September is National Suicide Prevention Month
Herman the Hermit Crab and I first met the day my daughter and our friend Rick picked him out of a tangle of crabs in a local department store. From the beginning, Herman and I had a personality conflict.
“You don’t like that crab. What have you got against him?” Rick teased.
“Nothing but his claws,” I teased back.
I was worried about Rick. He was in remission from multiple sclerosis and sometimes got very depressed. But now Rich was smiling, and my daughter was laughing. Herman was bringing sunshine into their lives.
Herman did not bring sunshine into my life. During the day he was left to his own crabby devices because of work and school, but the evenings belonged to him. He must have felt the vibrations of the front door closing behind my daughter and me when we got home. As soon as the door closed, he skittered out of his bowl and onto the coffee table. My daughter held Herman in her hands, and he ran up and down her arm without so much as a pinch.
I was a different story. I picked Herman up and talked gently to him. He grabbed my nose. His attitude improved when I fed him bites of meat, but as soon as it was gone, he turned surly again.
Then came that Sunday. Rick had dinner with us and after we ate, the crab lovers went into the living room for a romp with Herman while I did the dishes. Suddenly, I heard my daughter howl. I ran into the living room without even drying my hands.
“What did that crab do to you?” I shouted.
“Herman didn’t do anything,” my daughter sobbed. “He’s just laying here. He won’t even run up and down my arm anymore.”
“You’d better take a look at him,” Rick told me.
I peered into my daughter’s outstretched hand. Herman was not moving.
“Let me hold him,” I said. “That usually gets him moving.”
I cuddled Herman in my hand, but for once, my touch did not make him come out fighting. He just lay there, still as death. My daughter cried harder.
“Herman’s dead, Mom. Will he go to heaven?” she asked.
“A crab heaven!” I scoffed in my mind. Of course not! Heaven is reserved for people and people disagree about the population there.
But as I gazed into her tear-stained face, my cynicism faded. “God has room in heaven for every person and everything else He made,” I told her.
Rick and I assisted with Herman’s burial. Then he went home because he wasn’t feeling well. His illness was a taxing one and some days for him were more tiring than others.
“Do you really think there’s room in heaven for everybody?” he asked as he left.
“Sure,” I said.
Now, I agonize at my insensitivity. I could have said something more profound, more comforting. I could have done something to prevent what happened to Rick.
Three days passed with no word from Rick. I tried to call him several times to see how he was feeling and to report that my daughter needed his help to pick out Herman II. There was no answer. Finally, I went to his apartment. There was no answer to my pounding on the door. I called his pastor.
“Sit tight. I’ll check on him,” the pastor said. I sat by the phone, praying that Rick was all right. Finally, the phone rang.
“I’m afraid that Rick is dead,” the pastor said. “It looks like he took an overdose of sleeping pills.”
For my daughter, Rick’s death was understandable. “Rick’s gone to heaven, just like Herman.”
For me, the complexity of Rick’s death is agonizing. Factors like guilt, theology and blame enter into it. For a long time I blamed myself because I was his friend, and I wasn’t there when he died. I beat myself with, “I should have knowns. I cried, “Why?” with the same pain and anguish he must have felt before he died.
Rick’s death made me rethink my life, the whys and hows of it, the whys of all of our lives. It made me look with more sensitivity into the hearts of others. In this way, his death had a positive influence. But oh, I would rather have him sitting beside me, teasing me about Herman, than all of the positive influences in the world. If only he had given me or someone else a chance to help him work things out.
I stand beside Herman’s grave on our apartment house lawn. People passing stare at the lady crying over a patch of grass. But I am beginning to understand that we need to reach out to people in emotional pain instead of turning away to protect ourselves. We need to have empathy, not sympathy or indifference. And we need to do what we can to help them come to a place where life is livable again.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
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