according to mental health activist terrie williams, people don’t commit suicide, they die by suicide. terrie made this point during a discussion about karyn washington’s death, hosted by marc lamont hill and janet mock on huffington post live. her words forced me into an existentialist moment, contemplating suicide and mortality.
through my contemplation, here’s what i’ve come up with so far: everyone dies. i’m sure your response to this factoid is ” and water is wet;” however, the common reaction to suicide doesn’t seem to embrace this reality. we tend to judge the act as selfish, often blaming the deceased for “playing god.” in my opinion, both reactions are problematic because they deny the inevitability of death and presume that we have a birthright to another person’s physical being.
all we truly have in this world is the self, that is the mind, body and soul that takes human form on earth. our friends, spouses, children and loved ones do not belong to us, they are simply vessels of love and light that i believe a higher power has placed on our life journey. therefore, judging someone who dies by suicide breeds the misconception that his or her life was ever ours to control. releasing this bind of possession over another allows us to love free of expectations and to be fully present in all of our relationships.
i understand the role that mental illness and/or the lack of adequate mental health treatment can play in suicide and champion the need for treatment. in fact, the lack of adequate treatment further highlights the need to shift the narrative around suicide from blame to compassion and from judgment to understanding.
even in death, karyn washington continues to be an inspiration for growth and acceptance. watch her friend yumnah najah’s touching video dispelling the misinformation surrounding karyn’s death and her thoughts on why she remains a role model despite her suicide.