I don’t even know how to begin. My ex-husband killed himself last week. We were good friends after our divorce. I keep asking myself the same question. I just want to know why. I am going insane trying to figure out why. His note gave me no explanation.
I am broken,
The first thing that I can tell you about suicide is that there is no “why.” Nothing about suicide makes sense.
Most everything people do in life has some sense behind it. This sentence—hopefully—makes sense. Your daily routine makes sense.
You go to the store. You eat healthy. You exercise. You pay your taxes so the IRS employees can take paid family vacations to the British Virgin Islands. Things make sense.
But suicide isn’t about sense.
I was 11 years old when my father swallowed the barrel of a rifle. I was a hapless redhead with a perpetual smile. Life was pretty good.
Then, one summer day, my dad died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
His decision was one that defied logic. Nobody understood his choice. Sense? His final act was nonsensical. Logic? There was none.
Over the years, I have thought about what he did. Examined it. Pondered it. Tried to make sense of it. But it’s a fool’s puzzle. It’s like trying to make four dollars out of nine nickels.
It’ll never happen, sister. And yet I keep trying to do it. I keep trying to see things from his point of view.
He was depressed. Maybe that was why he did it.
After all, depression is not like other diseases. It kills from the inside out. First it kills your social circle. Then it ruins your family. Then it steals your personality so that nothing excites you.
After a while, nothing even aggravates you anymore. Because in order to get aggravated, you have to have some ambition left. But you have no ambition.
So it could’ve been that.
Or it could have been some other kind of mental breakdown. Mental illness doesn’t play by the rules. If you’ve known anyone suffering from mental illness, you know what I’m talking about.
Maybe my father lost his sense of direction. Maybe up became down. Black became purple. Wrong became right. I don’t know.
But there are other reasons, too. I have known people, for example, diagnosed with physical diseases. These people decided to end their lives because they didn’t want to be a sick person.
I have known people who suffered the loss of a spouse. The death of a child. Some career or financial failure. They couldn’t go on.
Or it could have been related to a past trauma. I knew a guy, he was my age, who fought in the War in Afghanistan. They found him in the backseat of his truck. The note on his windshield said, “I can’t do this [blank] no more.”
Fact: Each day, 22 veterans die by suicide.
What I’m getting at is, I don’t know why my father did it. I never will. Neither will you ever know why your loved one chose brain death over life.
What I DO know is that I must respect the decision my father made. It took me decades to respect the idea of a healthy man eating a hunting rifle. But I am finally at a stage where I respect his decision.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I agree with his choice. I am not saying I like his choice. I am not certifying his choice. I am not giving a thumbs-up to his choice. I am simply saying that, right or wrong, it was his decision to make. And I respect that.
So now what do I do? Where do I go from here? What do you do after someone shoots themselves in the head and leaves your life in tattered rags? What can you do?
The answer is: Not much.
But that doesn’t mean your life is over. Because you can still do the major things. You can still breathe. You can still put your shoes on one at a time. You can walk. Eat. Go to the bathroom. Grocery shop. Your heart still beats. Your circulatory system still functions.
And you can still help people. You can try to stop others from killing themselves. You can, quite literally, help yank someone from the flames of hell itself.
I have made this my goal in life, to urge as many as I can to step away from the ledge of suicide. I’m just one guy. I’m not educated. I’m not a therapist. I can’t do much.
But I can do something, dang it. I might not bring my father back. But just by talking about it, who knows, I might save the daddy of some hapless redheaded boy.
And that’s not nothing.
Steve Winfield (lifer) - August 11, 2022 8:14 am
You are so right.
1018le - August 11, 2022 9:59 am
Again, Sean, Spot on advice! I first became aware of your awesome help in your book, “WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN? And that is why I look for you in other books and in this blog. You do understand what others are going through…and you do help! May God continue to bless you and those you help! 🙂
Bob Stewart - August 11, 2022 12:47 pm
Having lost a very close friend and a young nephew to suicide, i just don’t know any answers. Maybe one day i will understand
Ed (Bear) - August 11, 2022 10:10 am
Dear Sean, in spite of today’s subject yours is a good read.
I don’t know this will help but it’s all I got. I have bipolar disorder so I know about some of the pain involved with suicidal thoughts and behavior. It only makes sense from the disturbed victim’s vantage. Mental pain can be unbearable. The pain stems from a breakdown of good thoughts. Self destructive thoughts take over and dominate the brain. Death appears to be the only relief and the only way to shut the pain off.
