July 25, 2016 is marked forever in our family as the date on my mother in law's death certificate. Although the police and coroner are relatively certain she died on July 23, 2016, however, because she wasn't found until July 25th that is the date used. The official cause of death is suicide. She shot herself on the right side of her head, her finger was still in place on the trigger when our son found her Monday July 25th, to pick her up for our family dinner and game night. She was 69 years old.
My mother in law, Michelle Griffin was a complex person. She was eccentric and conventional. She was fiercely strong and independent, yet ended up depressed and weak. She was creative, but uninspired in the end. She was an extrovert who ended up being an introvert. She was passive and aggressive. She had a fun sense of humor along with a warped sense of humor. She was colorful, but often simple. She could be profoundly generous and miserly meager. She had high expectations, yet she was filled with hopelessness. She wanted friends, but chose to isolate. She told herself she was worthy, however, she never allowed herself to believe it. She made lists and notes and wrote in journals, although in the end, there were not any notes, lists, or current journal entries. She could build you up and tear you down. She had wise advice, but never chose it for herself. She was a caretaker who didn't always take care of herself. She would follow directions or chose to “jimmy rig” whatever it was if the directions didn't suit her. She kept everything (and I mean EVERYTHING), yet maintained order. She could care less about others opinions and still be haunted by what they thought of her. She would prefer to pay a bill in person to save a stamp, yet use gas to get there. She would compliment a meal and then tell you how she would make it differently.
She believed in communication, but often miscommunicated and spoke in circles. She wanted help yet, refused all of the options. She wanted relationship but waited for others to initiate. She enjoyed rib-eye steak, fruits and vegetables, food with great flavor and smell, however in the end, she preferred to eat plain oatmeal and cottage cheese. She set boundaries and then complained when you complied. She wanted to be loved unconditionally, yet often her love had conditions. She was respectful and critical. She loved learning and pursued a successful career in nursing and law, however, she wouldn't use her knowledge for her mental or physical health benefit.
She loved California and hated Tennessee. She was afraid of being a single mother after her husband left, yet she raised an amazing son and instilled in him the very worth she needed. She was protective, yet a firm believer in young independence. She was extravagant and thrifty. She loved life and she hated life. She wanted to live and she wanted to die. She wanted us to take her to the gun shop to buy bullets (which we refused) yet she had hidden 5 bullets, two of which fit perfectly inside the small chamber of an old gun that belonged to her second husband. The other three bullets were left undiscovered only until recently, in a box amongst memorabilia waiting perhaps to be used in case she missed.
To quote a family friend who also has had to face the choice of a suicidal loved one, “My dad and I were told that suicide survivors experience "complicated grief" because the victim and the perpetrator were the same person.”
As I have dealt with my own grief and the many questions as well as guilt (Did I do enough? Was I enough? What could I have done differently?) in my quest for answers it appears there is not a magical (one size fits all) answer to helping someone you love who is depressed and suicidal. You can listen. You can pray. You can encourage. You can be there to help a much as possible and is reasonable. You can take them to doctor appointments. You can call 911. You can take them to the hospital. You can bring a meal. You can invite them to outings and events. You can create weekly family dinners and game night. You can do all of this and more, but in the end, it's still their choice. It's still their life. They have to be willing to do whatever it takes to crawl out of the valley of the shadow of death. And sometimes they just give up.
Michelle, you are missed. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are honored. You still matter. Your story isn't over because we are going to speak up and speak out and share, so that hopefully even one life can be changed and saved.
If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts please seek help NOW.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (available 24 hrs everyday)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39