Sometimes seemingly random information makes its way to me and I am left asking “now what?” but when I came across this ad for International Suicide Survivors Day I knew exactly what I had to do. I had just published 6 Degrees From Reality on this blog site and decided to have a meaningful conversation with my nanny about her experience on this matter. She’d mentioned her husbands’suicide to me a while back but I’ve never asked her how she felt, and how she is doing.
Nobody in my immediate family has died an unnatural death via suicide. Yes, we’ve had many passing’s due to illness and old age – and I’ve got a very big family. But natural death seems to always have a reason – something to console us during the upfront grieving process.
Sophy Mabiletsa was about 10 years younger then with a young daughter and another child on the way. Her husband was known to have many extra-marital affairs in Langlaagte where they lived. It was too much for Sophy to handle and she decided to file for divorce. Joseph, her husband, became abusive and even set their cherished house in Jericho on fire as a punishment of sorts. She managed to escape to a place of safety with her baby and Joseph, escaped in a frenzy to friends in Langlaagte. In the early hours of the morning he walked onto the nearby railway tracks and simply waited for the next train to ride over him. Who knows if he was serious about taking his life that day? No one will ever know if he regretted his decision a moment to late.
Survivors of Suicide Day is commemorated the Saturday before Thanksgiving in the United States of America where the movement began. In 1999, Senator Harry Reid introduced a resolution to the United States Senate which led to the creation of the National Survivors of Suicide Day Reid proposed the designation after his father committed suicide. It is a day when the friends and family of those who have committed suicide can join together for healing and consolation. It is important to remind survivors that they can grieve but they should not blame themselves for the deaths of those who committed suicide.
Sophy’s eyes well up as she continues telling me her story. She says that the guilt is unbearable. Joseph left a short note for his daughter that stated “I’ve killed myself because your mother wants a divorce”. Sophy was fortunate to have received ongoing counselling from the State and she remembers the case worker saying that she can’t blame herself, that she must be strong for her and her daughter and her unborn child.
As of 2011, an estimated one million people per year die by suicide or “a death every 40 seconds or about 3,000 every day. According to WHO there are twenty people who have a failed suicide attempt for every one that is successful, at a rate approximately one every three seconds. Suicide is the “most common cause of death for people aged 15 – 24.” More people die from suicide than from murder and war; it is the 13th leading cause of death worldwide. According to WHO, suicide accounts for nearly half of all violent deaths in the world.
Most cases of potential suicide have warning signs. Attempting to kill oneself or harming oneself, talking about or planning suicide, writing a suicide note, talking or thinking frequently about death, exhibiting a death wish by expressing it verbally or by taking potentially deadly risks, are all indicators of a suicide crisis. More subtle clues include preparing for death for no apparent reason (such as putting affairs in order, changing a will, etc.), writing goodbye letters, and visiting or calling family members or friends to say farewell. The person may also start giving away previously valued items (because he or she “no longer needs them”). In other cases, the person who seemed depressed and suicidal may become normal again; these people particularly need to be watched because the return to normalcy could be because they have come to terms with whatever act is next.
According to Sophy, Joseph hated the idea of divorce – it was shameful, more than the embarrassment thrust upon her by his infidelity. In their 3 years of marriage he had threatened to kill him and her if she ever left him. He said it so often that she stopped believing him to an extent. Joseph was not a big drinker so she wasn’t threatened by unexpected fits of outrage beyond the usual arguments about separation.
Sophy openly tells her children that their father committed suicide. Her daughters ask. Her oldest daughter was 6 years old at the time and she had an established relationship with her father – she blamed her mother for many years for making her father “go away”. Sophy struggles to talk about it but she manages to spurt out almost defensively that she did it to save their lives. She says that she is better friends now with other women who have been in similar situations; husbands who hung themselves, children who shot themselves. I suppose only they can truly relate to the experience.
Every survivor will find their own way through the guilt, anger and shock over time. Eventually, you will find that moving on with your life is possible and that acceptance is the path to hope and healing.
If anything, I hope that the most important of conversations happen in homes tonight. For both the potential victim and survivors out there. There is a great lack of awareness of the prevalence of suicidal behaviour which needs to be discussed openly.
You may also want to read these related articles on this blog:
- Picking Up The Pieces (tips for survivors)
- Losing your first love
- Losing a sibling
- Why suicide was a good idea at the time
- Doing it my way to the brink of suicide
International Suicide Survivors Day falls on Saturday, 17 November this year.
Sadag runs South Africa’s only toll-free suicide crisis line – 0800 567 567 – open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm. SMS 31393. Their website has articles, FAQs and other resources which are worth a read www.sadag.org
Please take care when commenting on this blogpost – no judgement of survivors, victims and my friends & family will be allowed. I simply won’t publish your comments. I’m sure you understand. Thank you. Melanie