Suicide is a mental breakdown away from rational thinking which you so aptly hit upon. I’ve been there. In the midst of the mental pain. But I’ve not been brave enough to pull the trigger. So I expect my illness and pain is just not as extreme as your dad’s and your Boston writer’s ex-husband’s.
I guess what helps me the most is my experience that if I just wait out the pain, I will be ok. Suicidal victims don’t have that hope. https://www.eds-art.net/meetings/#suicide
Susie - August 11, 2022 12:55 pm
Ed, please seek help. Don’t try to “wait out the pain”, as you say. Someday, that may not work for you?.
Ed - August 12, 2022 4:24 pm
Hi Susie, I’m so sorry to have made you worry. I’m fine and have been fine for quite a number of years. I think I need to be more careful with what I write. I assure you that I’m only trying to help others by relaying my experience. Past experience. Thank you for your concern and reminding me to be more careful in my writing!
sflouden - August 19, 2022 3:35 pm
Bear I so agree with you. I am 77 years old and also am bipolar. Through all my years I have tried multiple times to “end it” As you see never successful. I am so glad because about 20 years back I realized that if I just wait out an “episode” I will be able to think a little more clearly….even now I am old and my body deteriorates and am in pain most days…from time to time I think of suicide…just to be done with it all…but I remember my promise to myself to wait it out sometimes for a few hours and sometimes for days to get over these thoughts…because they can change literally instantly or maybe waiting for a different “feeling”. Thanks Sean for your words…each day they are inspiring to so many.
Meredith Smith - August 11, 2022 10:22 am
Sean, god bless you. I have shivers. You are a beautiful man.
Jocelyn - August 11, 2022 10:24 am
Great read on thoughts on suicide. No one has the answer or cure for this diseases called mental illness. All we can do is support those who suffer and get them help if they agree. Definitely a struggle on this globe. Thanks for the write up.
Matt Ovaska - August 11, 2022 10:56 am
The devil has come to steal, kill, and destroy. He doesn’t play fair. God wants to take care of us and will surely do it, if we let Him.
David Britnell - August 11, 2022 11:09 am
A great song said if I can help somebody as I walk along then my living shall not be in vain.
Paul W. Chappell - August 11, 2022 11:26 am
Maybe your best commentary on your father’s suicide, yet. I have no doubt you have helped yank a few from the edge of the cliff.
Stephen F Lescher - August 11, 2022 11:35 am
Sean My mother hung herself when I was a 14 year old boy. I am 77 now and it took years to accept the fact that I will never know why.
Deena - August 11, 2022 11:41 am
Outstanding words concerning such a heartbreaking subject. Education doesn’t give the kind of insight , empathy, love you have to the human heart. God does. You are a rare and special person and you touch my heart every single day.
Judy Conrad - August 11, 2022 11:43 am
Thank you for answering that lady about her ex’s suicide. Today I choose to be grateful for my life even with all the human tragedies that come along the way.Some days are boring but most of them are a real kick if I just pay attention. But I love life and seeing people laugh makes my day. Its contagious and I love infecting others. I read on that social thing FB a post a friend put thanking others for birthday wishes, she said she thought God put her here for cheap entertainment.I sent a note telling her I think from the number of wishes she had fulfilled her purpose. I only hope I can be like her.
Dolores - August 11, 2022 11:52 am
Best description of depression ever… “depression is not like other diseases. It kills from the inside out. First it kills your social circle. Then it ruins your family. Then it steals your personality so that nothing excites you.”
PS You can’t snap out of it.
Suicidal thoughts are kept secret because it’s self murder, taboo, extreme and sinful (by the world). Loved ones are left holding a heavy bag of guilt and shame. It’s fresh: perhaps more will be revealed over time.
It says a lot about you that you remained friends after divorce. All you can do is hold on to the good.
Hospice in my area offers free grief counseling I pray you find counselors where you are, my sympathies on your loss.
chip plyler - August 11, 2022 12:19 pm
Peace my friend…
robnrockin - August 11, 2022 12:31 pm
Sean, thank you for writing your heart out. You are a blessing! You are helping so many with what you write and how you share your life. Vaya con Dios mi amigo!
firstname.lastname@example.org - August 11, 2022 12:39 pm
There have been times when I have thought that you write a little too much about suicide and your own experience with your father’s. Not today. Thank you for supporting those who are left behind after a suicide. And thank you for encouraging those who consider suicide to “step away from the ledge”. Confessionally, suicide has and is a consideration and mine is driven largely to avoid potential embarrassment to my family and myself if other events unfold as they may. When I read Scripture, I can say that King David went on after his episode with Bathsheba and Uriah. He went on and was even greater and did more for God on the other side of adultery and murder. Your words are contemporary encouragement. Thanks so much. Always enjoy your daily writings and pass along personally relevant writings to my three grown children and wife. At least one of my kids is a subscriber also. And my daughter took me to see and meet you when you came to Square Books in Oxford.
