Back in the seventies, a hit movie (and later TV show) M*A*S*H had a beautiful theme song, called “Suicide is Painless.” That’s a lie. Suicide is not painless. Never has been. Never will be. In fact, I’d wager that suicides are the tragedy that keeps on giving, as waves radiate out like ripples in a pond, to affect more and more people. Case in point: yesterday we learned that a boy at my daughter’s school committed suicide with a handgun.
There’s a lot more to this story that I know than I’m willing to share here. Some of it I learned from “inside” sources. Some of it I’m not sharing because the family deserves privacy as they grieve. But enough of it bears repeating here on TTAG, if for no better reason than as a cautionary tale for the rest of us.
Here are the facts. This summer past, a man turned a gun on his new wife, then shot the family pet and finally turned the gun on himself. I don’t know why. For the purpose of this discussion, the details aren’t important. But those ripples. THEY are.
Months later the son of the man who committed the murder/suicide, a middle school student, left a note on his front door, then shot himself.
Lessons to learn? There are a lot of them. First, I’d observe that anyone that takes the life of another and then their own never stops to think about how many lives they will touch through their actions. I never met this guy, and I have no idea what caused him to flip out and start shooting. But he’s touched my life, and I’d much rather he hadn’t.
Lesson two, no matter how well-adjusted someone may seem on the outside, they can be a raging mass of despair internally. And lemme tell you, suicide will do that to you. Add “early teen” to the equation, and you have a recipe for another suicide. Which seems to be exactly what happened here.
Lesson three – I’m all for 2nd Amendment freedoms. I’m also fully aware that leaving guns accesible to kids, especially unsupervised is a screamingly bad idea. Allowing a child that is trying to deal with the murder of his stepmother and pet, and the suicide of his father is colossally stupid, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were’n’t deemed criminally negligent. Most often, D.A.s don’t press cases like this because they figure “the family’s already suffered enough.” Perhaps it’s time to rethink that idea.
Lesson four – mental health professionals will tell you that one suicide can breed more within a school. They say it’s because the suicide of a classmate takes the abstract concept of killing yourself and makes it very real and concrete, taking it from the realm of the “unthinkable” to what may seem like a viable choice for kids. I can tell you that middle school is a bitch. Middle school kids have the ethics of the Borgias, the bedside manner of Pol Pot, and the empathy of a drill sergeant. Middle school is hard. It’s a jungle out there, and it’s easy to get eaten alive. Factor in a suicide, and you’re just asking for more.
As a Christian, I’ve been taught that suicide is a mortal sin, because it thwart’s God’s plan. Some sects believe that by committing suicide, you effectively lose your shot at Heaven forever. For this troubled boy’s case, I hope and pray that is not the case. But regardless of your religious beliefs, the life he had here is gone. So is his future. And every last one of his friends and family are left, shocked and grief-stricken wondering ‘why.’
I don’t have any answers. I can tell you that my instincts as a dad are to not give advice to my daughter, but just shut up and listen. Let her vent. Hear her out. It will take a while for her to process this. She may have questions. Some of them, I likely won’t be able to answer. But the only way I know how to help her is to listen to her, and pray to God that she won’t ever think that suicide is a viable solution to any problem.
Did guns play a part in this tragedy. You bet. And I’d argue that had they been secured it would have at least made it more difficult (albeit admittedly NOT impossible) for the boy to kill himself. I would implore anyone with a gun to keep it secured to avoid tragedy. I’d also suggest that anyone who has a child dealing with the suicide of someone close to them be prevented from getting anywhere near a gun while they come to grips with things.
That’s it. That’s all I got. No answers. Lots of questions. And lots more things to worry about, as I watch my only daughter deal with a very adult topic at a very tender age. If you are the praying kind, I ask you say a prayer tonight for everyone involved.
If the boy or whoever wanted to commit suicide, he would have found another way. The gun did not cause his suicide. It was the instrument he had chosen to use. Suicide is just to relieve pain. We do not know what cause the pain.
I couldn't agree with you more, Lee. But if you have a child going through the early stages of puberty who's father committed suicide, it would make sense to keep firearms away from him, and locked up, That's true of any tween or teen, but especially important with one that has gone through personal trauma like this. You can't stop someone from killing themselves if they are determined to do so. He could have chosen any one of dozens of methods. But my point is they should not have made it easy for him to choose this one.
that the method doesn't matter is a convenient opinion to hold. it doesn't really account though for how different demographic groups typically choose different methods for dispatching themselves.
Brad: I hope you and your family find your way through this. Thanks for sharing with us.
“A suicide kills two people, Maggie. That’s what it’s for.” –Arthur Miller, from “After the Fall”
Suicide is a rough episode to go through for anyone. And while its true that young folks must be protected, the most at risk group in terms of suicide is men between 25 and 65 (they account for half the suicide deaths). In fact, the highest rate of suicide is committed by men aged 85 and older.
Also, while women ATTEMPT suicide at higher rates, men COMMIT suicides at much higher rates mainly due to the fact that they use more, shall I say, effective methods like a firearm (a gun is used in more than half of all suicides).
I completely agree that we must listen to our youngsters and protect them but given that suicide affects other age and gender groups even more, we cannot forget about our friends and especially the elderly.
The method does matter. Yes, it is a fact that over half the suicides occur with guns. I’m sure the number would go down if we banned guns completely just as I’m sure that child obesity would go down if we banned video games and McDonald’s (and burger king and wendys).
Personally, I think we just need to be concerned for our friends and neighbors. There’s nothing wrong with asking the elderly man who lives across the street if he’s feeling ok and listening to what he has to say. It’s ok to ask a kid you see being bullied how he feels about it and, if appropriate, let him know its perfectly fine to stand up for himself so that he won’t be enticed to “shoot up his school”.
as for why different demographics use. different methods, men have always tended to use more surefire methods than women. That’s not a commentary on gender inequality or anything, rather just a statement of fact. perhaps its because men have tended to simply be around guns far more often throughout history (military, law enforcement, traditional gender roles, etc).
A friend's brother in law used his shotgun on himself, and it caused a rift in the family that hasn't been healed since, and it's been almost 20 years now. He went out with his mother, wife, sisters and their husbands for dinner, and then they went bowling. He bowled ok, and seemed fine, not acting depressed or that anything was upsetting him. After they bowled a couple of games, he said he was tired and went home. The rest of them continued to bowl for a while, and then someone dropped his wife off at home. She found him in the basement. He left a note that said, "I love you, and I'm sorry!". That's it. He had just found out that in a year, he would lose his job, and that may have had something to do with it, but he had gone through a job loss before and had ended up being unemployed for two days, and ended up with a much better job. Anyway, his mother and one of his sisters seemed to blame his wife for not seeing he was depressed, even though they didn't see it either. It got very ugly, and after his mother died, it got even worse, to the point now where the one sister refuses to speak with his widow. She left my friend's house, throwing a huge tantrum, when she walked in and found her brother's widow there. Blaming his wife for his suicide is just ridiculous, but she does anyway, and is "convinced" that the wife remarrying a year and a half later is "proof" of "something funny" going on. Her behavior is bizarre, to say the least.