They are old now. Their friends have died or are too ill to associate with them. They had to put down the pet they have had since a kitten. They failed their last driver’s test. They no longer own a car. There is no diagnosis of depression. They cry for no real reason. When you call them to chat they sound happy. This morning you got a visit from their daughter. Mom committed suicide last night. Her daughter found your name in her address book. You were the only phone number listed.
The cold numbers surrounding this hidden horror do not convey the abject loneliness that follows the death of a cherished companion. Suddenly the days are long and empty. Dreaded are the nights without their love and comfort. Food becomes tasteless. Gone is the laughter. Gone is the independence. Disease, frustration, despair and hopelessness are the chains of the old among us. Freedom is suicide.
Although the rate of senior suicide has increased steadily over the last 10 years, it has received very little attention from the general public. While 1 out of every 100 attempted suicides in ages 18-35 results in death, 1 out of 4 attempted suicides in ages 65 and over die. In the United States alone, 21% of the deaths by suicide were in the adult population 65-90. Why? Older generations are planning their deaths very carefully. Their methods are more lethal, painless and fast.
Death is an enemy. It is the end for us all. If there is a way to prolong life, if we can help the aging to live longer, live more fully, find reasons to continue, manage being alone, then we must try and continue to try. There will be warning signs. Are they giving away once cherished articles? Do they lack concern for their safety? Is the answer no when asked to attend social gatherings? Are they ignoring doctor’s orders? Is death a topic for discussion when you visit? Is grooming a tedious chore often forgotten? If yes is the answer to even one of the previous questions it is time to exercise extra caution, extra attention, more love and compassion. Know the number of a Suicidal Hotline. Stay informed. Confide your concerns to a trusted individual. If you have access to the internet, please contact: SuicidePreventionLifeline.org
If we are an enlightened generation, how is it possible that an elderly person commits suicide every 90 minutes? We are quick to acknowledge the tragedy and senselessness when a young person so full of life and promise takes their life, yet nothing is voiced when the old among us choose to end their life before their time. What a sobering thought!
There are powerful reasons to treasure life. Find them. Know them. Share them.