The Worst Word Ever

This morning I woke up to an inbox flooded with emails regarding something I wrote yesterday about hope. These were all deeply personal, heartfelt messages.

There were a few emails about divorce. Three were from people losing spouses to dementia. One older lady even sent an email detailing the many orthopedic benefits of going without a bra.

And forty-two emails were about suicide.

Here are a few sample sentences from the letters:

“I was gonna take my own life when I was sixteen… But my best friend called and told me she was thinking of me.”

“My father died by his own doing and I almost died the same way when I was depressed, but my family stepped in… I’m on medication now.”

“We never said the word suicide in my house after my brother died…”

“Well, personally, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my bra. For me, the benefits of going braless are simple, no indents from painful wires or straps on your back fat…”

The truth is, I don’t like talking about suicide any more than I like talking about underwire bras and back fat. For one thing: I’m male. For two: My life has been tinted by suicide.

My father took his life when I was a kid. I grew up thinking about this issue a lot and it got to a point where I wanted NOT to think about suicide ever again.

In fact, this is the reason I spent a lot of time reading humor when I was a boy. Humor is not just slinging jokes and one-liners. It’s a way of looking at the world without losing your mind. It’s sharing the worst moment in your existence in story form, then breaking the tension in the room with a flippant remark about not wearing a bra.

I say all this to tell you that suicide is a very personal subject to me. And even though I know a lot of people cringe when I use this word, forty-two people need to talk about it. And I’ll bet there’s more.

Nobody ever talked about it when I was growing up. And I mean nobody. When people saw us in the supermarket, they gave us looks of incredible pity but said nothing. Several childhood friends dropped off the radar. Family members, too.

And who can blame them? Nobody knows how to deal with suicide. Least of all those who survive it. When my father died it was a different era. Suicide was a foul thing. It wasn’t like today. You would have never heard the topic discussed on the nightly news or daytime television.

Thus, many of us who went through a suicide were sort of ostracized. I remember once working up the courage to talk to a pretty girl only to have her look at me like I had cockroaches crawling from my nostrils. I realized that she didn’t want to associate with someone like me.

Maybe if my father would’ve died in a car wreck it would have been different. But he didn’t.

So I know it’s a dirty word. In fact, you’re probably wincing each time I use it. Then again, maybe you’re not. The word is used more often today than it used to be, but in a sort of desensitized way.

Television journalists throw the term around while wearing big frowny faces, perhaps because it boosts ratings. And it’s even weirder to watch celebrities “speak out” against suicide on various televised award ceremonies.

Celebrities love to crusade for stuff. They can’t wake up in the morning without going on a few groundbreaking crusades before lunch. Times have changed. You rarely ever saw Humphrey Bogart on the red carpet crusading for anything but another Jack and Coke.

But this “speaking out” has become trendy, and at first glance it looks like the pretty faces on TV are actually ringing all the right bells. And maybe they are.

But you take a guy like my father. He would have seen a pop-star on an award ceremony accepting the Golden Statue For Whatever Big-Budget Movie They Were In, and when the star “spoke out” against depression, suicide, or whatever the issue du jour was, Daddy would have simply gotten another beer.

This isn’t the kind of open talking I mean. The reason I’m writing this is because I want anyone out there who is thinking of doing a terrible deed to know something:

You can tell someone about it.

Over the years, I have spoken with a lot of suicide survivors at various awareness conventions and events, and do you know what the most common thing I hear is?

“I had no idea. I wish I would’ve known.”

What I’m telling you is—and by “you” I mean you—that your friends are only a button-click away, and they actually WANT you to call them. Right now. Just call. Even if you don’t know what to say.

I’ll stop here because I’m running out of room. I’m truly sorry for today’s downer column. I didn’t mean to make you sad. So since I don’t want to leave you with a feeling of dread, I would like to remind you about the many orthopedic benefits of going without a bra.

One lady told me it feels like being set free.

Which is what I sincerely hope for anyone who suffers.

40 comments

  1. Betty F. - January 31, 2020 8:39 am

    Thank you for being open and real about the legacy of pain left after a suicide, and for reminding anyone contemplating it that there is hope. There are lifelines out there, if they cannot bring themselves to reach out to friend or family, 1-800-273-8255 or text “Text CONNECT to 741741”
    I bet your column was not a downer but another lifeline for someone.

    Reply
  2. Paul Morris - January 31, 2020 8:53 am

    My brother stepped in front of a Amtrak train. It killed him a lot . My sister drove her corvette into a canyon at 120 mph, it killed her a lot. I don’t want to pass that sadness on to my son. I don’t want to kill myself but I don’t want to live here any more. God has not yet answered my prayer to just call me home. How nice it would be to just turn off this noise and pain.

