Monday, February 25, 2013

Some Days Life Really Stinks

Michelle in 1982

February 25, 2005, was one of those days for me. My sister Michelle died that day—by choice.

In the weeks and months that followed, I felt my heart would break from sadness. Sometimes I was angry she felt so overwhelmed by her circumstances that suicide seemed her only option.  Mostly my anger was directed at those circumstances.

Michelle and me 1967
For days, I lived in a fog, which was really a heightened awareness of my surroundings—tastes, sights, and sounds which pulled me into a place my mind had never been before—a place of disorientation. Though I’d lost many loved ones and friends, I’d never lost someone who’d been such an integral part of my life from the time I’d been born. As long as I had existed—Michelle had existed.

Even today, my emotions can be as fresh and raw as eight years ago when I return to that time and place in my mind. Part of the hurt comes from knowing I couldn’t fix what was wrong.

I hadn’t planned to mark this day by writing about Michelle. I’ve done so in the past, and you can read a newspaper article I wrote about her by clicking here. Or the blog post I wrote on her birthday in 2011. Both of these articles share my more intimate memories of my sister.

In the wake of country singer Mindy McCready’s suicide last week, and the nasty comments so flippantly shared on social media, I nudged myself into sharing my thoughts on suicide today.

Perhaps having a ringside seat to four generations of mental illness qualifies me to have a point of view on the subject. And for that reason, I’m not only compelled to write but obligated to do so when ignorance rears its ugly head.

Michelle in 1997
During better times
My sister did not lie around waiting to die. She fought to make life work—somehow, on some level. When she was mentally able, she held down a job, paid rent, and cared for her children. As a Christian, she talked freely of Jesus and what he’d done for her. Michelle expressed her love for Christ more than some Christians I’ve encountered. However, this doesn’t preclude what rages in the severely mentally ill’s mind. 

We had many conversations about mental health care, psychotropic meds, and inpatient care, none of which are ideal. Though she cycled in and out of the hospital for twenty years, after a one stay in a state hospital a few years before her death, she vowed never to return. Michelle was passionate about others battling mental illness. Her heart broke for those in situations similar to hers. In one of our last conversations, she said, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

Suicide is an emotional blight civilization has wrestled with almost since the beginning of time. The Bible and other historical documents record many suicides through the centuries. But no matter how much time has passed, suicide remains one of the most misunderstood acts humans try to wrap their brains around.


Because for everyone, except the person who takes their life, the logic behind suicide is difficult to grasp. Our understanding is often superficial and fleeting at best.

There’s nothing wrong with asking the “Why?” question. Human nature dictates we do.

The simple answer is the suicidal person often believes everyone will be better off when they’re gone—including their children. Based on the content of my sister’s suicide note, she believed nothing would change. She’d battled severe mental illness for twenty years, and as a perfect storm ensued in the weeks before her death, she reached the point of not being able to cope with life any more. You know the cliché: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Looking back at her past and then forward to her future, she believed nothing would really change about her situation. She simply wanted the pain to stop.

After Mindy McCready’s death last week, many folks seemed to have an opinion about her decision. The word selfish popped up more times than I could count, especially on social media and on friends’ Facebook walls.

Suicide is selfish. It innately has to be or it wouldn’t exist. However, it’s not selfish in the context people so freely assign. Suicide reflects a life so marginalized within itself that any consequences become inconsequential. As I said above, some of the mentality is “everyone will be better off without me.”

Accompanying the “selfish” label are condemnation and lack of empathy.

People who make statements like, “Her kids are probably better off without her,” or “I have no sympathy for someone so selfish,” well, hold onto your hats because you probably aren’t going to like what I’m about to say!

To me, those statements are the ultimate in selfishness. Given the statistics that 1 in 4 people in this country battle mental illness, would you like to wager a guess how many folks this actually effects? You don’t throw a pebble into a pond without there being a ripple. A person doesn’t kill themselves without a whole lot of other folks affected. 

