This Saturday, November 17, 2012, is the yearly Survivors of Suicide Day. Today, “survivors” does not mean people who survived a suicide attempt, but all the people who are left behind after a relative or friend committed suicide. In the USA alone there are some 7 million such survivors every year: all of them trying to understand, trying to not feel guilty, trying to come to terms with the often unanswerable question how someone they loved could make such a fatal decision.
This Survivors of Suicide Day is meant to offer some support, consolation and healing, with various local events and online activities. It grew from a 1999 American initiative taken by US senator Harry Reid after the suicide of his father. Thanks to the worldwide opportunities of Internet, it gradually got a more international character. But it is still sponsored by the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).
So if you want to know more about it, or perhaps participate yourself in one way or another, please go right away to this part of the AFSP site:
I myself am a “survivor” in both senses of the word. I have survived two suicide attempts myself, so I can understand the sheer desperation that can cause people to commit suicide. But I also lost both a sister and one of my best friends to suicide. So at the same time, I do know very well how difficult it is to understand someone’s suicide decision. How, even if you do understand a little why he or she took that irreversible step, it still is almost impossible to accept.
To illustrate how hard this is, here is the suicide note left by Nirvana rock star Kurt Cobain, when in April 1994 he shot himself. As a suicide note to his loved ones, it is fairly clear:
(see bottom of this post for text version)
The grief among Cobain fans was so enormous that some of them chose to ignore the obvious facts (and also Cobain’s already self-destructive behavior in the months leading up to his suicide).
Some of those fans simply refused to accept what had happened, and began to insist that, no, this could not be suicide. They developed a totally implausible conspiracy theory, seriously claiming that this note was a partial forgery and that Cobain actually had been murdered.
Here is, once again, the well-known Kübler-Ross mourning phases model:
In terms of this model, those Cobain fans who constructed a murder complot theory obviously got stuck in the phase of denial. Some of them still prefer to believe that murder story today!
If accepting a suicide is already so hard when you’re just a fan or admirer, then how hard will it be if you are a relative, an actual lover or a close friend? So hard, I can tell you from my own experience, that you may be tempted to follow the other’s example and to kill yourself, too.
There are many historical examples of suicides where a “survivor”, overwhelmed by unbearable feelings of grief, anger and guilt, also committed suicide a few days or weeks later. A random example of one suicide triggering another one is the death of the brilliant young Japanese mathematician Yutaka Taniyama, in 1958. A month after his suicide, his girlfriend Misako Suzuki also killed herself, leaving a note saying that she had no other option but to join him in death.
To me, this “trigger effect” is one main reason why after the suicide of a loved one, you as a “survivor” should not keep your terrible mix of feelings to yourself, but should try to share and discuss your feelings with others. See the entire Surviving Suicide Loss section at the AFSP website.
In remembrance of Kurt Cobain, here is one more time the song All Apologies from the Nirvana album In Utero.
(click the green “Play” button – if it does not work, install Flash)
• tip: see above – if you are in shock, grief and confusion because someone you love committed suicide, then at least try to share your feelings with others as much as you can.
• update: Because someone asked for it and the picture version is hard to read, here is the full text of Cobain’s unbalanced, rambling suicide note:
Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complainee. This note should be pretty easy to understand. All the warnings from the punk rock 101 courses over the years, since my first introduction to the, shall we say, ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has proven to be very true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guilty beyond words about these things. For example when we’re backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowd begins, it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddy Mercury, who seems to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd, which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is, I can’t fool you, any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do, God believe me I do, but it’s not enough). I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. I must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they’re gone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasm I once had as a child. On our last 3 tours, I’ve had a much better appreciation for all the people I’ve known personally and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone. There’s good in all of us and I think I simply love people too much. So much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man. Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know! I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what I used to be. Full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become. I have it good, very good. And I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along and have empathy. Empathy! Only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess. Thank you all from the pit of my burning nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody, baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out then to fade away. Peace, Love, Empathy. Kurt Cobain.
Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your altar
Please keep going Courtney,
for her life will be so much happier
without me. I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU”