Unexpected Gratitude for A Suicide Attempt

photo by Kurt Fristrup

It’s amazing what you can be grateful for. Sure, we’re grateful for food on the table, a roof over our heads, robust health (if we’re lucky enough to have it), the usual stuff everyone talks about on Thanksgiving Day. Gratitude is simply recognizing the value of something. Sometimes it’s something we’ve come to take for granted, like turning on a tap and getting hot water. Sometimes it’s something horrific that doesn’t sound like any good could possibly come from it all. And yet, we can still be grateful for the terrible as well as the good in our lives.

I got a phone call one evening from someone I hadn’t known for long. Sherry* was a member of a club I belonged to. I didn’t know much about her, and wasn’t sure why she was calling me. I had talked to her about mental illness in the past, just a little, because it runs in my family and hers. Otherwise our interactions had been minimal. I couldn’t imagine what she was calling me about.

After a polite greeting, Sherry told me that she had been admitted to psychiatric hospital because she had attempted suicide. She was calling from a locked ward. I was startled, then sympathetic. I was able to listen to her and hear her story with compassion and understanding. She was afraid to call her family and closer friends, because she didn’t know how they would take the news. I reassured her the best I could.

When that phone call was over, I thought the strangest thing I may have ever thought in my life — how grateful I was that a suicide attempt by one of my relatives had prepared me for this moment.

I am still floored when I think that I could be grateful for something so horrible, but I am. When I first heard that a close relative had been put in the hospital for a suicide attempt, I was grateful she was still alive, but otherwise, I was a mess — frightened, angry, unsure, confused. I never thought I would be grateful for my part of the experience: hearing her story, visiting her in the locked ward, watching her go through therapy and recover. How could I be grateful for something so harrowing and painful?

And yet, only a year later, there I was on the phone, talking calmly to a woman I barely knew, and being of comfort to her. I was able to talk to Sherry about her situation because it wasn’t exotic or bizarre to me. It was something I’d dealt with before.

If Sherry had called me the year before my family went through our suicide crisis, I don’t know what I would have said or done. I would have been completely flummoxed, probably said all the wrong things, or worse yet, hung up and left her to deal with her problems alone.

Knowing how badly I might have responded makes me even more grateful that I was prepared for that moment and able to hold Sherry’s hand as she went through her ordeal. Thanks to that phone call, I am grateful for one of the worst times in my own life. I try to remember now that even the darkest moments can have an unexpected silver lining.

Is there anything awful in your life that you are grateful for today?

*Not her real name

Today, members of 1000 Voices of Compassion are blogging about gratitude. To see a list of other posts on gratitude and compassion, click here.

13 thoughts on “Unexpected Gratitude for A Suicide Attempt”

  1. What a great article. I have found that I am grateful for all of last year, which was the worst year of my life. Having lost my mother-in-law – and dealt with all the other heart-wrenching things that go with such a loss – has made me more compassionate and more able to understand what my friends are going through in similar circumstances. I never knew, until last year, how very much difference a simple phone call or an offer of dinner or running an errand could make. I am more grateful for my friends and family, and more able to be there for others. Terrific reminder for Thanksgiving.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that you have found some positive aspects to your experiences last year. I know it was a terrible, sad, depressing time. Like you, my compassion for others is increased with every yucky thing I survive. Thanks for the reminder that little things can make a big difference to someone who is struggling.

    1. Exactly! If you’d asked me at the time, I would never have predicted that. Part of me still wishes it had never happened, but at least now I view it in a more balanced way.

  2. What a great story. My life has also been touched this year by a number of people struggling to live with mental illness. I hope I am learning to listen and have been of some comfort to them. My post for 1000 speak this month was also improbable gratitude, the strange things I am grateful to childhood cancer for. It feels like coming to this gratitude is a part of healing.

  3. I am grateful for my first marriage, the one that failed. I learned that jealousy is not romantic, that no one knows what is going on in someone else’s marriage–sometimes not even the married parties–and that just because you love someone and want them to be happy doesn’t mean you are good for them. I would not, could not appreciate the man I am married to now if I hadn’t had that earlier experience.

    1. Another great example. I try hard to remember all the lessons I learned from my first marriage, too, and all my past (and therefore failed) relationships.

  4. You’ve managed to express a feeling I have often had – that certain types of suffering can be blessings because they increase our empathy for others in that situation. It sounds like you did some real good for your friend and I hope her recovery is swift.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I realize that this whole thing could be boiled down to “everything happens for a reason” or some equally bland saying that is so painful to those in the middle of turmoil, but I was astonished when something that I never thought would happen to me turned out to be of use one day.

      1. Rather than everything happening for a reason, I believe it’s more that people can later find meaning in what, at the time, seems to be meaningless pain.

  5. Kit this post is beautiful. This sentence really struck me: “I am still floored when I think that I could be grateful for something so horrible, but I am.” I can relate to that – to almost recoiling from the gratitude because it seems so out of place. And yet, gratitude heals where other emotions don’t. I hope your relative and friend are both feeling happier now.

    I have been grateful for a few “awful” things – the most notable probably being a miscarriage that I had before I had children. I feel certain it made me a more selfless mother than I would otherwise have been, and while I was in hospital I read “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder, which was my first introduction to the Buddhist idea that god is in everything. Between the miscarriage and that understanding, my life definitely changed for the better.

    1. Yvonne, thanks for the lovely comments and sharing your story. A miscarriage is a perfect example of something you can’t imagine being grateful for. How wonderful that today you can see how it made your life better.

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