Thursday, March 01, 2007

a safe place to kill oneself

We are fortunate that we both work in non-profit, with human suffering. If only because when one of us is wounded, the other can very much understand why it hurts.

A long time client of J's died while we were out of the country. He learned of her death this week and has been deeply saddened. It's not often I see him like this - he sees a lot in the course of his work, and generally is able to reconcile his role in it, but sometimes, it's too much.

And sometimes it should be. A came to J's place years ago with a long and horrible history of sexual abuse, psychiatric disorders and anorexia. It was the latter, no doubt fueled by the former, that finally killed her.

Months ago we sat outside on our porch and debated the treatment decision J needed to make. A was in and out of his facility and others for a number of years. It had become increasingly evident that all of her dependence on the system itself was hurting more than it was helping. They ended up making the difficult decision of denying services to A, and J was to be the one to tell her. I remember him telling me that he would do this, that he knew she was going to die one day, that their decision might facilitate that, and his team struggled long and hard with it and still knew it was the only therapeutic decision that could be made. I am summarizing a lot of conversations - the situation/decision was much more complicated and full of history than I can do justice here. Suffice to say it was a long and winding road.

He sat with her one last time and explained why they had made the decision they had, and typical of J, tried yet again to reach her on a deeper level. He told me he said A, let's cut the bullshit. From one soul to another, from someone who cares for you very much, you have to believe all we are giving you is a safe place to kill yourself. And that is not enough. If there is anything I can do, it would be to make you believe that this world is a beautiful place, that you have so much left to see, to feel, to do, that life is so much more than how you are living it. That you can choose something different.

A listened. She made the decision to check herself into residential treatment the next day, and she never left. She made terrific strides in the past few months, gained some weight, seemed to be improving. But it was already too late. A heart can only take so much.

I asked J last night if he feels responsible for her death. He said he didn't, and I almost believe him. Because while I know he wasn't responsible, I also know how hard these decisions are and how hard it is to watch someone's path unfold, even if you saw it coming.

The problem is we are still idealistic enough to believe that we can help people. And when we don't, it's hard not to wear that around our hearts.

I can't believe it's almost time for our third Just Post Roundtable. If you have a post of yours or one you've appreciated that was written by someone else, please send them my way (to girlplustwo (at) yahoo(dot) com) by March 8th and I'll send you the button. Go on. It's good for the soul.

We'll link all posts and anyone who refers one (or more) in our Just Post Roundtable on the 10th. If this is new to you, please feel free to check it out here.


wordgirl said...

Wow. That's a powerful story. The mother of one of my kid's friends committed suicide in January and there are still questions. She had kids who loved her and a career as a beloved kindergarten teacher. However, she couldn't make her husband stop screwing around on her and her despondency got the best of her. Sad, sad, sad.

NotSoSage said...

It sounds to me like J did help her. He couldn't stop what was coming, but from your description, she was working through things when she did pass away.

I think of you and J on a daily basis and thank goodness that there are people like you who are idealistic enough to think you can AND do make a difference. A heart can only take so much, it's true...we're all lucky that your hearts take so much.

Give J a big hug for me...and save a little for yourself.

Rachel Briggs said...

Such a sad and thoughtful post. I work in the voluntary sector in animal welfare, although looking after the people who do the really tough work), which I think is easier than human suffering. Your compassion shouts out from your post, and your blog. Whenever it all overwhelms me on the animal front, I remind myself "I did my best". I am sure J did too. Maybe this poor soul found some peace. It is clear he helped steer her that way, I guess sometimes that is all that you can do.

Thailand Gal said...

Sometimes people have a life path that we can't anticipate. Who knows the real reasons for A's path? All we can do is what we can do. As you said, there's much more to this than you can give us in a blog post ~ but I think I grasp it.



Julie Pippert said...

I think we should be idealistic. We should try. We can help some. But we have limits.

As much as we might try for otherwise, at the end of the day the only life we are responsible for is our own.

But of wears and tears on you.

Many positive thoughts to J.

Perhaps A had achieved her purpose in some way, if she had made those strides. Thoughts for her, too.

Thank you for bringing alive this topic.

radioactive girl said...

I think J did help her. He showed her that someone cared, and while she was still alive, I am sure that was of some comfort, and possibly helped make an unbearable life a little better at least in that moment. You can't save everyone, but of course that shouldn't stop a person from trying. Trying to help is all a person can do.

mamatulip said...

I'm so sorry, for you and for J. I can imagine how difficult it must be for him to accept this loss, and for you for seeing him so deeply affected by it.

This post hits home. My best friend is struggling with many of the same issues that A was struggling with, including anorexia. It terrifies me, I feel helpless, I hate it, I want it to end now. I feel so helpless in that all I can do is try to be the best friend I can be to her, and to hold her hand as she walks down this scary, lonely road.

I totally have a post for you. CYE.

ewe are here said...

I sincerely hope that J doesn't feel responsible in any way, because he should feel quite the opposite. He and his team helped her find her best chance of living -she entered a treatment program immediately and was improving. The fact that it was already too late was nobody's fault.

It's a sad world sometimes... but you and J and your co-workers are making a difference. Hold on to that.

meno said...

He did help her. And she knew it.

Deezee said...

I don't know how you and J do it. I so admire your ability to press on and reach out in an environment with so much pain. I know there are the successes, but I succumb easily amidst the hurt. I applaud you both for your ability to give and serve.

Bob said...

There are some things we cannot control. I believe that J did help her. She went into the program and was improving. She just wasn't ready for this help until it was too late.

One of my wife's sisters abused alcohol and drugs for years. All of her family tried at various times, but she wouldn't be helped. In her thirties, she started to clean her self up. She stopped drinking, taking drugs. She started seeing a man who obviously cared for her. They found her dead one morning. Her body had given out. She had had all the help she needed, but at a time that she wouldn't - couldn't take it.

We can't control others, we can only offer to help.

kris said...

A beautifully tugging story. Without knowing it, you articulated the reasons I chose research rather than clinical work. I - my heart - just couldn't take it.

Anonymous said...

But he did help her, he did the best he could and it sounds like she did too. We can't fix people, even though we want to, all we can do is offer them compassion and kindness and it sounds like that's what J. did.
He sounds like a wonderful man, you're lucky.

KC said...

J is amazing. Why am I not surprised?

The fact that he could get her to take steps to help herself, by herself, proves to me that he is an angel.

Anorexia. I knew her well. (a post not yet written)

flutter said...

I don't have words for this...Just sorry, J.

Laurie said...

You two are both terrific people, doing so much good in the world. I hope that J knows that he did all he could and much more than most people ever would. Hugs to you both.

Kyla said...

I agree with Sage. It does sound like he helped her and that she was making strides when she passed. Maybe the end of her life was a little bit more beautiful because of what J did for her.

I'm new here. Hopped over from Sage's actually.

kristen said...

As a helper and healer, it's heartbreaking to know you can't help everyone, you just can't. It's beautiful that J can give so much and still protect a part of himself from feeling responsible. If there's any lingering responsibility it's because he's compassionate and caring and someone he had a relationship with, passed on.

Momish said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I hope J is able to gain peace soon. I know how it felt to lose someone you worked so hard and gave so much to you along their sad journey. No amount of logical understanding can really help ease the stab to the heart when it comes.

lildb said...


poor J. it just isn't fair that he should be bearing the emotional brunt of the horrible acts perpetrated on A by the abusers and other participants in her life that helped shape her into such an extravagant mess.

I'm so sorry.