What My Grandmother’s Depression Taught Me About Suicide
September is National Suicide Prevention Month and I’ve done all I can do to help others hold onto their lives, while doing the same for myself. In all honesty, I never really thought about suicide until working on my first memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal which was about my grandmother, a World War I survivor who committed suicide when she was 61. It was me who found her in my childhood home. At the time, I was 10 and really did not realize the impact that experience would have on my life. It took me more than 45 years to come to the realization that without knowing it she created a wound that might never completely heal. The wound she created in me was the deep seeded fear of abandonment. My grandmother lived with us and she was my primary caretaker, so there was a huge shift in my home dynamics when she departed.
Years later in graduate school, I decided to study her life and what would make an individual so miserable so that she would take her life. I learned that it was her own wound from her own childhood of being orphaned during World War I. This many years later, her spirit comes to me once in a while. She actually sends me messages. It’s usually when I’m depressed. I think that maybe she’s trying to seduce me with suicide, but I tell her that I’m a survivor and will not be seduced.
Many people view suicide as a selfish act and I can see that. I’ve been married 39 years, am a mother of three and grandmother of two. We’re a close knit family and I’m sure my death would have a huge impact on my loved ones. No matter how sad I am, I have to honor and respect my role in their lives. Perhaps in the end, it’s their love and needing me that will keep me going, and that should be enough.
It’s been said that suicide can be genetic, but I hope that the chain of suicide in my family has been broken. We do stand on the shoulders of giants, but as the late Thomas Myles Steinbeck, who was a Vietnam Vet wrote about Regina’s Closet, “There is an ancient adage which states that if people wish to see their own lives in perspective, they must first search for their reflections in the souls of their ancestors. Diana Raab’s marvelous journal has liberated the voice of her remarkable grandmother with insight, compassion, and considerable skill. I applaud her courage as well as her literary talents.”
What I learned while writing my first memoir is that the answers to why people commit suicide are complex, but most often a result of a battle with depression. My grandmother’s depression was secondary to her being orphaned at the age of 11 during the perils of WWI. She took her life in 1964, at a time when suicide was a taboo subject. In fact, we never even knew she was depressed. Things are different today. People write and talk about their demons, and sometimes the end result is suicide, but other times they are saved by support systems that society has put in place. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicide is the tenth leading cause of death, and annually more than 42,000 people die in this way. The latest statistics show that more veterans die from suicide than from combat.
When Regina’s Closet was released in 2007, I donated the book proceeds to American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and was so happy to do so. If you know someone who is contemplating suicide or are a survivor of loved one who has taken their lives, here are some links which might help you:
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on September 25, 2016.