Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A View Of Prevention

In November 1982, my father committed suicide.

Click on the picture for a link to a previous post about my dad's death.

The exact date is a mystery, but it's believed it would've been the beginning of the month. He was found about three weeks after he died in the Detroit River behind Cobo Hall. My family was notified by the police the day after Thanksgiving. In one form or another, we've been mourning his death ever since.

The exact reason he decided to take his life is also a mystery. We don't know why he chose to take his life the way he did. We don't know what drove him to suicide. He didn't leave behind a note. He said goodbye to his friends and family in his own way, with visits and calls just before he disappeared but nothing set off any alarms or made anyone think that he was considering such a drastic act.

All we know is that he decided life was no longer worth living and that he took his life. What we don't know about what he did and why he did it has taken on a life of his own.

I can't speak for my family, but I can tell you that not a day goes by when that November in 1982 doesn't cross my mind in one form or another. I wonder what he would be like now - what my family's life would've been like had he not committed suicide. I wonder what sort of pain must he have felt - and why he decided the only way to ease that pain was to end his life. I wonder how come he felt he couldn't talk to someone about what was bothering him - then I wonder if he did and just picked the wrong person or couldn't find the relief he needed.

Those questions came to mind today as I read two articles about suicide and the impact it has on people. The first was a tragedy on many levels. It was about the families of David and Rose Cobb. On December 26, 2007, Rose was murdered in the parking lot of a local drugstore in a brutal fashion - shot in the head four times by a lone gunman. Evidence seemed to indicate that her husband David had her killed because she was contemplating divorce. She believed he was having an affair. There had also been accusations of him soliciting sex from a minor - accusations that led to a trial, where he was acquitted. Still, it was enough for Rose to wonder if was hiding any other things from her.

David denied having sex with the girl who brought the charges of solicitation, denied having an affair with any woman, and denied having anything to do with his wife's death. The Wayne County Prosecutor also declined to bring charges against him for his wife's murder. Despite all of this, there were still accusations, evidence that seemed to indicate he was involved with the shooting according to the Detroit Police, and rumblings that a plea deal was being negotiated that would've led to charges being filed against him.

On September 26th, David Cobb drove to a park in Sterling Heights and hung himself. Like my father, the report said he went to visit family and friends before he took his life and now they realize it was his way of saying goodbye. Unlike my father, he did leave letters to his family that gave some insight as to why he took his life. According to David's father, he didn't feel like life would be worth living without Rose. The letters, however, seemed to do little to ease the pain that the families of David and Rose Cobb are feeling. Her family sees his suicide as an admission of guilt, and are angry that they had no part in any of Rose's funeral plans. His family believes he never would've been charged in her death, and believe he was consumed by the loss of his wife.

Whatever may have happened, nobody will have any definitive answers because both David and Rose are gone. Their families are left behind with hurt, confusion, and an endless list of unanswered questions. They also do not seem to be eager to reach out to each other to try and heal their pain, to try and answer the questions that they'll think about in one form or another everyday for the rest of their lives. I can understand their pain, their need to know why. I can also understand how frustrating it must be for them to know they will never get all the answers they need about what happened to David and Rose, or why it happened.

I can only hope they try to work out the complicated mass of feelings the deaths of their loved ones have left on their lives. I hope they realize that what happened to them is not their fault, and they don't give in to the temptation to let the anger, mourning, and helplessness they feel consume them. One tiny bit of good that came from my father's suicide was learning the importance of talking, especially about talking about the dark and ugly things many people don't want to talk about. Expressing one's feelings, one's fears, one's weaknesses can only help make a person stronger in the long run because talking about the dark, the ugly, or the scary sets those toxic feelings free. Holding in the negative is like trying to keep acid in a paper bag. We can't be afraid to talk or to reach out for help.

Another article I read today seems to indicate this isn't happening. According to a study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the suicide rate in the United States has been increasing since 1999. The largest increase appears to be among middle aged adults between the ages of 40 and 64. The rate for this age group rose almost 16% between 1999 and 2005. The scariest part of this increase is not that it's happening, is that the cause of the increase is unclear. According to experts quoted in the article, it could be because of an increase in the abuse of prescription pain pills, more stress in people's lives, it could be anxiety that's heightened in our post 9/11 environment - no one knows for sure.

All the authors of the study know for sure is that the leading cause of suicide is untreated depression. Depression is one of the easiest mental illnesses to treat - according to the All About Depression website, up to 80-90% of persons who seek treatment for depression can feel better within a few weeks. Depression may feel like a tidal wave when it hits, but if treated, it can be nothing more than a tiny puddle.

I've had my own battles with depression - click the picture for a previous post.

Suicide, however, is like a tsunami and just as devastating to those left behind in its wake. Knowing that many of its victims could be saved simply by seeking someone to talk to makes the impact even more corrosive. It doesn't have to be this way. If you click this link, you'll see the warning signs to look for in a person who may be comtemplating suicide. This link will take you to a depression screening test to see if you or a loved one may need help.

Don't be afraid to talk about depression or suicide. I can't tell you how many times people have told me that it's wrong or inappropriate to talk openly about my father's suicide. I can't tell you how many times I've responded by saying that the only thing inappropriate about talking about it was that the talk came too late to save him, or that the only thing wrong about talking about it is that keeping silent keeps in the shame and the hurt and that prevents healing. Not talking allows fear and shame to grow. Talking banishes the fear and shame, and clears the way for one to move on.

David Cobb committed suicide - possibly to escape some horrible truths in his life, possibly because he was so consumed by grief he couldn't figure out how to keep living. My father committed suicide for reasons my family and I can speculate but will never fully know. Whatever the case, their deaths - just like the deaths of suicide victims everywhere - were an unnecessary and avoidable waste of life. If reading this post impacts one person, leads to one person seeing a warning sign in themselves or a loved one, then perhaps some good can come from their losses.

More later. Go talk to someone now.

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