Donna George-Moskovitz - August 11, 2022 12:42 pm
Made me cry. Reminded me of my purpose. You are precious, Sean. Thank you.
Tom Lindsey - August 11, 2022 12:45 pm
Susie - August 11, 2022 12:50 pm
Serious depression need intervention. Sometimes one can get so down, that their perceptions about things and life, that it affects their perceptions of reality. Their thoughts and feelings tend to get very fragile and overblown,causing feelings of sadness, helplessness and hopelessness. They don’t see that tomorrow is another day, where things CAN get better. Suicide is so sadly a finall act to what is, most likely, a temporary problem, that with professional help, can be treated and remedied.
Dee Thompson - August 11, 2022 12:51 pm
Very wise words. My 26 year old son has lost 2 friends to suicide in recent years, something that he still cannot come to grips with because his older brother died by suicide. (FYI, I never knew his older brother because my son was adopted at age 10, but there is still terrible grief there).
My friend Jon Jackson at Comfort Farms in Milledgeville Georgia runs a unique agro-therapy program that helps veterans cope with PTSD and TBI. His program has saved the lives of thousands of veterans. If you want to contribute to Comfort Farms that is a real way to fight back against suicide, and actually save lives. https://www.stagvetsinc.org/
Rhonda - August 11, 2022 12:51 pm
Love ya dude. Mean It. Invisible voices can be the balance. I had a voice on the radio that got me through tuff times one morning at a time. Sometimes invisible is better. No pressure to do anything but listen. Years later one wonderful day at strangers house I heard the voice in another room. And there she was. I got the chance to Thank her and tell her that what she did mattered a lot to someone. Love you too Mary Mac. I still think your Dad sent Jamie to try and fill the void. I hope your Mom got something or someone too. Oh wait! She got you!
Sean of the South: Dear Sean | The Trussville Tribune - August 11, 2022 12:58 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Anne Arthur - August 11, 2022 1:11 pm
Your words are a shining light in the darkness and wise reflections on a sad subject.
We have cases of depression in our family and it’s heartbreaking how it impacts everyone. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
We all have to advocate for a wider acceptance of mental illnesses so that the sick find support and better care.
Ruth Mitchell - August 11, 2022 1:23 pm
Thank you for your insight. I didn’t see the “respect” perspective coming, but it really makes sense. Maybe it takes time to get to that level of dealing with such a hurtful act, but perhaps it can be accomplished at the acceptance stage. Certainly something to think about.
Mary J Damron - August 11, 2022 1:46 pm
Thank you Sean. I wish my Brother could read this. He lost a son to suicide. He is now 89 years old and still grieves and ask why, there is no why and it breaks my heart that he will never have peace about it.
S Donner - August 11, 2022 1:57 pm
God bless you, Sean, for the love you express through your own difficult experiences – and may God be with all who need your words.
Randy - August 11, 2022 2:02 pm
Sean, good morning to you sir! Don’t let your past or more importantly don’t let the words or actions of others to “control your emotions”.
Fan for a long time past and looking forward to your wisdom far into the future.
Have a better day young man!!
jan averett - August 11, 2022 2:46 pm
Dear Sean I am so sorry your father made this choice. You are a great man and a blessing to so many. Thank you for sharing your story, your wisdom, and faith.
Mary Jo McIntosh - August 11, 2022 3:01 pm
Once again, outstanding writing……Thank you.
sjhl7 - August 11, 2022 3:09 pm
The best commentary on suicide I have ever read. As Jan said thank you, Sean, for sharing your story, your wisdom and your faith. May God bless you, SLEEPLESS-IN-BOSTON, and all the others who have lost someone they love in such a painful way.
