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Enigmatic Nature of Suicide May Answer the Question "Why?"

This brief essay suggests that specific aspects of suicide demonstrate that in a very real way suicide is inexplicable -- and claims that survivors of suicide loss who carefully consider this idea may be relieved of the distress they feel over being troubled by the question "Why?"

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Enigmatic Nature of Suicide May Answer the Question "Why?"

  1. 1. © 2015, Franklin James Cook. All Rights Reserved. Contact 1 Nov. 21, 2015 Enigmatic Nature of Suicide May Answer the Question "Why?" By Franklin Cook Survivors of suicide loss are understandably troubled over why their loved one died by suicide, and some struggle mightily with this question. The doggedness of the question "Why?" takes some people bereaved by sui- cide to the point of feeling distraught over their attempts to solve myriad—even maddening—puzzles related to the tragedy that has befal- len them. If you have lost a loved one to suicide and have experienced a long, distressful struggle of this kind, please consider asking yourself what it might mean to you if satisfactory answers to your questions truly do not exist (or are impossible to grasp and hold onto in a useful way). After all, to some degree isn't every suicide an enigma? Certainly, treating the suicide of someone about whom you care deeply as being a profound mystery should not stop you from also pointing to specific causes that explain at least in part what happened. Depression, alcohol and drug addiction, and other mental illnesses can be causal factors in suicide. Numerous other personal vulnerabilities and environ- mental forces—heredity, family and social circumstances, interpersonal and emotional difficulties, life changes and losses, and lack of resources and coping abilities—all can play a role in suicide. Also, suicide is almost universally understood to be an escape from unbearable mental- emotional pain that the suffering person believes can be alleviated only by death, and it can be useful to consider how such inner torment might have been driving the person who died toward suicide. If you have looked carefully into how various factors such as those contributed to your loved one's death, but—in spite of finding some answers that make sense to you and some explanations that are even comforting—you always eventually wind up feeling bedeviled by the question "Why?" it may be helpful for you to set aside your search for causes. Certainly, don't reject the causes you have found that seem reasonable and do continue to value them as part of the story of what happened—but is it also possible for you to focus on the idea that suicide is an ultimately inexplicable phenomenon—and to do so in a way that leads you to greater understanding and peace of mind? Consider the following observations, which illustrate vital components of suicide that make this self-directed fatal act seem inexplicable:
  2. 2. © 2015, Franklin James Cook. All Rights Reserved. Contact 2 1. Suicide requires the person who dies to overcome the innate human will to live, which is genetically designed to be a powerful and even invincible force. 2. Suicidal people, in almost every instance, are ambivalent about killing themselves—so their behavior leading up to their death can be starkly contradictory because actions driven by the fact that they want to die occur side-by-side with actions motivated by the fact that they want to live. 3. Before the person died, internal factors existed—and perhaps also some external circumstances—that only he or she knew about. 4. In the end, the only person who is eligible to say firsthand why a particular suicide happened is the person who died by suicide in that instance. Each of these conundrums in itself shows how asking the question “Why?” can go far beyond seeking to understand the logical connections between causes and effects. The larger question at hand for survivors might go something like this: “How could suicide have even happened to this person in my life, whom I know and love so well?” When it is framed that way, the observations outlined above must be assessed not only in general nor as abstractions, but also as they might apply to someone with whom the bereaved person has an intimate relationship. Here are examples of very personal questions generated by each of those obser- vations, respectively: 1. How could my (father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend, colleague) possibly have been able to negate his or her will to live? 2. How can I make sense—in the face of my loved one's self-inflicted death—of behavior that clearly demonstrated that he or she had reasons and the desire to live? 3. What was going on in my loved one's private inner world (and perhaps private outer world, as well) that contributed to his or her death and about which I have no knowledge or understanding? 4. How can I even pretend to know—if it were even possible, which it is not—how my loved one would actually explain his or her suicide to me? Perhaps increasing your understanding and peace of mind by some measure is, indeed, possible if you are able to reflect on such questions not with an eye toward answering them but rather with the intention of embracing them as confirmation that some aspects of your loved one's suicide are unknowable. How might such reflections be reassuring and affirming? They can be so because allowing the unknowable to enter into the reality of what happened opens up space for you to see the story of
  3. 3. © 2015, Franklin James Cook. All Rights Reserved. Contact 3 events purposefully through the lens of your relationship with the person who died. Is there a story about your loved one's death that you can claim as your own—and altogether valid—based on who you knew the person to be (and who the person in essence still is, in relation to you)? This is not to suggest that it doesn't matter whether your story has any attachment to reality; rather, it invites you to take everything that is known—as well as everything that cannot be known—and to say in your own voice not only what you believe occurred but also, from a relational point of view, why it happened. And not only the why that is "proven" by cause-and-effect but also the why focused on what is meaningful to you in the face of a most perplexing—and fatal—circumstance. Perhaps by substantiating the element of mystery as being as real as any other aspect of what that tragedy is all about, you can discover a story that answers the question "Why?" in a way that frees you from being haunted by it.