When you’re quick to judge the life and death of a mentally ill person from afar, you have no clue as to the effects of your statements. If you’ve never looked at your loved one lying in a coffin or held their autopsy report in your hands, your perspective is different from those who have. You’ll never read a colder document than an autopsy report, I assure you.

Perhaps instead of parsing the why’s of suicide or passing judgment on the victims, getting involved in mental health awareness would be more productive. Here’s a few facts from
  • Every 13.7 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide.
  • Nearly 1,000,000 people make a suicide attempt every year.
  • 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
  • Men are nearly 4 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Women attempt suicide 3 times as often as men.
The problem of suicide seems insurmountable, and total eradication is. If a person is determined to die—they will.

So what can you and I do? We can practice compassion—for those cycling in and out of the mental health system and their families—by our thoughts, speech, and prayer. We can get involved—with local mental health programs or within our church auspices to promote mental health awareness and support.

Although we might be able to satisfy some of the superficial “why” questions of suicide, the universal question of why is linked to our fallen world, just like all other trials we walk through. Our hope lies in eternity.

If you’re currently walking through a trial like this with a loved one or yourself, please know I’m walking beside you in spirit, lifting you up in prayer, and will always be here to offer a word of encouragement. I’d love to hear from you, if you’d like to send me an e-mail or leave a comment.

My two cents, for what it’s worth.

God bless,
Laura J

Parents' anniversary party six
months before Michelle's death
All my siblings together
(a rare occasion) 1998

© Laura Hodges Poole


  1. oh laura i am so sad right now. i did not know the date of dear michelle's death. please know i will be in prayer for you and your family today. how anyone can say taking ones life is selfish is beyond me. the only word i can think of is sad. to be that beyond hope is nothing more than sad. who wants suicide? come on! i will also say a prayer for anyone who is at the point of suicide today - i think we all should. tony and i have been in prayer if he should start an antidepressant that his doctor really wants him on immediately. please continue to pray for him and for us to have wisdom about this medication (zoloft). again i send prayers and wonderful thoughts and memories of michelle to you.

    1. Thank you, Betty. I appreciate the prayers. I know you and Tony have had a tough year. I pray for God's wisdom for you as you make a decision about the meds. Antidepressants are not a cure-all, but they can be a great help when struggling with depression. God bless you and Tony.

  2. Laura, I know today must be a really hard one. You are in my prayers right now, and will be throughout the day.

    You are a dear lady with a heart for God. I know He is with you and will help you to remember wonderful memories of your sister.

    Love, Nancy

    1. Thanks, Nancy. I have some wonderful memories, and those are a great comfort. I appreciate the prayers. God bless you.

  3. I am very sorry, my uncle died of cancer, depression is a cancer feature, I may say...Our prayers are with you.

    1. I'm sorry about your uncle death's, Elena. Thank you for your prayers. God bless you.

  4. Thank you for sharing this and for trying to enlighten people about the hell of depression/mental illness that is unwillingly cast upon some of us. Those who judge haven't been there and can't understand and those who have know! I'm sorry for all of you, especially my friends (her children.) I share the same birthday as your sister as well as depression and some other unfortunate and ironic similarities. It's not something any of us are proud of and we try to keep it hidden and quiet for fear people won't accept us, but possibly if we have the courage to share our experience, at least with those who truly care, we can change people's minds and lessen the stigma. We are your family, friends, partners, classmates, neigbors, people you do business with... We are real, human, loving, caring (maybe too much) people who wish more then anything we didn't have a "mental illness." We would give anything to make it go away, to not suffer, to not inflict suffering on those close to us, to have hope, to look forward to the future, to be grateful for each day and for life. We just want to be happy. We are not weak or lazy, far from it! We have to have increadible strength just to get through what others would consider a regular day. Sometimes it's just by the grace of God that we make it through and sometimes we are happy and enjoy our lives and are hopeful that feeling good will continue, but we are afraid because we know it probably won't last. So, we enjoy it while we can and keep trying and keep up the front as long as we can. Some of us see no way out and cannot stand the pain and fear any longer and don't see an alternative to death. We are not evil or bad or contagious. We are not strangers or throw aways. We want love, acceptance and understanding just like "normal" people. And when someone opens their hearts to us in acceptance, it makes a huge difference. You may never know when your act of kindness changes our lives. So, please people, wake up and stop trying to sweep it under the rug. Now is the time to shine the light in the darkness. How is the time to look around and ask, how can I help.