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  3. Magmae50 - January 31, 2020 9:54 am

    Paul Morris you are heard and understood. I’m sorry for your horrific losses. But hang in there. You don’t want to leave that kind of pain for your child. Instead spend every single day letting him know he is loved and find ways to be happy so he will be happy too. Then the legacy you leave will be one that brings him joy and he will want to leave the same for his family someday. 💚💚 💚

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  4. Betty King - January 31, 2020 10:10 am

    On 3-1-03 my mother was murdered. Not many people talk about that either. I remember a coworker who said nothing, just gave me a hug. A hug was much better than the hog spell check and I first typed. I will be 70 in March and so far i have worn a bra only once in 2020. That was a gracious plenty. I remember going by my old piano teacher’s house once to ask if she wanted to go for a ride in my car. She said, “Sure, but I haven’t put on any panties yet.” Old age has its perks. Yesterdays column resonated with me.

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  5. Barbara Grossberg - January 31, 2020 10:13 am

    This is beautifully written. Thank you.

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  6. Ann - January 31, 2020 10:52 am

    Your words are so from the heart…my daughter in law’s Mother chose this 18 years ago and she suffers every day….it’s hard to understand ( if that’s possible)… and she does the best she can making a good life for her family, but it still spills over to them…but your reference does help those of us wanting to help…it just doesn’t go away even though you go on the best you can…….with or without underwire❤️

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  7. Meredith Smith - January 31, 2020 11:21 am

    Dear Sean,

    This subject is vetoed in my house because my husband lost his younger brother to suicide just a few years ago. Now my husband is the victim of a self inflicted stigma; locked in the inability to talk about it or deal with his pain. He won’t talk to a therapist (we know one and feel comfortable seeing one), and he won’t talk to me, his best friend. My heart weeps for him, his pain must be incredibly heavy. He does frequently say that he wants to talk with his brother. I know my husband isn’t suicidal himself – he just says that he “wants answers” as I’m sure many survivors do. His brothers suicide came on the heels of great family discord following his fathers (natural) death. There remains family disharmony to this day, which only intensifies my husbands feelings of loss.

    As I’ve never been in such a situation I guess the only thing I can do is be available to listen if/when he ever chooses to talk. I just wish he’d open up, versus keeping his feelings locked up inside. I know he’s hurting.

    Thank you, Sean for raising this very important topic that is indeed often overlooked. I know you suffered particularly as a child and throughout your adult years, and for that I’m sorry. I wish I could give you a hug.

    You are always a beacon of hope for your readers.

    Reply
  8. womanwithbigideas - January 31, 2020 11:33 am

    Paul, the pain is real. And I wish I could turn that off for you. I know I can’t. It sounds like you have a son that you care the world for. You have so many firsts to do with him. First graduation. First new car. First job or even college. First serious girlfriend….. wedding….. grandchildren…. don’t give away those firsts for eternal nothing for yourself. Hold on…. talk to someone. Believe in your self….. I believe you can hold on…. tough as it may be….. I believe in your power to love your life.

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  9. Anne Arthur - January 31, 2020 11:37 am

    Profound, from the hurting heart, and filled with wise hope. Thank you for writing with such openness, Sean.

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  10. Hope E. - January 31, 2020 11:39 am

    Sean, Thank you. It is so refreshing to see love printed. You don’t directly mention God often, but to me your writing clearly reflects a certain bearded carpenter that changed, and is still changing, the entire world. I want to say to you, you matter. You are making a difference. You are loved. Keep up the good work. Unfortunately, life is often hard, you’re blog helps me, and many others I’m sure, keep what we all go through in positive light. I want you to know I appreciate your help.

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  11. Beverly Mundy Weable - January 31, 2020 12:48 pm

    Yesterday was five years since my beautiful friend, Lee-lyn, took her life in a moment of desperation. Her teenage son took his life a couple of months later in a calculated plan. It’s hard to know if help lines or a random phone call would have helped either of them. All I know is that every day is a gift, and we have to make sure our people know we love them. Thanks for always telling us you love us, Sean; we think pretty highly of you, too. And next time you drive past Mobile Bay, blow my Lee-lyn a kiss.

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  12. Jan - January 31, 2020 12:52 pm

    Difficult to write and read but so necessary! Thank you!

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  13. Linda - January 31, 2020 1:30 pm

    Sean, don’t look at it as a downer column,,there is no telling just how many you may have helped with this..praying it reached them all..keep speaking from your heart. ♥️🙏🙏♥️

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  14. Beth Andrews - January 31, 2020 2:00 pm

    Sean, this was not a downer message today, it was an important word from someone who knows the subject intimately. You said more in this column to raise awareness about suicide than any celebrity ever could. Keep talking about it. Keep talking about your father. You may just save someone’s life.