Vic Suttles - August 11, 2022 3:45 pm
Sean, my 35 year old son turned me on to your writing a couple months ago and I look forward to reading your daily thoughts. Thanks for this one , my brother ate the end of a shotgun two weeks before Christmas of ‘13. He was the second of 4 brothers, I’m the youngest. He was the most optimistic, happy go lucky guy with a ton of friends. None of us saw it coming. But you’re right, life goes on and we have much to be thankful and grateful for
Marilyn - August 11, 2022 3:57 pm
Having dealt with post partem depression after the birth of my boys, I understand as much as is possible how one might be led to think suicide is an answer to the pain. Your words today are spot on. Keep up what you are doing with your writing, Sean. God is using you for good.
Regina Parham - August 11, 2022 4:12 pm
You ended by saying, “and that’s not nothing “. You’re right – that’s everything.
Our son decided he had to leave in August of ’13. He’d had two tours in Iraq. He was happy, a jokester and everyone loved him but no one saw underneath. He hid it we’ll until he couldn’t.
Keep talking Sean. If only one person hears/reads and steps back then you’ve accomplished a miracle.
Thank you. God bless.
Gene - August 11, 2022 4:42 pm
I’m so sorry people still have to face the heartbreak of suicide. I lost a son 7 years ago & will always grieve him. I want to recommend 2 books that have helped me some. “Life After Suicide” by Dr. Jennifer Ashton. She also lost an ex-husband, father of her children and friend. Also “Healing After Loss” by Martha W. Hickman. This book will help after loss from any cause.
William J Webb - August 11, 2022 5:06 pm
A young man ends things because the girl of his dreams left him and he thinks he can’t live without her.
A stock broker calls it quits after a stock market crash causes him to loose it all.
A young lady offs herself because mean people call her fat and ugly.
These are Long Term Solutions To Short Time Problems. There are folks to help. Put things in God’s hands.
Trent - August 11, 2022 5:17 pm
Sean – pray this may help…
Doug - August 11, 2022 6:46 pm
Sean — This may be the best column you’ve ever written (at lewast as long as I have been among your readership). Keep on, brother.
Patricia Gibson - August 11, 2022 7:01 pm
Extremely well said❤️
MAM - August 11, 2022 8:05 pm
Your words, Sean, surely help those on the “edge of the cliff.” May God help those who approach the cliff. Let them find help, not only from therapists, but from God.
Linda Moon - August 11, 2022 8:22 pm
We talked and cried at the family table a few days ago. We know there’s not much we can do after all these years ago when a family father took his life. But, our talk at the table about the daddy of our our redheaded boy who’s now a grown man helped. Keep talking, Sean.
Pat, Eastern NC - August 11, 2022 8:23 pm
You may be “just one guy,” but you are the RIGHT guy to help others. May God bless you and your mission each day. I think you do more than you realize.
Patricia Simmons Taylor - August 11, 2022 8:46 pm
Suicide invaded our family years ago (1983) when my husband’s younger brother committed suicide by putting a gun in his mouth at age 43. He had treated his family really bad and had, we believe some mental issues. It still shocked us fully and still does.
Our son, who had suffered a severe head injury 2 1/2 years earlier, took it hard, and couldn’t understand why he did it. He had struggled himself overcoming the head injury from a motorcycle wreck when a car turned left in front of him and caused his helmet to come off. Twenty five days after his uncle’s suicide, we found him dead in his bed from what the coroner ruled as a grand mal seizure. We didn’t hear him as it happened during the night. It was the first and only one he had that we knew of. We feel like the stress of his uncle contributed to it happening. He had turned 18 a week before that.
I am finishing up a book about my son to hopefully have published by Winter. In doing so, I’m reliving all of it as I mention his uncle in the book too. It has been 39 years since it happened, but seems like yesterday some days, and I am basically crying my way through the book. I told my son I was writing a book about him and I intend to finish it, although I am 76 years old now. It is being edited now and hopefully will be done soon. I am fortunate to have a sister and niece who are editors that help people get their books published,and are doing it at no cost for me and are publishing it for me. The story is hard for them to read too since my son Jeff is part of their family too.
Suicide is not a one person event, and has far reaching consequences for family and friends. My prayers for anyone having to live through it. My prayers for you Sean and thanks for sharing your heart on this very hard subject. Sorry for such a long post. My prayers for all of you….
Karen - August 11, 2022 9:18 pm
You are so right, Sean. Talking about it is so important. I grew up not talking about depression. As an adult I have made sure to express depression when needed. I don’t want anyone to feel they have to suffer or be ashamed.
