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Author talks about coping with, moving past loved one’s suicide

Mon., June 21, 2010

Leslie Stickel has written a book about her mother's suicide and is leading an effort to get the topic more widely discussed.  (Dan Pelle)
Leslie Stickel has written a book about her mother's suicide and is leading an effort to get the topic more widely discussed. (Dan Pelle)

Leslie Stickel’s mother committed suicide Nov. 13, 2004. Stickel, 43, has written a book about grieving that suicide.

The launch party Wednesday for Stickel’s self-published book, “Hope Defined,” will mix celebration with information about suicide prevention. Stickel, a Spokane social worker, is collaborating with the Spokane Regional Health District and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in raising awareness in the Inland Northwest. A Sept. 19 walk, and a Nov. 20 conference, are in the planning stages.

Q.In your book, you write “I’m stunned by how far the tentacles of suicide stretch.” Can you elaborate?

A.There are over 33,000 suicides a year in America, and with every (suicide) there are six to 100 people affected. There are literally millions struggling with this tragic event. And there’s very little support for survivors. It’s a unique loss. You go through the textbook grieving processes, but it’s got this different twist. Nobody’s talking about it.

Q.Why did your mom kill herself?

A.Being a social worker, if I were sitting in a room interviewing someone like my mom, I would have asked flat out: “Are you suicidal? Because everything in your life is pointing to you hoping to die.” But with it right under my nose, I did not see her as a suicidal person.

She had depression. Over 90 percent of people who commit suicide are dealing with some type of mental illness, and it’s either undiagnosed or untreated or both. She had anxiety. And she was drinking too much. She was a psychiatric nurse, well-versed in medications. She self-medicated a lot. She was a phenomenal psychiatric nurse before all this culminated in her world. She was a powerful, strong, incredible woman. She was beautiful. Her mental illness and substance abuse got the best of her. She was 57.

Q.What is society’s biggest misconception about suicide?

A.Everybody thinks it’s not something that will happen in their lives, but no one is exempt. We don’t know our breaking point until we’re there.

Q.What are some of the emotions in people left behind by a suicide?

A.There’s a lot of shame of “I had someone so mentally ill that they took their own life. What does that say about me? … I came from crazy? I could be crazy?” All the stigma that goes with that.

And there’s guilt. A million “what ifs?” My daughter was 12 at the time. She recently talked about how she just knew that Grandma wasn’t right and could she have done something? I said, “We can’t ‘should’ on ourselves with this.” But it’s an innate human response: “I should have fixed this.” The guilt can be overwhelming.

Q.What helped you get through?

A.Prayer, my husband and friends. And choice. I made a choice to not let suicide define my life.

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