Christmas Day, 2004: I wrote this piece years ago & never finished it. I offer it for what hope it might give. - Dave
Serial suicide, or "copy-cat suicide" happens when a surviving friend of a suicide mysteriously takes his own life. And then, sickeningly, in the months that follow their friends continue the cycle by taking their own lives, one after another. Everyone knows it happens & once it starts everyone knows who is at risk. Teenagers, in particular, suffer from this horror. Parents watch & wait in terror as one teenager after another takes their own lives.
The conventional wisdom is to counsel teenagers at risk. Sometimes this works, sometimes it does not. Sometimes the counseling is "rational" or "humanistic", sometimes it has a religious base. We have no fault with these methods. In every case, the effort is noble & praiseworthy. In many cases, good work is done, teenage lives are saved.
Yet these efforts, good as they are, deal with symptoms, not causes. The cause of serial suicides is the sad, dead folks who have killed themselves.
I could give metaphysical rationales & apologies for what I'm about to write, but it's easier to just start:
The person who starts the cycle & kills himself usually does so for one simple reason: To escape what has become a horrible life. He seeks oblivion. Sleep, merciful sleep, if you will.
But in reality, no one dies. In reality we simply change scenes. The newly dead person is just like a living person, only he has no physical body. He still has everything else. So once dead, he does not find rest. He finds the opposite. He is just the same as he was, just as miserable, except for one important detail: He is now powerless to change his situation. He no longer has hands that can touch, nor a voice that can be heard. He can see his friends, he can see his family, but they cannot see him.
And then the "if onlies" start. If only he had done this, if only he had done that. Perhaps he could have got another job, perhaps he could have tried harder, perhaps he could have been more patient. The regrets go on forever. If he sinks into a morass of self-pity, then we need not bother with him, for even though he still needs help desperately, he is unable to reach us & we are unable to reach him. We will not deal with what becomes of such cases, they are among the most tragic of all.
But there is an alternative. Crucially in the formation of serial suicides, the dead teen grabs a shred of hope: Perhaps someone can help him! And like a drowning man (which he resembles at this stage), he looks around for a friend.
Now there are many potential friends available to the dead teen, more, in fact, than when he was alive, for reasons we needn't go into at the moment. Who can help the teen? Anyone he asks! Therein is the problem!
The desperate teen goes to a friend, a living friend, one who knew him while he was alive. And though neither can talk to the other in the ordinary sense, the dead teen can make his feelings felt. Powerfully so.
The living friend, because he was a friend, cannot but be grieving for his departed comrade. So when the dead teen makes his presence felt, it further depress the living survivor.
This typically starts while the living friend is asleep and dreaming. The dead rapidly learn that while the living are awake we are quite deaf to them but that once "asleep", we are "awake" to them.
This kind of contact, between the living & the dead, happens all the time, notably between deceased grandparents & favored grandchildren. Grandchildren remember these dreams (when they remember them at all) in the context in which the deceased present themselves. If they're "having fun" on the other side (which the elderly often do), then the dream experience is a pleasant one.
But not so with the suicide. He has killed himself from overwhelming misery, has become more miserable in the after death state, and now clings to a desperate hope that his friend can help.
And the friend, because he is a friend, wants to help. He will at first doubt his sanity when he senses the deceased around him. As the weeks pass he will become convinced of the deceased continued existence, however it may be explained. Even though they can only communicate by feeling, over time feelings become so explicit they take on the semblance of actual dialogue.
But aside from moral encouragement, the living friend will be unable to help. Gradually the dialogue between the two shifts. Gradually it takes on a sinister tone. Typically this conversation ensues:
The dead teen says, Look at me. I'm dead & I'm okay. Death is easy. If only you were here with me! Won't you please do me this favor? Look, your life is no better than mine was. Why do you want to go on living? Won't you make me happy? Death is so easy! And it doesn't hurt at all! Here, let me help you!
One friend of ours, a friend still living, lost a boyfriend & missed him terribly. In his after-death state, she reported he gave her images of falling under buses, jumping off bridges, taking pills, etc.
In a "normal" relationship between the living, there is only so much time available for any one friend. The phone rings, the class ends, a job starts, another friend arrives, and the two conspirators are separated, try though they might to stay together.
In a relationship between the dead & the living, no such thing happens. The dead man will haunt the living twenty-four hours a day, day after day. Week after week. Listen to what they say, those who survive this brutal treatment. The continual pressure wears down the strongest will to survive. It is the drowning man, desperately drowning his would-be savior.
While under this malefic influence, the living withdraws further and further from life. The physical world no longer matters to them, they no longer care for their friends, they no longer care for life itself. They become very quiet.
And then they take the great step, and kill themselves.
Only to find, once they are on the other side, that they themselves are just as alone, and just as desperate. It's not that the original suicide has abandoned them, but that neither know how to reach the other! For this simple reason!
And the drama then plays itself out all over again. The first suicide goes on to his second victim, while his first victim goes through his own process, perhaps to become a ghoul, perhaps not. Now you know why there are serial suicides.
I do not know if my solution is simple or not. It is simple to me. That I do know. And I know it works. When I think of the misery that suicide causes, I am compelled to share what I know. Here it is:
My solution is to use the living friend as a conduit to give help to the suicide himself. The suicide wants help, all we need do is furnish it.
In a moment I am going to suggest a method whereby the counselor (which I hope that some of you may become) may call in a friend. A friend who can help. But first I must state explicitly who this friend is not:
He is not a name. You are not to call him by a name, nor are you to call him by any title. The friend you call may, in fact, be "Jesus Christ", or "God" or "G-d", or the "Archangel Michael", or a deceased parent or grandparent or a war hero or an impeached president. YOU as counselor, DO NOT KNOW AND DO NOT NEED TO KNOW who this friend is. The suicide will know, and he is all that matters.
So this is not a place for preachers. Nor is it a place for Bibles or fancy ideas of heaven, hell, Pearly Gates, reincarnation, devils, angels, purgatory or any other religious idiom. The time for that was before the suicide killed himself. If you normally think in these terms, set them aside for the moment.
Now there is only a traumatized suicide. Emotions are all he's got & they're as raw as they get. Say the wrong thing, or even think it, and he'll explode. And he'll never trust you again. And the situation will worsen. And you'll know it instantly.
Fortunately, if you will accept not knowing what may really be going on & will let your mind drift, the work is simple. Here it is:
A distressed living person will probably contact you. In all the cases I have handled, people came to me. They wanted help but they were shy of talking. So talk to him. Gain his confidence. Eventually he will bring up the topic of his dead friend. Let him introduce the topic at his own pace, do not force him.
Once he has, you may ask freely about his dead friend and the dead will answer through him. However strange it may be, it must be real to you. When you have gained the trust of both people (living and dead), you may say something like this:
"It seems to me as if your friend (the suicide) needs help. I don't know if we could help since we're living & he's not. Maybe there's someone where he is now who could help? Let's see if we can find someone to help him."
"Suppose there was a person who could help. Suppose he was standing next to your friend. Let's just imagine someone standing next to your friend. Can you see the two of them standing together?"
At this point the person in front of you will give some answer. Listen to this carefully. The person in front of you will probably confirm that he can see someone standing next to his friend.
"So your friend can see this person? That's good. Have your friend look into his eyes. What does he see there?" (Wait for reply.) "Is he a friend?" (Wait for reply.) "Does he know what to do?" (Wait for reply.) "Can your friend trust him?"
If you are successful, the replies will be positive. I've used male pronouns throughout, but if it feels better to use female, do it. A lot of this is seat-of-your-pants work. Go with your hunches. Continuing:
"Does it feel good to be with this person?" (Wait for reply.) "What if your friend could stay with this person. Would that help? (Wait for reply.) "Then why don't they give each other a big hug?"
"Look! This new friend is pointing to others. Do you see them standing nearby? The two of them are walking over to meet them. And now they are there, all one big group. It seems to me that your friend knows these people already! Can you see them all going off together? Your friend will be okay. He is with friends. He is home now."
At this point the tension in the room (which you hadn't noticed until now) vanishes. At this point people cry. It's okay, it's over. Your friend is home.
You will probably sense much of this yourself, but the living person in front of you is your best guide. There is still more to do, but the situation is now in the hands of the group on the other side. Which is exactly where it should be. Your job is done.
Is this the end of the danger? You won't know. The living person in front of you is the only judge. Although he should be tremendously relieved, chances are that he won't know for sure for some time. If he's a stranger or casual acquaintance, encourage him to call if he has any problems. If or when he does, you may be surprised by the stories.
To be continued