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  15. Judy 🌻 - January 31, 2020 2:03 pm

    Wow! Thank you for putting all that out there!
    I know you get grief talking about your Dad and suicide, but don’t stop. People need to hear what you have to share. It is like you are opening the door to a very dark closet and letting the light in.
    God doesn’t waste anything. He is able to use our pain to help others with their pain – and that is how He is helping you.

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  16. Bobbie E - January 31, 2020 2:04 pm

    I’ve noticed that what I read from all the comments is that most of them are very kind and caring people who write them. I say ‘Amen’ to all of the above. A special note to Paul…I know it sounds harsh and unkind, but suicide is such a selfish act. It comes from those buried in their own pain and suffering with no thought to the ones who would have to carry it with them throughout their lives, especially the children and parents. All you have to know to understand this is to read Sean’s column. As he says, he injects humor to cut through the pain and sadness, but you know deep inside the hurt never goes away. Thank you Sean for your insight, your wisdom, your humor and especially your love for others. God bless you abundantly, and Paul, please Talk to someone. I am 84, from the era of whispering about those kind of things, like the depression I’ve carried inside most of my life. Now, all I want is a few kind words and a little quality time with my family and friends. In the end, this is what really matters, that and lots of prayer. God bless you ❤️

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  17. Katherine Smith - January 31, 2020 2:19 pm

    Bobbie, In respect to your age I will be gentle. You speak from ignorance.
    Suicide is the least selfish thing a person can do. Having attempted to take my life twice, I can personally tell you that I truly felt that I was doing my family a favor. I was in so much mental pain that it never crossed my mind of the pain I would have inflicted.
    Blanket statements like yours add shame to people who already think their life is worthless

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  18. Shelton A. - January 31, 2020 2:21 pm

    I’ve been on the edge and the thoughts of my kids always pulled me back. I don’t turn away because I know too much.

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  19. Tammy S. - January 31, 2020 2:21 pm

    Thank you, Sean.

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  20. Jane - January 31, 2020 2:46 pm

    My brother-in-law killed himself a year ago. Right before Christmas he blew his brains out. We had no clue that he was depressed, or contemplating this. It was speculated that he was stressed about work, he owned his own accounting firm. If we had known we would have helped him. My daughter is an accountant in another state and would have loved to have worked for him to help get things back on track. The family would have pulled together money to have helped him. My God, we would have done anything to have kept this wonderful man here as part of our family. His suicide hurt all of us and the worst pain of all was knowing that he was in pain but didn’t feel like he could have shared it with us.

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  21. Dee Thompson - January 31, 2020 3:28 pm

    We lose 20+ veterans a day to suicide. There’s still a terrible stigma. My friend Jon Jackson, an Army Ranger who did 6 tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, was suicidal a few years ago. His son came in the room and reminded him what he had to live for. He founded Comfort Farms, a unique agro-therapy program in Milledgeville, Georgia, where veterans can go to heal and recover. It’s an incredible place. They grow a variety of heirloom vegetables and raise prize-winning and rare pigs, rabbits, chickens, goats, etc. This is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/comfortfarms2016/ If you or someone you know is a veteran deadling with PTSD or TBI, please refer them to Jon. People come from all over the USA and Jon wants to expand the program to every state. [See more here: https://thecookscook.com/columns/good-turns/the-healing-properties-of-food/%5D It’s a legit 501C3 nonprofit too, and they can always use donations.

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  22. Ann Mills - January 31, 2020 3:46 pm

    NEVER apologize for talking about suicide, Sean. NEVER!

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  23. Jackie - January 31, 2020 3:54 pm

    Helps us all remember — there are lots of people out there hurting. Just a few kind words, an invite to have a cup of coffee and chat could be the thing that changed their direction. We can all be part of the solution or simply do nothing. I choose to be kind and a good listener. Hope we all will! As always – great job Sean!

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  24. Mary Melton - January 31, 2020 4:03 pm

    Thank you Sean 💕💕💕

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  25. Mary - January 31, 2020 4:12 pm

    My husband’s mother shot herself with HIS gun when he was 18…he was the one that found her. In 37 years we’ve never talked about it except for him to say what a sweet, loving person his mother was. He suffers. I feel it. Keep talking about it Sean. Others need to also.

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  26. Connie Havard Ryland - January 31, 2020 4:20 pm

    I love you Sean with your big heart. Be safe. Sending love and hugs to you and your wonderful bride.

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  27. sassylibbycatLori - January 31, 2020 4:32 pm

    I just have to say YOU ROCK.
    Please keep the humor, kindness, and understanding coming.

    You get us.

