I feel I should label this: The Aftermath, Part 1 of about 37,000. Really it's more like... infinite. And I can't even begin to do justice to what this has meant to our community, Mike's clients, his students, his friends.
But back to our little family. How do two young girls navigate the colossally enormous and complicated loss of their dad's suicide? How do they understand that the most loving, empathic, giving, spirited soul on the planet chose to, or felt he had to, leave?
They go on with their other life, the life where they are just kids with friends and goals and things to do and places to go. Their life, like mine, irreparably split between two universes. One where dads love their daughters and reassure them when they are scared, remind them that the world is ultimately benevolent, that everything is going to be ok.
And the other world, where everything is never going to be ok.
Right now, it sort of reminds me of the Upside Down. Thanks, Netflix.
When I was young, I was electrocuted on the third rail of a train track in Chamonix, France. Really. Anyway, I was told that it was a miracle I was alive, how unlikely it was that I survived. The doctors sort of stared at me for days and ran a bunch of tests and fixed my dislocated elbow and then let me go home. I looked out over the Alps and thought, there is some sort of god/purpose for me, and every day from here on out is extra, a bonus. I have no idea if this was real but it is what I believed.
I honestly have resonated with that truth since the day it happened. I am genuinely grateful to be alive. It’s not easy, life, but it feels amazing to be here. Sometimes I wonder if it is superficial not to have questions about the universe or “God” or my purpose in life. But I just know. I feel like every day on Earth is a gift, maybe a totally random one, who knows. But somehow we have been given this time in these bodies and these brains on this earth. Not for long, either. Let’s definitely make the best of it.
Still, I spend my days trying to help other people figure out their truths, their gods, their purpose. It seems like a very good way to spend the time. Many people really struggle with being on earth. It helps to feel heard, and to share the struggles with each other. Compassion and connection: the currencies of humanity.
Anyway, Mike sure struggled with this. Suicidal people struggle with this, sometimes every day. Sometimes their suicidality screams at them, interrupting their attempts to go about their day. Sometimes it gets too loud or too real and it takes over. I have tremendous respect for this struggle, and for people that fight this battle in their lives.
If they could just be reassured. If they could have enough good things to balance out the bad. If they could calm the demons… like, literally calm their bodies and thoughts down when they get so flooded. That’s what it’s all about.
But ultimately, we all decide how to make meaning in life. It’s a lot of work. Actually, Mike worked harder at this than anyone I know. But he did that work because he had to. He did it because it kept the demons at bay. He got really good at it. Eventually, it exhausted him.
Mike “died” when he was 8. He drowned and was saved and revived. Just like in the movies, he saw his little eight-year-old life flash before his eyes. AND, he had an overwhelming sense of calm and safety, of letting go, of God, of transcendent love. Then, he was yanked back to earth and to life.
I can’t help but wonder if this experience impacted his ultimate decision, if he remembered and deeply craved that sensation of connection with the universe, and if he thought he could get there through suicide.
But in fact, most people who are suicidal are terrified of a lot of things, including dying. Mike remembered what happened to him when he was a kid, but he also researched other perspectives. He often referenced the research by Dr. Sam Parnia; he wrote Erasing Death. He reported that people who are resuscitated from a suicide attempt often report terrible, horrifying experiences whereas people who “die” of natural causes experience universal love and compassion (in the rare times you can interview any of these people). He does not postulate why these trends occur, he simply reports the science of peoples’ experience (mostly with the hope of improving universal resuscitation methods, but also to study peoples’ near-death experiences). This research is fascinating and amazing and scary, all at the same time.
Of course, the classic notion of suicide is that it is the most selfish thing a person can do. The person who dies escapes their wrath and everyone else is left without their loved one and to pick up the pieces of daily life. Luckily, this strategy helps some people get through depression. They personally wish to die, but they know the impact on their loved ones would be so tragic that they fight through it instead. Other peoples’ depressions are worsened by this notion. They are already wracked with guilt and stress and pressure, and they are terrified of hurting their loved ones, leading to more guilt and stress and pressure. Some religions say suicide is a sin. So there’s that, too.
Ultimately, it’s not anyone’s place, not a therapist or a spouse or a parent’s place, to tell a person what to do with their own body and life. This is so painful. There was not a single thing I could do to stop Mike. The more I did with him and for him, the worse he felt about himself and his future. The more people reached out to him, the more he turned away from them. It was a terrifying and perplexing time, and the worst experience of my life, and his too, of course. This is where I run out of words, which could never describe this time in our lives.
So what does a family do? They live. They look for love and joy and forgiveness and connection. The exact same thing they have always done. Also, they are tasked with being kind and caring for the world. They have a mission to be there for people in need, to recognize how hard it is to be human, and to honor their memories because they are special and real. And, of course, to honor their Dad.
And they get to be really pissed off about it, too.