If asked, “What are you doing in your retirement?” I might answer, “I like to write. I write about suicide.” The conversation might tail off as the topic of suicide rarely excites. It engenders mixed emotions. It is shocking and disturbing and for many people, off limits. If they were to recover their equilibrium they might say, “Don’t you find it depressing focusing on something like suicide?”
I remember reading “The Bone Woman” by the forensic anthropologist, Clea Koff who dug up the skeletal remains of deceased persons often victims of genocide. When asked about the importance of her work she said, “You mightn’t think that forensic anthropologists participate in the lives of the living but, by interacting with the dead, we affect the living because we alter their memory and understanding of past events… Truth does not bring back the dead, but it allows their voices to be heard.”
Koff’s motivation is to unearth the truth. She wants the truth to be heard. And so it is with suicide. Every suicide tells a unique story. It addresses the many issues that cause a life to unravel. It exposes society’s attitude to life and death. It shines a spotlight on the heartache of those left behind.
When I write about suicide I want the truth to be heard. Suicide is a deep loss. It has the potential to shatter families and unsettle communities. Suicide is costly. There are the emotional and psychological challenges the grieving have to contend with. There are the economic consequences caused by sudden and unexpected death. Suicide is non-discriminatory. Although teenage suicides often receive media coverage, the elderly are more likely to take their own life than any other age group.
I came across a quote from the French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze who took his life in 1995. He says, “… we’re riddled with pointless talk, insane quantities of words and images. Stupidity’s never blind or mute. So it’s not a problem of getting people to express themselves but of providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say.” (Negotiations 1985)
Any worthwhile exchange or creative pursuit requires solitude and silence. It is in the silence we hear the beat of our heart. It is in the silence we discover our unique pulse. Wayne Oates says, “Silence is the creative space in which we gain perspective on the whole.”
I have found writing about suicide demands respect for deep silence. It is a sacred place, a place of insight and understanding, a place of healing. Many people are fearful of silence and consciously avoid it. They find it an uncomfortable space. As author Morris West says, “There are times of silence and utter aloneness in which we are confronted with ourselves and with the starkness of our own life choices.”
For some, silence is like a desert landscape, unrelenting and uninviting. Acoustic ecologist, Gordon Hempton has a different perspective. He says, “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.”
Silence is the bedrock for deep listening. It is foundational. It calls us to reign in our thoughts and still our minds. Jenny Odell likens deep listening to bird watching. She says, “Observing birds requires you quite literally to do nothing. You can’t really look for birds. You can’t make a bird come out and identify itself to you. All you can do is walk and wait until you hear something, and then stand motionless under a tree trying to figure where and what it is.”
The essence of deep listening is waiting, waiting until you hear something. Deep listening is similar to contemplation. It is having a quiet, still awareness. It is not something that can be controlled. It is not achieved through striving. It is an act of submission to the silence and it asks for an open and spacious mind. Deep listening brings peace and understanding.
Author, Julia Cameron says, “Writing is the art of a listening heart.”
When I write about suicide I see it as a deep work. It is a subject that demands respect. It can’t be approached casually. There is cause to tread carefully. I know when I write about my son, Adam; I strive for fairness, reasonableness, and kindness. There is no place for criticism or judgment. It is about honouring a life that at some point lost its direction, lost its hope.
Deep work is authentic, challenging and focused. It requires discipline. It is intolerant of distraction. It is a solitary pursuit. Michael Hyatt calls it “The Alone Zone.” Some might think it indulgent. But deep work has to do with purpose and calling. It won’t step aside for lesser concerns.
And so we have a continuum, a continuum that acknowledges tragedy but sees a way forward.
Deep Loss > Deep Silence > Deep Listening > Deep Work
This is my life. This is my work. This is my retirement.