Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Jill Bialosky, author of the new book History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life, in which she brilliantly weaves together her sister’s inner life and brings an awkward but essential topic of discussion out of the shadows.
1. If you could have readers leave with one piece of truth about suicide, what would it be?
Jill: Suicide is a multi-faceted, complex event and though there may be a present catalyst that triggers it, ultimately it is a psychological drama that happens within the mind of a suicidal individual resulting from intense inner pain. This is a theory developed by Dr. Edwin Shneidman, one of the leading figures in the study of suidiology and it is the one theory that makes sense to me.
We must recognize the inner pain of someone who is suicidal as quickly as possible. One of the conundrums is that those who are suffering deeply tend to isolate themselves and disguise their inner pain to protect loved ones. We must look for warning signs and be not afraid to ask.
2. Why don’t we have the language we need to talk about suicide? How can we develop one?
Jill: Suicide is still a taboo subject. People are uncomfortable talking about it. Suicides are particularly painful for family and loved ones to process because of overwhelming feelings of shock, guilt, shame, anger and responsibility survivors of suicides experience. Suicide taps into fears about recognizing the fragility of human existence, worry and feelings of helplessness in the face of those we love who are suffering. With that said, we need to begin to raise the veil and open the dialogue.
Since I have published History of Suicide, I have received five to ten emails a day from readers who have lost loved ones to suicide or have been at one time or another suicidal. They have thanked me for writing honestly and bravely about my sister’s life and about suicide in general. The book is hitting a nerve because suicide has been in the closet for so long and those who have been affected by it are finding they now have permission to talk about their complicated feelings and long standing grief.
We need to open the conversation to begin to develop a language to talk about it.
3. How best do you think you can support a person who has just lost a close friend or relative to a suicide? What most helped you?
Jill: A first step is by acknowledging the loss and also by acknowledging the additional pain of having lost a loved one to suicide that a survivor experiences.
Since my book came out, friends and acquaintances have apologized to me for not having acknowledged my sister’s death at the time it happened because they were uncomfortable. As I write in my book, the journey toward understanding a loved one’s suicide is individual and personal. I would advice people to seek support wherever they can find it, through community organizations, religious affiliations, grief groups, therapy. What helped me most was knowledge.
Check out the book at Amazon.com: History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life.
If you’re thinking of suicide, please read this first.