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SALT LAKE CITY — The other day, when my husband came home from work, he told me that something terrible had happened in our community. A 15-year-old girl had died from self-inflicted injuries. She had taken her own life.
When I heard the news, my heart ached for her. I hurt, thinking of all the torment this young girl must have gone through in the days, weeks, months and perhaps even years leading up to her death. Then my thoughts turned to her family. My heart sank. How were they doing? How were they feeling? What was in store for them in the coming days, weeks, months and years?
Although I do not know this family, nor the situation surrounding the young girl's death, I understand much of what they may have gone through, as well as what is in store. There is one word that describes it all, and that word is “silence.”
I know this because I have been through it.
As if the grief and guilt weren't enough, we were suddenly one of "those families" who had someone commit that unspeakable act — the unspeakable act that nobody wants to talk about.
Nearly seven years ago, my family was shaken up by the sudden and unexpected death of my oldest sister. She was a beautiful, funny, smart, educated woman. Above all, she was a mother to three beautiful and perfect children — one of the best mothers I have ever met. She was so loving and patient — everything that a mother should be.
A few years prior to her death, things started to get quiet. She didn't speak much. She didn't call as often. When we spoke, things were brief but sweet; just very quiet. There were times when she spoke of difficult things that were happening in her life, but never in a way that would indicate what was to come … or so I thought at the time.
On Nov. 5, 2006, she slipped quietly away from this earth after taking her own life — quietly, silently … gone.
Like many victims of suicide — and I say “victims” because even though they did commit the act that took their life, there were many outside factors that had influenced their decision — the decision to “go” is not telegraphed for the world to know. In fact, most go just as my sister did: quietly, as to not disturb, hoping to leave this earth as if they had never entered.
Those of us she left, known clinically as “suicide survivors,” were left with the whys and what-ifs. We were confronted with the guilt of what we could have done differently, and longing to ask the one person with the answers. … Silence. She's gone.
As if the grief and guilt weren't enough, we were suddenly one of “those families” who had someone commit that unspeakable act — the unspeakable act that nobody wants to talk about.
We are now silent.
All too often, survivors are forced into seclusion. When asked how our loved one died, there is a hesitation, and many times a sense of shame. What do you say? How much do you say? Do they really want to hear it? Will they judge me? Will they judge her? So, we remain silent — silently mourning the loss of our loved one.
Suicide is the silent killer. So many each year fall victim to this terrible tragedy, and even more “survivors” are left suffering in silence.
When confronted with someone who may be suicidal, or with someone who is a “survivor,” lend an ear, be a friend and don't let them suffer in silence.
Arianne Brown is a graduate from Southern Utah University, mother to five young kids and an avid runner. *