Giving Voice to a Silent Killer (a blog post about suicide)

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“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes (Image from iStock)

“A diagnosis is burden enough without being burdened by secrecy and shame.” Jane Pauley  (Image from iStock)

Our phone conversation left me teary. Our daughter said the news about Robin Williams’ suicide scared her. It made her think of me. Her comparison was disturbing, and oddly comforting. If I could choose an actor to be like, it’d be him.

In the aftermath of his death, Robin’s family, friends, and colleagues confirmed his kindness over and over by posting on Twitter things like, “A gentle spirit,” “Nicest guy I’ve ever worked with,” and “Robin had time for everyone.”

His roles in movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Dead Poets Society were too convincing to be called “acting.” So was his performance during Good Will Hunting when he compellingly repeated to Matt Damon, “It’s not your fault.” (It’s a powerful clip if you can get past the language. I could.)

I went back several times to the theater with a handful of tissue to hear him tell me that same thing, “It’s not your fault.” I’d sit alone on the back row during afternoon matinees and sob. I’ve since watched the scene on my laptop hundreds of times.

Even though I knew why my daughter was afraid (she knows I mask pain with humor), Robin Williams’ death isn’t the one that terrified me. It was Harriet Deison’s suicide that kept me awake at nights.

After reading every article I could find on her, I’d imagine talking her out of driving across town in her Lexus to a gun shop where she shot herself inside her car. I’d imagine our conversations about hiding how we felt so others would think we were okay because we wanted desperately to be okay. I’d imagine helping each other step outside our depression and into the Light. I still wonder why this beautiful 65-year-old woman, a preacher’s wife at a prominent church in Texas, committed suicide four days after Christmas. I wonder why her husband, her daughters, and her grandchildren weren’t enough to help her choose life.

But, then, I think maybe I know.

My husband and I call it “The Dark Place.” It’s where I’m convinced family and friends don’t want to hear about my despair, but I’m desperate to talk about it. It’s where I beg God to show up, but he’s quiet, almost like he was never there at all. It’s the place where I’m overcome by pain, yet the pain of suicide seems practical and peaceful. The dark place is not just my closet where I curl up, it’s the thoughts I curl up with … the ones that say, “It is your fault.”

Until the movie Good Will Hunting, I couldn’t put into words what was wrong. The “it” (that I didn’t want to be my fault) was not being able to fix or fit into my family of origin. The “it” was not feeling safe and protected because I wasn’t. The “it” was having emotions that overwhelmed my family and me because none of us wanted to face what had happened and what was still happening.

The scariest part, even when it hurt, was I couldn’t stop living up to my title from high school as “Most Dependable.” I took responsibility for my family’s insanity because they wouldn’t. I also kept it a secret because maybe they were right, maybe it was my fault.

After Mom threatened me with boarding school because “all you do is cry,” I tried to stop feeling and talking about my depression and fear. I tried to stop making a big deal out of nothing (like sexual abuse) and taking things personally (like Dad staying away nine months out of the year). I tried to convince myself it was safe to love and lighten up even when my uncle who abused me ended up in a padded room at a mental hospital. But I couldn’t do it. Death sounded safer than life and suicide seemed the only way out since I told myself I was too unstable to leave.

Get over it. Yeah, I tried that too.

Here’s where I’m supposed to neaten up my blog post, let you know God’s the answer (he is, but I’m not preaching because talking-tos didn’t help me), and tell how I stopped wanting to kill myself. Like my daughter says about solutions, “I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.”

I can offer some hope, though. Robin Williams and Harriet Deison saved me a little bit. My kids, my husband, my friends, and even my family of origin saved me a little bit. Most importantly, I’m saving myself a little bit by writing blog posts like this one. I hope if you’re in a scary place, this blog post saves you a little bit.

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes

Is there something you need to share or something you need to do to save yourself? If so, it may save others a little bit as well.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – To heal, we must allow ourselves to feel. And some of us also need to talk about the feelings even if others don’t want to hear them. And this, my reader friends, is why I write. Thanks for letting me talk.

Click the link for an inspiring article and video sent by my daughter right after Robin Williams’ suicide. Going Public with Depression is by CNN’s Kat Kinsman.

Click the link to read the obituary of Harriet Deison.

