‘Window Dressing’ 2007 © Stephen Bruno
Many years ago, the city where I lived considered me a suicidologist and I was interviewed on television networks by reporters after someone killed themselves, especially if the individual was a teenager or younger.
The same major television network reporter frequently interviewed me and, we struck up a working friendship in spite of the traumatic circumstances. She was always very professional and directed her questions about what people can do to prevent suicides and how to help loved ones when a suicide occurred.
She was one of those reporters you probably have seen with her hair coiffed, perfect attire, attractive in the classic TV personality way, and always expressing a professional attitude. She had the ‘window dressing’ composure and style.
Uncharacteristically after one interview on camera, she pulled me aside away from the television crew.
“I don’t understand how someone can become so distressed and depressed that they want to kill themselves. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
I shared my thoughts behind the reasons that people can become so despondent that they view suicide as their only acceptible alternative.
“I don’t think I will ever understand how someone would throw away their life when there are always alternatives and possibilities with support to help them move forward in their life.”
I offered her my professional experiences working with people who had reached their mental and emotional limits and viewed suicide as their last resort. I could tell that she was unable to relate to their desperation and she was interpreting their behavior from a more intellectual perspective.
A few months later I was again interviewed by the same reporter after someone in the city committed suicide. She was as usual very professional and objective in her television interview questions, but I sensed something was different.
The interview took place in my backyard near where our horses lived, and she asked if we could walk around the paddock and away from the camera crew. I was curious about what she wanted to talk about, and I waited patiently as we silently walked together.
“I get it now. I understand how someone can reach such a level of despair that a person does not feel it’s possible to ever get past the feelings of desperation and helplessness.”
She then haltingly described a recent family situation that shook her to the core resulting in her feeling for the first time in her life suicidal. It was an amazing transformation of this always professional person who prided herself on perfection and control, now privately exhibiting her vulnerability in all of her honesty and sensitivity.
I supported her with compassion on moving beyond her traumatic reactions and finding ways to embrace the changes necessary so that she could move forward in the natural, grounded way.
The next time she came to interview me about a young person who had killed himself, I noticed that her interview approach was different. There was a depth of compassion and understanding that had not been there before. Her questions were more meaningful and her responses, while still professional, were more personal and thoughtful.
We never spoke about how she was different, and we didn’t need to have that discussion. It was a life transformed by trauma, compassion, and perspective. Every interview from that day on was embraced with the sparkle in her eye emerging from her soul and the partial smile that said it all.