed, for example, that those who talk about killing themselves are the ones who never do. This is contrary to the fact. It has been found that a person who talks about suicide is calling for help. So loud is the victim's cry that he will leave clues such as detailed plans or notes, and he may even give away his possessions. These are obvious hints that often go unnoticed by loved ones who do not want to admit that someone they know is considering suicide.

A suicidal person who has attempted suicide will often say later that he told his parents about his urge to end it all, but they didn't take it seriously. It was only after a suicide attempt that they realized he meant what he said.

Another notion is that once a person is suicidal, he will always have that tendency. The facts show that this is untrue. For a brief time, most suicidal people feel the urge during a period of stress, loneliness or failure. It has been demonstrated that if these individuals can be helped through their depressed state, they are less likely to consider suicide again.

I recently met with parents whose teen-age son had killed himself with his father's handgun. Their pain was overwhelming and, in hindsight, they could see signs of his intention that they had misinterpreted. They recognized their son's despondency but were convinced that it was growing pains.

Like most of us, these parents thought it could never happen. They are stable people with the same fears and hopes most of us have. They may not have been able to prevent what happened, but they will always struggle with the thought : "If only we had... ."

I have heard it said that joy, happiness, self-respect, hope and emotional strength come from within. These traits are learned, but are not usually taught in school. Sometimes they are even neglected at home. We depend on each other for emotional security and lack it when left to our own resources.

Most people who contemplate suicide would rather live. This becomes obvious when one sees person's relief after attempting suicide and failing, and being helped back to health and life. We have one of the strongest of human drives on our side-the will to live. And we have the greatest of rewards-the wonder and joy that life brings.

"All human wisdom can be summed up in two words
- wait and hope"


Security code