    1. Well said. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your perspective. Hopefully, by bringing light into the darkness, people will be less ignorant in their responses to mental illness. God bless you.

    2. Well said. Mental illness doesn't get the attention it needs in this world. It is truly misunderstood.

  5. I'm sorry for the agony your sister has gone through. My own mother, though she didn't take her own life, was trapped in the torture of a mentally ill mind. Unless one lives through this such as yourself with a loved one, it's difficult to rationalize what society deems as irrational. Thanks for reaching out to others with your important message.

    1. Elaine, I didn't realize we had that in common, though, as I said, with the statistics for mental illness, it shouldn't be surprising. By sharing our stories, hopefully, others will be encouraged. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. God bless you.

  6. Thank you for sharing this, having dialog like this is what can change our world.

    It also reminds me of when I worked as an ER RN. When someone would come it suicidal I would often say something like this to them, "I can't imagine the pain you feel that would make you want to leave this world."
    Sometimes that would open the door for them to communicate.
    My heart would ache for them...sadly not everyone saw these people with the eyes and heart of Christ.

    Our world needs more love that only Christ can bring.

    I'm sorry for the pain you've suffered, but it has brought you insight that others don't have. Thank you for being willing to share.

    1. Thank you, TC. I appreciate your comments. Christians should be the ones leading the way in this dark world. We have a light that will shine hope into people's hearts. I'm sure you did a great job at that as an ER nurse. God bless you.

  7. I have no words...
    After reading this post, I,...I have no words...
    I lift you in prayer to His throne...for the transparency you risked...

    prayed, and praying.

    1. Thanks so much, Cyn. I really appreciate the prayers. It's important to be transparent so that our loved ones didn't die in vain and to get rid of the stigma attached to mental illness. God bless you.

  8. Laura, I did not know about your sister. I am so sorry. I am sure this was difficult, but I want you to know I personally appreciate this post. I have battled depression since I was a teenager. In 2006, I had a song episode of major depressive disorder to the point that I was completely dysfunctional for several hours in the day. I was also diagnosed as bi-polar II and ADD. To be honest, the diagnoses was a relief because my "strange and secret" behaviors had a name, and I could try to heal. The most difficult part came when I worked up the courage to tell a family member who loved me unconditionally that I was depressed and what I had been dealing with for months. The next day, I received an e-mail from her telling me to "choose to be happy every day." Oh, if only. People don't wake up and choose to feel like getting in the car and driving and never stopping or going back to bed because their thoughts are too painful. It has always amazed me that someone could think he/she without a medical degree knows all the workings on the amazing brain or the chemicals our bodies. Mental illness deserves our compassion. Jesus didn't criticize or neglect the ill, so for a Christian to do that is a tragedy. Imagine believing the only peace would come by leaving this world. Thanks for this post. Please know that I am praying for you.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. I had no idea, but I appreciate your courage in sharing. The only way we get rid of the stigma is if people are willing to put faces on the illness. I agree totally that Jesus showed compassion for the ill, and that's what we're supposed to do as Christians. You're in my prayers, Katy. God bless.

  9. Well written Sis… I miss her too… Here’s part of the last song Kurt Cobain wrote before his suicide. It speaks a language clearly understood by the suicidal or the depressant…

    I will crawl away for good. I will move away from here. You won't be afraid of fear. No thought was put into this. I always knew it would come to this. Things have never been so swell. I have never failed to fail. Pain, pain, pain… Kurt Cobain