By Linda Commito
While there may be little or nothing we can do if someone is determined to end their life, we can do what we can every day to make others feel noticed, appreciated, loved.
Recent headlines made me gasp. Anthony Bourdain, the well-loved chef and travelling host of a popular gourmet TV series, died at the age of 61. When I learned that he had hung himself in his French hotel room, I was deeply saddened. What is it that made him—or any human being for that matter—choose to end his life? At the pinnacle of his career, he seemed to be living the life that others could only dream about. Despite the adulation and acknowledgment of what he and his work meant to them, none of it mattered in the end. Why?
Some suicides may be more understandable—those suffering from mental illness, depression, dementia, untreatable illness, drug or alcohol addiction—but it can happen to anyone in any class, country, profession, age or race. Studies show that half of those who commit suicide do not have a mental illness.
We may know people who talk about ending their life. There’s little or nothing we can do about it other than continue to let them know how much they mean to us and encourage them to seek professional help. Even when they are verbal about it, which is a positive sign, you can’t follow someone around 24-7. And we may never get that chance because they masterfully hide the signs of what they are planning or it is a sudden decision with no warning.
I had a college roommate who was socially awkward and kept to herself most of the time. I invited her to visit my family, since hers lived out of state, and tried to include her in activities. But one night, after going out for the evening, I walked into an empty room. My roommate had been taken to the hospital after an overdose of pills. If she hadn’t vomited, gotten scared and sought help from a friend of mine, I would have come home to a note that said: “I’ve gone to bed early.” I could have tiptoed around a dark room only to find my roommate dead the following morning. I saw her briefly as she left the college and I was sad, but grateful that she had gotten help in time. It was only years later that she “let me in” through a letter that helped me to understand.
Sadly, such stories are more common today. (I.e. suicides are up 30 percent since 1999). Why, with all of the tools to supposedly connect us—cell phones, computers, social media—are we feeling more alone, hopeless and isolated than ever? There may be people we work with, socialize or dine with, or just pass by who are struggling with inner battles.
While there may be little or nothing we can do if someone is determined to end their life, we can do what we can every day to make others feel noticed, appreciated, loved. We never know how our kind words or actions can make a positive difference in someone else’s life. How can we include others or just see them, truly see them, as someone important? How can we listen in a way that makes someone feel heard even if it’s just for a few moments?
A good male friend, normally upbeat, shared with me his despair over the ending of his long-term relationship. Although we lived in different states, I told him: “I am calling you every day, no matter what, to check in.” And I did for over a month until he was doing better, at which point he said with his usual humor, “You saved my butt!”
While we can’t do that for every person, what if we put down our cell phones and look around and engage with people in a way that lets them know that they are not alone, that someone cares? We are there at that moment as a witness to their life. Can we not say hello, smile, offer a helping hand? Just showing up can help someone to see that life is precious.
These headlines do more than shock us, they focus our attention on what is lacking in our lives, our society, our world. How can we use them as a wake-up call to give our attention to who and what is really important and who may be right in front of our eyes? How can we start each day appreciating our own life and the lives of those around us. It’s not too late..
And if you do know someone who is struggling, suffering or who needs help, the national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Pass it on.
Feedback: Have you or someone you love considered ending their life? What is it that helped to come to an understanding of the value of our one precious life?
Linda Commito, author, speaker, entrepreneur, consultant and teacher, is passionate about her vision to leave this world a kinder, more compassionate and interconnected place. Her award-winning book of inspirational stories, Love is the New Currency, demonstrates how we can each make a positive difference in the lives of others through simple acts of love and kindness. Visit www.loveisthenewcurrency.com for more information and/or to sign up for an uplifting monthly newsletter. Read about everyday acts of kindness on www.FB.com/kindnesscollaborative. Linda believes that in order to inspire a kinder world the place to start is with children. She volunteered at a Title One elementary school, working with over 500 students, to create and facilitate “Kindness Starts with Me,» a program which includes a website (www.kindnessstartswithme.com) and a book for children.