Untold thousands, maybe even millions, of people embraced Amy Bleuel’s symbol of passionate resistance against suicide: a simple semicolon. Tattoos, jewelry, and art feature the period floating above a comma, not for punctuation, but for an expression of hope.
That delicate punctuation mark, Amy would tell people, meant that the writer still had more to say. And the same is true for suicidal people: “Your story isn’t over.”
Yet Amy’s story ended last week, at the age of 31. She died by suicide. My heart breaks for her and her loved ones. It also breaks for the many strangers whose lives she touched.
Once, she wrote in the mission statement for her organization Project Semicolon, “The vision is that people see the value in their story…The vision is that suicide is no longer an option to be considered…The vision is hope, and hope is alive….”
How do we reconcile those words when the writer not only considered suicide, but died by it?
Amy’s message was made all the more powerful by what she had overcome. Her father died by suicide when she was 18. It was only one of many traumas that she faced in her life, including physical and sexual abuse as a child, and multiple rapes in college. She had attempted suicide five times.
Still, she had said, “The vision is that suicide is no longer an option to be considered…The vision is hope, and hope is alive….”
The vision. Tragically, it was only a vision, a hope, a longing for her – as it is for so many others. Not a reality.
I am afraid. I worry that, for some, Amy’s suicide will diminish the power of her message, that the legions who believed in her will now feel deflated, defeated, and perhaps even more suicidal.
Several years ago, a psychotherapist, Bob Bergeron, wrote a book titled, The Right Side of 40: The Complete Guide to Happiness for Gay Men at Midlife and Beyond. It was a feel-good book, extolling the possibilities for happiness and growth even after the vibrancy of youth has faded.
Shortly before the book was supposed to go on sale, the author killed himself. He wrote a suicide note on the book’s title page. “It’s a lie …” he wrote, with an arrow pointing to the name of the book.
The book was never published. I imagine the publisher pulled it because the author lost credibility. If someone writes a guide to happiness and then dies by suicide, can the guide be trusted?
This question torments me. Does Amy Bleuel’s death cancel out the wisdom, solace, and inspiration that she imparted to so many?
The answer is NO.
Life is not all-or-nothing. Amy’s suicide does not cancel out all the inspirational and true things she said against suicide. Her death does not erase her tremendous wisdom. It does not taint the countless lives she touched.
If anything, her death makes her work all the more important. It shows the power of suicide – and the need to fight it.
If you’re suicidal, get help. Reach out. Talk to others. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 (TALK), or check out the Resources page to learn of many other places where you can get help by phone, email, text, or online chat.
That’s the real message. Don’t be alone with your suicidal thoughts. Dese’Rae Lynn Stage, who is active in suicide prevention and created the website livethroughthis.org, puts it especially well in her Facebook post about Amy. She writes:
“We lost a powerful advocate in Amy, and I know the rest of us who do this work are really feeling that loss today. If you’re one of these people, please don’t lose sight of yourself in the work. We need you—and we need you thriving, not just surviving—so that when you hold your breath and you dive deep, you pull two people ashore: yourself and the person you worked so hard to save. And then you send up a flare to let the rescue boat know where you are, and you wait and you rest and you breathe.”
The takeaway, then, is that Amy’s death brings even more meaning to her work, not less. It shows all the more that people need to fight hopelessness and despair, that people need to take care of themselves and each other, so that fewer people finish their story prematurely.
The message remains true, the message remains important, even though suicide took the messenger.