Why did I do this?
Why then, you might wonder, would anybody decide to focus on something so morbid as to make a music CD pertaining to their mother’s suicide? Here’s why.
· They say you should write about what you know, and this just happens to be my story. I’ve been thinking about writing about it for a long time.
· I’m a musician, so music is my medium, and these ideas for songs meant more to me than anything else I could think of. Ultimately, I just wanted to make a good record.
· It’s not just about suicide; it’s about surviving that loss, and moving on. So it’s actually an affirmation of life, and a lot of it is pretty upbeat.
· I want to use the act of telling my story as an opportunity to speak out about the problem of suicide generally, and join the chorus of voices that continue to call for improved mental health care worldwide.
· By “coming out” as a suicide survivor, I want to challenge the stigma and taboos that cause people like me to suffer in silence, and that marginalize people who suffer from mental illness, like my mother did.
Dead Man’s Cake: what it’s about.
The anti-suicide message.
A defining moment of my life occurred when I was 6 years old and my mother committed suicide by taking an overdose of pills. This was a devastating, life-changing event for me and my family. As I’ve mentioned, the title of my record “Dead Man’s Cake” is a metaphor for the poison she took to end her life, and for suicide generally. So one of the main themes of “Dead Man’s Cake” is its anti-suicide message, summarized by the chorus of the title song:
Don’t you eat that Dead Man’s Cake;
Don’t you eat that Dead Man’s Cake.
If you’re thinking about taking your life, don’t do it.
Don’t you eat that Dead Man’s Cake.
Suicide is an incredibly complex issue. I realize most people who consider suicide are, by definition, suffering from severe mental health problems, and so in many cases cannot be held responsible. But given my experience, I felt I needed to speak out, strongly, against it, and say, loudly and clearly: don’t do it. There’s got to be a better option. Stay alive, and deal with your problems, or simply choose some other course of action. There are lots of other things you could try besides that. There are so many reasons to live, and despite the problems in the world, or problems in your life, it’s still a world full of beautiful things. Why not stick around? This too shall pass.
For the survivors, suicide creates as much devastation in their lives as if a family member had been murdered, so it is not only self-destructive, it is an act of brutal psychological violence against others as well.
On suicide prevention.
From what I’ve read: people who are suicidal should not be left alone and should get immediate help from medical and psychiatric professionals. Here are some links regarding suicide prevention.
On the subject of suicide generally.
According to the World Health Organization, every year, almost a million people worldwide die from suicide.
Suicide rates in various countries are measured by the number of cases per 100,000 people. So by that measure, it might seem suicide rates are relatively low (although they vary in different countries). For example in the U.S., according to Wikipedia, it’s around 18 people per 100,000 per year. So in the year 2006, for example, the number of suicides in the United States was around 33,000.
So it may not be a lot in terms of the overall population of 7 billion, but as far as I’m concerned, a million people a year committing suicide is a staggering number.
On being a suicide survivor.
When my mother killed herself, I became part of a subset of the population known as “suicide survivors,” or “suicide grievers.”
We are not people who have attempted suicide ourselves, but lived; those people are known as “suicide attempt survivors.”
Instead, “suicide survivors” are people who have been directly affected by the suicide loss of a close friend or family member.
It’s believed that for every person who commits suicide, there are on average 6 – 8 people who directly experience the loss of that person. If these numbers are to be believed, that means in the U.S. alone, approximately 250,000 people a year enter the ranks of suicide survivors annually, and (given the figure of a million suicides a year worldwide), there are six to eight million people around the world who become new suicide survivors every year.
On the stigma and the taboo.
The subject of suicide remains taboo. There is a stigma around mental health issues generally, and particularly around suicide. It is not something you can easily mention in polite conversation; it’s considered to be in poor taste to discuss death in general, and suicide in particular. It’s too depressing and unpleasant in a world where many people seem to be mainly concerned with having fun and being entertained (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But for anybody who brings it up, there’s a very real fear of being shunned, because nobody wants to hear about it, or be around the person discussing it.
Suicide survivors have experienced something more complicated, and perhaps more traumatic, than when a loved one dies by other causes. We quickly learn we are supposed to keep quiet about it, sweep it under the rug, generally pretend that our loved one never existed, that everything’s okay, and after a (hopefully brief) period of mourning, we are expected to just move on and live a normal life.
As another suicide survivor friend of mine eloquently said, “we have the shared experience of losing a vital family member to mental illness and then suicide! It's a loss that comes with added layers of pain.”
So, with respect to all of this, “Dead Man’s Cake” is my way of, in effect, “coming out” as a suicide survivor. I’m not necessarily going to bring it up at every dinner party I attend, but I made this record partly because I’m tired of being stigmatized. I’m tired of having spent a lifetime pretending this didn’t happen, and that my Mom didn’t exist.
The art therapy aspect.
In a number of ways, “Dead Man’s Cake” is an art therapy project (in the sense that art-making can be therapeutic).
It is my way of saying, not only, “I have survived,” but, “I will survive.”
By writing these songs and trying to shape this complex history into a narrative, I actually feel quite a lot better for having done it. I am thus reaching out to others like me, and expressing a message of solidarity and hope. It is a unique set of problems that come with being a suicide survivor, but it is possible with time and effort to move toward healing. (I also recommend support groups and talk therapy, both of which have also been vital in helping me move forward).
I’ve been told by mental health professionals that repeatedly telling your painful story can be therapeutic. I found that to be true with the making of this piece, and by talking about the piece, and thereby continuing to talk about the story behind the piece, I expect that process will continue for me. I hope hearing this story may be of some value or interest to others.
Paying tribute to my Mom.