This time a year ago, my father in law told me that my 10th grade World History teacher had committed suicide the summer before. This news was quite the shock. Mr. B was an extremely gifted, bubbly, eccentric and likeable teacher that seemed to have it all together, especially from the vantage point of a student in high school. At that time, holding a full time job and being an adult meant that you were doing just fine.
I’ve been thinking of Mr. B lately, for one because his wife just got engaged. It’s been a year and a half since Mr. B took his life and I don’t know what I think about the new engagement. His wife was my Humanities and Art History teacher, and I admired and respected her a great deal. I still do. However, thinking about Mr. B leaving this Earth and his wife finding a husband a year and a half later gives me mixed emotions. I think, if I were to kill myself, how long would be acceptable before my husband was slated to marry another woman? That I would care is debatable based on your idea of what happens after you die–Are we up in Heaven watching over our family members? Are we in a black abyss unaware of Earth consciousness? I think and worry about Mr. B because I think it could easily be me. After his death I started thinking about a lot of similarities between us–Mr. B was a smart, sensitive, passionate person who, like me, seemed to take things personally and thought a great deal. I wonder if he had Bipolar Disorder or Major Depression or something of the sort–it makes sense to me that this could have been the case. I’m not saying I’m an expert on suicide, but from personal experience it seems that people don’t just kill themselves out of the blue. There is an underlying issue that has exacerbated. I often wonder if Mr. B suffered in silence, coming to school, teaching class, coaching soccer, putting on a happy face to 1)fool everyone and 2)just keep going.
One of the questions I’ve been thinking about–Why didn’t anyone stop this? I know that’s a controversial question to ask. From my experience with Bipolar and suicidal thoughts, though, they don’t just come out of the blue and there are usually red flags raised. For instance, when I’m starting to feel very overwhelmed and anxious and depressed, my mood changes dramatically and I often say things that are suicidal in nature such as, “Maybe I should just kill myself.” Family and friends of those that are suicidal need to get rid of their preconceived ideas of depression and mental illness and realize that a comment such as this is not a normal response to stress. Someone is in need of help when they say something like this. I hope that whoever was an immediate friend of family member of Mr. B responded with seriousness if Mr. B started exhibiting symptoms of distress. I have a suspicion that many families that have a family member that dies of suicide didn’t know how to handle the deceased individual’s emotions and dire needs before they died. This is why it is so important to eliminate stigma and start educating families and friends of those in distress about what to do when someone is suicidal. It makes sense to me that Mr. B exhibited symptoms of distress before he passed away. I wish I could have helped him.
It’s so easy to think back in retrospect about what could’ve been done. There were times when I gave Mr. B a hard time, when maybe I should’ve told him what a good teacher or a good person he was instead of making his day more difficult. I just feel for him so much. Being on the brink of suicide is a dark, painful, lonely place to be. My mother commented a few months ago that those that kill themselves are selfish. I think that is foolish and far from the truth. Those that want to take their own lives feel guilty, alone, hopeless, and that the world would be a better place if they weren’t in it. They feel like a burden on their families, friends, and life itself. It doesn’t matter if it’s not rational or it’s not typical. It’s still the most horrible mental state you can be in, and there’s no reason to blame or ridicule anyone that makes the decision to just stop living.
Organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (@afspnational) are working every day to support survivors of suicide and prevent suicides across America. Check them out if you haven’t already. I had a particularly amazing day with some of the members of AFSP in 2008 when I participated in a mental health fair on my university campus. It is extremely sobering to see countless pictures of people who have ended their lives because they feel that they cannot take getting up every day any longer. Children, seniors, people in varying situations with varying life experiences. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or what you’re going through. If you are depressed and in pain suicide is something that can happen to anyone regardless of salary or social status. We need to take suicide seriously. One person in the midst of ending their lives in America is too many.
Mr. B, I don’t know what happened. I haven’t been able to find out and that is both good and bad. I think of you a lot, especially as I go through pain and despair and come out of it again. While I don’t see suicide as selfish, I hope you know that there are a lot of people that are hurting and will always be hurting because they loved you and cared about you a lot. I’m sorry that we didn’t always show it or that we weren’t there for you when you really needed it. I realize, though, that to your credit, sometimes it doesn’t matter how much someone loves or cares, it can help, but when the elements of reason have been eliminated from your mind and the only thought is death, it’s hard to think rationally about all the things we have in our lives. Depression and mixed states can strip that all away. If it’s any consolation now, you always brightened my day and I was glad to have met you. Very, very glad. You had a great smile and a great sense of humor and as my husband read to me from the local newspaper, your AP World History scores were among the best in the state. You were a gifted teacher and you kept students engaged while teaching them more than they could learn in almost any other class in that high school. You were always true to yourself and I realized that then and I realize that now. You served your community and you impacted a lot of people in a very positive way. Know that while your life was short you achieved a lot and the most important thing is that you impacted the lives of countless kids and families. It is extremely safe to say that your life changed lives. I will never forget you and I will forever feel a bond with you as someone who also has many feelings and emotions that can both uplift and crush us. Rest In Peace.