I got an email from a newspaper that quit carrying my column because I mentioned the topic of suicide too often. They felt it was too morbid.
Never mind that there has been a 30 percent rise in suicide in the last few years. Never mind that suicide was recently named as the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 34. Never mind that, on average, there are 132 suicides each day in America.
Just quit writing about it was the newspaper’s advice to me.
Oddly enough, a few nights later, I did my one-man show for a gracious audience near Mentone, Alabama. Then I signed books and hugged necks. And to my surprise, there seemed to be a common theme among audience members after the show.
One of the first women to hug me was an older woman from North Georgia, whose mother died by her own hand. The woman locked herself in an idling car in the garage and they found her the next morning. There was a note written in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. “I’m sorry,” her last message said.
The lady in line hugged my neck and said, “Thank you for talking about it.”
I met another woman who had once been in law enforcement. She hugged my neck and we talked about this and that. Finally, she told me that someone in her family had died this way, too. She hugged me and she even kissed my cheek. “I’m glad you talk about it,” she said.
But wait, I’m just getting started.
That same night I met a man who came from Tennessee. His father took his own life when he was in grade school. He was just a boy when he found his father’s remains in the laundry room. He’s been in therapy for 40 years.
“Talking about it is what saved me,” the man said.
I met a woman who drove several hours to attend our show. She wrote me a four-page letter about her beautiful son, who passed away in the same manner at age 25. We embraced. Tears were shed. She gave me a bracelet she had printed. The bracelet said, “Stay.” As in: “Don’t leave this world. Stay.”
“Talking about it is so hard for me,” she said. “But I’m trying to talk about it more with people who understand.”
Next, I met an older man whose son would have been 39 this year. His son was an army veteran. The man was wearing a shirt that said, “Love all, y’all.” I asked what the shirt was about. He said it was the last note his son left to his family.
We hugged each other’s necks.
“Keep writing about it,” the man said.
I met a young woman from West Virginia whose father killed himself when she was 18. Two years later, her brother killed himself, too. Her mother was later admitted to a psychiatric rehab. This woman has suffered her entire life with crippling anxiety and depression.
“I was afraid to come tonight,” she said. “I haven’t left the house in a long time. But I wanted to be here.” Then she embraced me and said, “It’s so hard to talk about, but I’m trying.”
Please don’t misunderstand me, my life as a writer is not built expressly on writing about suicide. But the truth is, I am a child of suicide. I can never un-be this.
So yeah, I’ve written a lot about it because suicide painted every corner of my life. I grew up beneath its shadow. I bore the weight of my father’s dramatic death every day, just like millions of others do. Millions. I am not unique.
Oh, I wanted to get away from it. I wanted to never talk about it again. Because suicide ruined me. It ruined my mother. It ruined my sister. It destroyed my extended family and excommunicated me from aunts, uncles, cousins and old friends. It made me a freak. Because that’s the deal. Suicide doesn’t just kill people, it kills entire families.
In my family we never talked about it. It was a subject we tucked into the recesses of our lives hoping it would disappear. As a result, I had night terrors every night until my mid-thirties. Anxiety became my constant companion. Depression is on my playlist.
But for the last decade or so, with the guidance of some very wise people, I’ve been writing about it. Talking about it. Talking to others about it. Dealing with it. I’ve come a long way. But I still have far to go.
So I won’t quit talking about it. Because speaking openly about suicide is the only way to get to the truth of the matter.
And you know what they say the truth shall do to you.