Click the link to read a compassionate account by Steve Blow of Harriet Deison’s life and death: For Harriet Deison, a life to admire gave way to a death beyond understanding

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21 responses »

  1. What a brave post!

    My feeling is that, in a way, we all killed Robin Williams. He developed an acting persona, and we – his fans – would not let him out of it. We wouldn’t let him be human, because we needed him to be the marquee star, the guy who would always make us laugh.

    We allowed a culture that tolerates and glamorizes substance abuse, where rehab is almost chic. We laugh at drinking and drug references in television and movies; what’s funnier than the befuddled Cheech and Chong?

    We leave people with nowhere to turn, because we come to depend on the image we made for them to prop up part of our world.

    It happens on every level Robin Williams. Harriet Deison. You. Me.

    I, too, would like to say, “God is the answer!” Wrap things up in a nice little package, with a Jerusalem-olive-wood cross as a pendant on the bow.

    And He is the answer, but not in the way we’d like.

    He’s the answer in the “you-are-My-hands-and-feet” sense of dread responsibility.

    We mouth pretty slogans and verse about how much we love Jesus, but when it comes to the most vulnerable among us, what do we choose? Jesus?

    Or do we choose to lock away compassion, because it makes us look at our own vulnerabilities?

    We have to be available always, to reach out when we can, to help when it’s within our power, and to hold someone who’s crying because life got to be too much to bear.

    God threw us a Hail Mary pass, by sending His son to die on the Cross.

    We have to catch that ball, and run with it.

    • Andrew, when you comment, I shake my head “yes” to every sentence. I believe that same thing about Robin Williams. My husband read an article where Williams shared that he wanted to cut out some of his work/travel and hang out closer to home and with family, but it wasn’t possible. Not possible probably because we made it that way.

      It’s a sad reality that we kind of kill each other with our expectations, with our condemnation of any emotion except happiness, and with our unwillingness to suffer ourselves and with others. You know, don’t worry, be happy. Yeah, well, that requires a lot of deadening of our souls to live out that little ditty.

      I think (just like you) the same about Harriet Deison as I do Robin Williams. Can you imagine the pressure of thousands of church members and she’s in the limelight, hiding her pain while being there when others suffer?

      You’re so right, it happens to each one of us. The only way out is to show up for ourselves and for each other. Thanks for doing that here. I appreciate your readership and your friendship.

      • And I appreciate your friendship, and the wisdom in your words. Your posts always open my eyes, and my heart.

        In a way I think Harriet Deison was in a worse position, because for someone like her the Christian culture can be terribly unforgiving. Setting a foot wrong, or even hinting at doubt would affect not only how she was seen, but also could damage her husband’s career.

        It’s a sad commentary, but the more Christian some folks get the further from Christ they move. Just think of the condescension with which “baby Christians” are treated atmost churches. It’s a wonder that they stay.

        I wish Robin WIlliams had been able to slow down; it’s so ironic that suicide was the central motivating theme of what I think was his best performance, in “What Dreams May Come”.

      • Andrew, I’ve never heard of “What Dreams May Come.” Thanks for mentioning it. I’m adding it to my movie list. Happy ending? I’m sappy like that.

  2. I pushed the “liked” button on this post. Odd, in a way, because you wrote about so much I don’t like: sexual abuse, and lies, and depression, and suicide … and yet, you wrote honest. And that I can like: honesty. You, my friend, are a brave, brave soul.

    • Just think, I set out to write funny blog posts. That was my goal. At this point, I’m guessing God has a different idea. Thanks for liking even when my topics are unlikable. I sure appreciate your support.

  3. You my dear friend had better never do that to us – or I’ll have to come down there and eat Milky Way’s without you!

    All kidding aside, I cannot imagine my life without you: your humor and encouragement, your transparency and bravery. I do not know why so many of those in our mutual writing community struggle to keep our heads above water and to hear God in those silent vacuums of life. It is so plain, most of us do!

    I have relentlessly prayed, “Where ARE you????” for most of the last decade. If I have to see one more reference to footprints in the sand and the ditch in the sand where he drug us, frankly, I.think.I’ll.PUKE. If I have to hear,”God is good,” with its echoing reply of, “All the time,” one more time, I may go postal. How’s that for transparency?

