|Novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s|
life was touched by suicide
“I more or less told him that if he ever pulled crap like that again, I was going to come down on him like a ton of bricks," said Mark Vonnegut in reference to his father’s suicide attempt in 1984. Like his father, Mark lives with a mental illness and is a writer, the author of two memoirs. The two supported each other through the father’s suicide attempt and the son’s breakdown, hospitalization and eventual graduation from Harvard Medical School. Suicide, like mental illness, is rarely a story that features one protagonist. But once the story has stopped, the rest of the players struggle to find closure. We can see reflected in Vonnegut’s books what is true for anyone touched by suicide: the scar from the loss runs long and it runs deep.
“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center,“ Vonnegut wrote. Perhaps one of the reasons that his writing is so appealing is that he was able to speak from a place of despair, which was paradoxically the fuel for his often-gentle humanistic vision. Though people may feel there is no one with them on that edge, the reality is that many have stood in that same place of hopelessness, and many understanding listeners are available on suicide hotlines, at support groups and among mental health professionals.
We may never fully enter into another’s reasoning behind the decision to end their own life, but we can all challenge ourselves to become better listeners so that we can be there for each other when we’re seeing things from somewhere far from center. Download NAMI’s toolkit with resources for individuals, families and providers for some ideas that will get you started with asking the right questions or looking for a listening ear. As Vonnegut said:
“Why bother? Here's my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about…You are not alone.”If we all need to learn the signs of depression and take talk of suicide seriously, there are a few groups of people who may need extra attention. Almost all of us know someone who is unemployed or a veteran. Both are at a higher risk of suicide. We need to hold them especially close.
“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote in a passage that could well describe the depths of depression. If you feel this way, or you suspect someone you know does, please reach out. We don’t have to be perfect ourselves to make that connection, to help or be helped. The man of many troubles and much compassion, Kurt Vonnegut, said of his son’s mental illness, “We saw something beautiful when you got well. The recovery was worth it.”