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  28. Jan Chapman - January 31, 2020 5:16 pm

    I’m broken. Your writings are one of my prescriptions for healing. Thank you.

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  29. Linda Moon - January 31, 2020 5:17 pm

    Five people I’ve known and loved took their own lives. One was a Veteran. They committed SUICIDE. It’s the worst personal word for any of us who’ve lost someone this way, and I don’t cringe or wince at your use of it. To be set free from suffering….your hope for those who’ve experienced this loss…. is so very kind. I wish that freedom for you and your family, too. I probably would’ve liked your Daddy, and (insert appropriate humor here) my Daddy would’ve enjoyed some beers with him! You would have liked my Daddy too, Sean.

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  30. Linda Tshimika - January 31, 2020 5:26 pm

    My husband’s older brother took his life almost 20 years ago after his wife left him and said she would make sure he never saw his kids again.
    My daughter’s mother-in-law took her life without leaving any note or explanation. Two other good friends lost their husbands to suicide. My daughter, when she was in high school, verbalized thoughts of suicide after losing several people very close to her.
    In September a young man from my church, a graduate student from Congo, asked if he could stay with us for a time as he didn’t have a work permit or any income. We said sure, we’d be glad to have him. As he has been in our home and spending a lot of time in conversation with my husband, we are seeing that he is a very wounded soul. At one point, when he had been living in the university dorms, all alone with no invitations during the holidays, he had given thought to suicide. I’m so grateful we have this opportunity to be family for him.
    I’m a 71 year old woman but I do not discuss the presence or absence of my undergarments. TMI.

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  31. Cheryl McWilliams - January 31, 2020 5:27 pm

    Sean, there is nothing to comment that hasn’t been said. Your writings all ALL touch me in my heart or in my funny bone! Thank you for being “of the people” and writing exactly what you see. I, too, hate my bra.

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  32. Ala Red Clay Girl - January 31, 2020 5:39 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for writing about suicide. We definitely need to be there for family and friends. But we have a world of hurting people. You never know what sort of impact just a smile or a kind word may make to a stranger at the grocery store, church, or wherever you encounter them. Keep reminding us of this important topic!

    Reply
  33. Tammy Moody - January 31, 2020 5:46 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for being brave enough to step out of the shadow that others have put you in. And thank you for reaching out to others so that no one ever has to be in that place ever again. Never alone. ♥

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  34. Kathy Wolfe - January 31, 2020 6:43 pm

    There have been several times that ending my life seemed easier than living. Life is worth fighting for.

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  35. Martha Young - January 31, 2020 9:01 pm

    I feel that anyone that takes their own life feels, in their own mind, that there is no reason to keep living and have lost all hope of their life and circumstances ever improving. I am not sure there is anything anyone can do or say to change what that person is feeling. I do know, if we suspect someone is thinking of suicide, we must make an effort to reach them in some way and offer hope. Sometimes it helps but oft times not. The hardest thing after the loss of someone is guilt more so than grief. In time the grief fades but the guilt lingers on. How to deal with that has not been resolved as far as I can tell. We have to meet each day and do the best we can and know that one glorious day, all our earthly burdens will be lifted from our bodies and our souls will be at peace. In the meantime, love as you would be loved and accept as you would want to be accepted.

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  36. Beverly Wynn Bua - February 1, 2020 2:30 am

    Bless you for opening your home & heart to the young man from the Congo…..

    Reply
  37. muthahun - February 1, 2020 3:53 pm

    OK, so I missed yesterday. Had to search it out in the several thousand emails in my box. Underwires notwithstanding, GOOD ONE, Sean! And “Of Earl” is more than perfect. My husband name monarch butterflies we were hatching “Grace” and “Fall From”…
    You are a much-needed bright spot these days. Keep on keepin’ on, wouldja, please?

    Reply
  38. JMPS - February 1, 2020 4:00 pm

    Paul. I think God is answering your prayer….just not in the way you dictated. He knows your pain and your heart.and yet has a plan for you that you may not even fathom. Your words may be the light for someone else. Your son may face challenges in the future that you alone can help him through. The fact that you read this blog and responded says you are open to options. Please find someone or a group to share your thoughts with…..it is true that a burden shared is lightened. I’m going to stop typing and lift you up in prayer.

    Reply
  39. Suzanne Hill - February 1, 2020 6:17 pm

    Sir, I am so sorry. My older friend 43 yrs. ago shot herself in her shed. I had no idea. Such a shock. 😢

    Reply
  40. Suzanne Hill - February 1, 2020 6:32 pm

    Hi, Cheryl Did u live in Minot, N. Dakota in the late 60’s? Minit Air Force Base. Connie & I talked about u.

    Reply

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