VP Joe Biden gave a speech today to “families of fallen soldiers” where he spoke about his own experiences with suicidal thoughts. If you learn anything from this, it should be that it can happen to anybody:
Vice President Joe Biden, in a moving speech to families of fallen troops on Friday, recounted the dark days following the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter and talked about understanding thoughts of suicide.
“It was the first time in my career, in my life, I realized someone could go out – and I probably shouldn’t say this with the press here, but no, but it’s more important, you’re more important. For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide,” he said. ”Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again.”
Biden was 29 and had just won his seat in Congress when his wife and daughter died in a car wreck in 1972.
[h]e said well-wishers would express their condolences and often tell him that they knew how he felt, something he resented.
“You knew they were genuine. But you knew they didn’t have any damn idea, right?” Biden told attendees at the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp in Arlington, Va.. “That black hole you feel in your chest like you’re being sucked back into it.”
He found a way out of his grief. Not everyone finds that.
I don’t appreciate the suggestion that people who commit suicide are “deranged” or “nuts.” It took tremendous courage to say what Biden said, but he still had to preface his words with assurances that he’s not one of the crazy ones. For having the courage to speak out about this issue, I applaud VP Biden. For still linking suicide to “craziness,” he can bite me.
He is absolutely right that the rest of us cannot fathom how the pain of his loss felt. No one can truly understand another person’s pain, so it is disappointing that he would write it off as “deranged.”
People contemplate suicide for an infinite number of reasons. In a period of six months in 2011, I lost two friends to depression. It scared me, not because it didn’t make any sense, but because it sort of did. For some people, the dark times are bad enough that they will try anything for relief, and no one else can fully understand. All the rest of us can do is live well and try to help our friends who struggle to do so too.
It’s not always a “crazy” thought in and of itself, but unless you’ve experienced depression, it’s impossible to describe or explain. A close friend once described the circumstances and thoughts that led to his suicide attempt: “Let me be clear: I don’t want to die. I just need it to stop.”
Until we can accept that people can have those types of thoughts without calling them “crazy,” this won’t get better.
(For the record, I haven’t had thoughts like that in a long time. But you never forget.)