Te - August 12, 2022 11:15 am
Having been to the brink, over 50 years ago, I can say that it was a sense of mental and emotional isolation that made me feel hopeless. Circumstances made me depressed, and I didn’t even realize that was a thing. Back then, depression was not recognized as an ailment worthy of acknowledgment. If you had done something unacceptable, nevermind who placed that judgment on you, it was just too damned bad if you felt badly over it. It was no more than you deserved. Even if that judgment was unspoken, perhaps not even real, but believed to exist. But I was tougher than I knew.
I grew up in a family with parents who were not nurturing, where physical and verbal abuse were the chosen punishment and consequence of resistance to it. I resisted being reduced to fear and self-loathing, to give myself credit when no one else did. I fought back however i could, mentally, emotionally. I refused to be defeated, to give up. I made a conscious decision to free myself from what i perceived to be toxic, judgmental conditioning. It had a price. I paid it. I won my life.
pdjpop - August 12, 2022 12:08 pm
One of your best.
Jay skinner - August 12, 2022 3:11 pm
Thank you Sean
S - August 12, 2022 4:08 pm
SLEEPLESS-IN-BOSTON, There isn’t a good answer for your question. Just know that so many people understand the depth of despair Suicide can bring into your life. I’m sharing this because I hope it will help in the days and years to come.
When my younger brother killed himself I’m the one they called. I took care of everything that needed to be done, phone calls to family, met the coroner, answered questions I no longer remember, made the arrangements with the funeral parlor, and adopted his dog. Every year on the anniversary of his death I open a box and read the death certificate. When I get to cause of death I read “self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head”. I don’t cry anymore I just stare at it. He left several notes. None addressed to me but he mentioned me twice by my nickname. I could have anything of his I wanted and “please don’t try to figure out what I’m thinking some thoughts are private”. It’s been nearly 29 years the anniversary will be here soon. I’ll go through the same ritual. I still try to figure it out sometimes but I’ve learned to live with not knowing. He knew I loved him and he loved me. That and memories are all I have but it’s enough. Peace be you.
Patricia Jones - August 12, 2022 6:03 pm
Sean your words ring if so many truths. My brother took his own life and left my parents, sister, and younger brother asking WHY? Thank you for speaking of your experience. I do belief it helps others who are suicidal to hear that there are those who want to help. I look forward to seeing you in person August16 in Jackson Tennessee.
Robert Chiles - August 12, 2022 8:32 pm
Dear Sleepless in Boston,
Just know for sure that it wasn’t your fault.
bonnie - August 12, 2022 11:40 pm
After reading this, I saw this on Facebook:
I saw it all, the day after I left.
I saw my family, my friends, bereft.
I saw their pain, confusion, their shock.
I realised my demons had run amok.
Of course I mattered, of course I was loved,
of course I was not better off above.
Because being above, means seeing it all.
And now I know that my life wasn’t small.
My life was precious, I gave it away,
I listened to darkness, it showed me the way.
But now, from here, I see it anew.
If only I’d stayed and pushed on through.
But here I am, looking down from afar,
watching the pain, a lifelong scar.
I’ll never be gone from the hearts that I touched,
If only I’d seen, I was always enough.
From ‘I wish i knew’: https://amzn.to/3JVMJlZ
lisa j bridgford - August 13, 2022 3:42 am
Two years ago my son’s dear friend took her life. She had his graduated highschool. She had suffered from mental illness, but was she was in therapy. No one will ever know why, but it changed many kids lives and her families forever. Please please please keep writing about this subject. This is not the kind of thing to hush up about.
Al Scruggs - August 13, 2022 12:46 pm
This post was so timely. It came out on the 11th and the 12th of August makes 36 years since my father chose to end his life. He got up early that morning, drove around Trenton, Ga (yes on Highway 11) and talked to several of his friends. He went by the bank to say hi to my brother and then he drove to remote part of the county, pulled a shotgun out of his car and shot himself in the heart. Every time I think about the way he went it makes me a little crazy.
We think we know why he went, but the only two who really know are my Dad and the Good Lord.
DrF - August 17, 2022 10:24 pm
A few years ago, I had a cortisone shot. Within hours my life fell completely apart and I spent many days and weeks in abject terror. Thankfully, over time it went away as my brain chemistry rebalanced itself and I’ve been fine ever since. I think it is important to remember that ultimately the brain is an organ, and it fails like any other.
iwaly444 - August 22, 2022 12:47 am
sending love and prayers to this person.
love u Sean D.
All the best☀🌻🐝🦋