A Grandfather’s Letter To His Grandchild About Suicide - The M Word

A Grandfather’s Letter To His Grandchild About Suicide

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My 81-year old father wrote my child a letter this week. He writes letters to me and my kids and my boyfriend and anyone else who will listen. And he talks. He has so much to say.

He loves me and my children utterly, even when he doesn’t understand us. He struggles with one girl’s desire to be a boy and the whole ‘trans thing’, but he accepts it and loves him unconditionally.

My 16 year old child tried to hang himself on Tuesday. He didn’t succeed and is doing better. I’m looking for resources for him when he gets out of the hospital.

I’m not putting it up here because I want to have a conversation about suicide or sexuality or teenaged angst or because I want to make an issue about my child’s personal problems — I really just want to preserve my father’s words for my kids and for other kids, and anyone who might get some use and comfort out of them. He has always comforted me and my children in times of need and I think other people might like to hear what he has to say as well.

Dear child,

First, we are so glad you did not succeed in hurting yourself. I hope you know we ALL love you with all our heart and soul. We NEVER want any harm to come to you, from anybody else, but especially yourself. So just…don’t do this again. Hear?

I have some things to tell you that i hope will help you sort things out. Unfortunately: in my normal fashion, it will take me a while. Be patient with your old granddad.

  1. About suicide. (There will be a Part 2 to this letter in a few days, after i think some more)
    You may not know, but while teaching, i wound up doing a fair amount of counseling — not just about school stuff, but personal problems of many kinds. Now and then, a student just showed up, asking for help. Some were my students, a few just heard i might be a good person.
    I felt honored by their trust. And scared at having responsibility for anything that might happen as a result of something i might say. Mostly, they were just scared themselves, and needing some guidance. So i did what i could. I’m proud that, so far as i could tell, i actually did help. And relieved that i hadn’t screwed up anybody.
  2. What were they worried about? If i add it all up, they were (a) confused about who they are (or thought they were supposed to be), (b) unsure of how to go forward with school and life in general, © scared about things they thought were in themselves, (d) nervous about sex and their own sexuality — and (e) not sure they even wanted to keep living.

Well, guess what? I bet good money these are pretty much the same worries that young people have right now, both high school and college students. And i know that quite a few grown-ups have very similar uncertainties. I think they are all a big part of being a human being.

The issue i worried most about helping with was, possible suicide. It took me quite a while to work out what on earth i could say. I couldn’t just say, “don’t be silly, you have your whole life in front of you. You can’t throw THAT away!” Or worse, “You need to ‘man up!’ Face up to things. Suicide is a coward’s way out.”

I had to find a way to treat them seriously and respectfully, be honest about their concerns, but also try to help them move ahead with life optimistically and with courage. Especially the last. Because…living does require a fairly even mixture of realism, optimism and courage. For everyone.

So this is what i finally wound up advising. And it’s what i still believe. It is a necessary part of how a person needs to look at life.
And it’s what i want you to think about.

Taking you own life is a big deal. If you succeed, it’s the last act you’ll ever make. So hell yes, it’s a very big deal.

And, believe it or not, it’s something that a large percentage of all people consider at least once in life — usually while they’re still young. They look out at life, look ahead as far as they can at the future — and it just plain seems too much to even hope to succeed at. So, after a while, suicide begins to look good. Quick, fairly easy, not too much pain… Why fight it all? Why not just…do it? And obviously, some young people do just that.

How sad. What a waste. I say “waste,” because most of the ones i knew who thought about suicide were also the ones who actually had great potential for growing into very fine, very successful, very valuable adults…just the people the world NEEDS.

And that, for an absolute certainty, describes you (and your sisters). You OUGHT not to be candidates for any kind of early death. I promise you that, scout’s honor!

So…don’t get impatient. Here it is — the best wisdom i ever achieved, and the most valuable thing i can tell anybody. It has 3 parts.

A. Life is a gift. It is the finest, greatest gift you can ever have — that anybody can ever have. And you already have it. You didn’t have to do anything to get it…it just came to you. And there you are, already in possession of the amazing, wonderful gift — the gift of you, child. And such a fine person you are, too.

B. There is only one way you can “repay” this gift. That is a sort of “pay it forward” thing. It is both the hardest thing…and the easiest. You just keep living, doing the best you can to be the best living person you can manage to be. Not a “perfect” person, because nobody can ever be perfect — just…as good as you can be. Which is good enough, and as much as anybody can require of you.

C. Still..suppose life gets hard and you decide you don’t want to play “life’s little games” any more. It’s not fun now…it’s painful…you don’t see how it’ll do you any good to keep going — and so on.

Look at it this way, and your whole perspective will soon get better.
Taking your own life is the one choice you and only you can have as an “option” your whole life through. You can exercise this option at any time, now, next year, when you’re 30, when you’re 75. Whenever. It’s always there…so long as you’re still living.
BUT…since it’s a “once only, no re-do possible” option, you don’t have to “play this card” now. You can ALWAYS keep it back as you “last choice option” for as long as you want. It’s yours, it’s part of the “gift that is you,” nobody else has it but you.

So…look at it this way. Today doesn’t, maybe, look so great. But here’s another Wise and Great Truth. The way things are right now WILL change. They might get worse. But the odds are, they’ll get better.

About the only real “guarantee” in life is, things change.

This means — whatever is unpleasant now, it won’t stay that way forever. It’ll definitely get better.

And the delightful truth of that is, the “change for the better” usually comes fairly quickly…in a few hours or days…and in ways you didn’t predict beforehand. It just…happens. And that’s wonderful. Delightful. Just goddam GREAT. You no longer feel awful, full of pain and terror. You feel GOOD, and anxious to get going again with…with what? The life you have right in front of you… The fantastic gift of being you and being alive.

And that’s the best and most complete wisdom i can ever give anybody. I give it to you. Now it’s yours.

I pass on my wisdom to you. Please accept the best gift i have to give, and let it help you.

It absolutely has helped me. It works. It is fully and completely True. I’ve gotten through nearly 81 years now, and it still works for me. And countless others as well.

Take care of yourself. You have a good life ahead of you, and i want to see as much of it happen as i still can.

Your loving grandfather

Liz Rock
Liz Rock
Oboe-playing accordion enthusiast with questionable judgement