    If you don’t quit, I won’t. I’m holding you to it. Dear God we cannot see or hear, open our eyes and allow us to see you in the big and little of life. Give us the eyes to see so that our hearts can proclaim, “Despite it all, he was just too sweet not to trust.”
    ❤ ❤ ❤

    • Carol Anne, it’s a deal. I’ll hang in here if you will. It’s amazing that writing one post about suicide has done more to clear the murky waters than just about anything else I’ve tried. Granted, it took me a month, but I finally said what I wanted to say and hit “Publish.” I’ve needed to talk for years, not babble, but really say something. You know, say things that are hard to say, tell things that readers may not want to read, talk about necessary topics we try hard to ignore.

      When friends like you show up to read it, that’s a bonus. Thank you!

      I could write an entire blog post in response to your third paragraph. In fact, I think I will. Stay tuned. 🙂

      Love ❤

  4. Kim,

    Thank you for sharing this. Reading your blog posts expand my mind and help me to be a more compassionate person.

    Sincerely,
    Amelia

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Amelia. I wouldn’t have chosen any of the negative things (who would, right?), but I also wouldn’t trade them now that I know their lessons. Compassion is a wonderful gift. ❤

  5. Yesterday when I read Proverbs 25:20 in THE BOOK translation, I was stopped in my tracks: “Singing cheerful songs to a person whose heart is heavy is as bad as stealing someone’s jacket in cold weather or rubbing salt in a wound.” Had that not jumped out at me yesterday, my comment may have been different today. But because it did, I will simply say: I love you Kim Henson – and feel blessed to have connected with you.

    • Shel, thanks so much for your comment and your love. And for sharing the verse. I wondered how I’d missed it. Well, I didn’t. It’s just that my translation isn’t as slap-me-in-the-face clear as yours. Even though I know better, I still slip and tell others to cheer up. I’ll think twice about it in light of Proverbs.

      I cherish our friendship. I could add FB and my friends inside my laptop saved me a little bit. Maybe more than a little bit. ❤

  6. Kim, I just went to youtube and watched the “It’s not your fault” scene. (I had never seen it). Then I just sat there quietly for a while.
    Thank you for your honest writing. It is a gift to all of us who read it.

    • It’s a powerful scene, Dave. I meant to include a link to it in my blog post – doing that as soon as I finish this comment. It’s because of writers like you and Beth that I feel free to write honestly, then actually post it. Thank you for your friendship!

  7. From Facebook ~

    Jan Igoe, Kimberly Duncan and Diana Hurwitz like this.

    Kim Henson Linda Saelg Calvanico, thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry about your dad. Suicide is a terrible way to die and a terrible way to lose someone you love. It leaves so many unanswered questions, so much guilt and sadness, and so much pain. I appreciate your friendship. Love you!
    October 9, 2014 at 8:45pm · Like · 1

    Linda Saelg Calvanico Love you too Kim! Well said!
    October 9, 2014 at 8:51pm · Unlike · 1

    Jan Igoe Excellent job.
    October 10, 2014 at 9:21am · Unlike · 1

    Kim Henson Jan Igoe, I take that as a big compliment since I respect your writing. Thank you.
    October 10, 2014 at 9:33 am – Unlike 1

  8. From Facebook ~

    Diane Klebanow and 2 others like this.

    Kim Henson Adelee Russell, thanks so much for passing this along. It’s a tough topic and an even tougher reality to live with. I’m always inspired by your posts and your faith. Love.
    October 9, 2014 at 12:43am · Like · 2

    Adelee Russell Kim Henson, thank you.
    October 9, 2014 at 1:50am · Unlike · 1

  9. From Facebook ~

    Helgi Vannell, Kerry Morgan, Adelee Russell and 7 others like this.
    3 shares

    Summer Turner Powerful and well written, Kim. Shining light in the form of words is bound to help others who don’t yet have the words.
    October 8, 2014 at 5:39pm · Unlike · 1

    Anjana C. Duff I know your writing is cathartic for you, and I’m sure your transparency is helping others, Kim.
    October 8, 2014 at 5:54pm · Unlike · 2

    Kim Henson Summer Turner, it helps so much to share and I’m hoping you’re right, that it helps others to hear. I appreciate your encouragement.
    October 9, 2014 at 12:20am · Like · 1

    Kim Henson I sure hope so, Anjana C. Duff. I appreciate your comment.
    October 9, 2014 at 12:20am · Like

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