Friday, December 7, 2012

133 Days - Segments of Suicide: When Thoughts Become Actions in a Complicated World

“I wanted to talk to you. I wanted to hear your voice and tell you that I loved you.”
That was the opening sentence of a phone conversation had between my husband and me not thirty minutes ago. He decided he would call me as he left the Toyota dealership where he had been this morning getting an estimate on what it would cost to repair the damage I had done to his truck as I accidentally rammed it into a pole about a month ago.
“I, along with about twenty other people in the waiting room of the dealership, witnessed something this morning that really shook me up. It was… I don’t know… it was disheartening, and pretty disturbing, but I wanted to share it with you because… well, I needed to share it with someone. No, I needed to share it with you, so, I’m going to.”
As I quietly sat on the end of my chair with my laptop in front of me in the middle of some mindless data entry, I listened intently to my husband’s quaky voice tell the tale of woman who experienced the unthinkable this morning. He set the scene at the dealership – where he was sitting in relation to where she was. What she looked like and what she was wearing. And then he proceeded, his voice even shakier now, to tell me how in a relatively quiet room with not much more than the sound of an irrelevant guest answering questions asked by a talentless daytime talk show host echoing in the background, this woman – middle-aged, nicely dressed, African American – began screaming at the top of her lungs.
“She was wailing, Barbara. I mean, it was the type of scream that I imagine would have been similar to the scream you let out in the mall when Roman was having his first seizure. You know… helpless. It was as if she was not in her own body. You had to see her… you had to hear her. She just kept screaming ‘My God, no! My God, no, no, no, God, no!’ and tears were pouring from her eyes.”
The woman was helped outside, he continued to tell me, quickly surrounded by Toyota employees trying to calm her down or find out what it was that was happening, or what she needed. Everyone, he said, was left in the waiting room in a deafening silence. But they stared. They stared, along with my husband, through the dirt-reddened waiting room windows as this woman continued her telephone conversation, and went on with her screaming and her wailing and her clear expression of pain, until she finally just dropped to her knees in silent heartache.
Her husband had shot himself this morning. Taken his own life. And someone called to tell her that. Right then. On the phone. At the dealership. While she waited with everyone else for her tires, or her brakes, or her wipers to be fixed. She was there going about her everyday life while somewhere in their home probably only a few miles away, he was taking his. What was he thinking? Was he thinking? Did he think in the process of taking his that he would also selfishly be ruining hers? No one knows. No one ever will. But everyone left will bear the weight of the pain.
“There was a guy next to me in a suit. He and I just looked at each other and shook our heads. I could tell he was affected. I was affected… I AM affected. And when he got up to leave he said to me ‘Have a good day’ and I said ‘thanks, yeah, have a better day than what that woman is having. Oh, and if you ever feel like you might want to end it all, I suggest you remember that scream’ to which the man responded ‘Good point. I think if her husband ever heard that scream, he would have never done what he did. Take care’ and then he left. But it’s true, Barbara. It’s true that when a person takes their life they are thinking about themselves most, and how they can’t take it, and they can’t handle it, but everyone… EVERYONE should hear a scream like I heard this morning. I think there would be a lot fewer suicides if they did.” 

Anne Tillet Palumbo was an English woman of incredible beauty. A hairdresser with a knack for fashion and a keen style eye, she married an Italian man from Philadelphia and gave birth to two children in her twenties, Barbara and Patrick. She was a wonderful wife and an incredible mother until the day she took her own life, leaving her kids – then seven and four – behind. Anne Tillet was my grandmother and her death affected my father in a way that I hope I may never affect someone I love. He grew up as a once talented, but often troubled artist who became an abusive husband and used alcohol to wash the pain away, if only temporarily. Without the love of his mother he struggled to know the proper way to parent and the end result was a strained and eventually non-existent relationship with his children, me being one of them. When I think about those who commit suicide, I think of how the act of my grandmother affected my father. And then I think about how it would affect my son and how I would never wish my father’s life on someone so precious and so dear. As the granddaughter she never knew – one of only two grandchildren she would have had – I also think about what it would have been like to know her. I look like her, which I’m sure made the pain even greater for my father. Did he resent me because I reminded him of her? Did that strain our relationship even more because he hated that she left him behind to suffer, motherless and guideless? Those are answers I will never know in the same way that she doesn’t know the pain that she caused on the day that she left this world, never to exist in mine.


Jovan Belcher. A gay Michigan teenager. The nurse who was pranked by two radio DJs into giving out information about Kate Middleton. A bullied ten-year-old girl in North Carolina. These are people who killed themselves just this week. Left behind are infant daughters, loving parents, co-workers, friends and lovers, all of whom I could only imagine screamed a scream similar to that of a middle-aged African-American woman waiting to have her brakes fixed somewhere in Georgia, only a mere hour or so ago.
To those right now thinking about giving up, know this: You cannot successfully live for yourself without simultaneously living for others. You are not just giving up, you are giving up on them. Be selfless. Be strong. And above all, show the ultimate sign of love for those around you by staying. It genuinely will get better.

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