Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Time for Compassion

Like the rest of the world, I awoke to the news this week that the tragic crash of the Germanwings flight 9252 was due to a deliberate act of the co-pilot, and my heart sunk.   My immediate thoughts were for the families of everyone on board - there would be so many questions, so much pain.  All these beautiful, innocent lives lost in a horrific and random act, how incredibly unfair and what an enormous trauma for their loved ones to have to make sense of. 

Among those lost, were every day people including students, teachers, families, opera singers, tourists, university graduates, babies, journalists, business professionals and newlyweds. People with so much to live for, people who will be greatly missed. So many families who will never be the same again, so much grief. 

However my heartbreak was not only due to my sympathy for those whose lives had been lost but also because I knew I would have to brace myself for the inevitable media circus of assumptions and speculation on what lead this man to this catastrophic act. 

This is a difficult topic to write about because it ignites a range of complex and personal emotions, all of which are valid, and there is potential to offend or cause hurt to those who have been affected by similar events. There will be readers whose loved ones were taken due to the actions of others.  And there will be readers whose loved ones, for various reasons, caused others to pass with them.  So I’d like to ask you to join me in making this a safe place for anyone who might feel personally affected by this topic.

I lost my husband to mental illness, he was not of a rational or sound mind when he took his life.  He couldn't see the devastation his death would leave behind and the ongoing pain and trauma he would inflict on those of us who love him.  This is because he had a disease which robbed him of his mental capacity, logic and reasoning.  I have had to come to understand and accept this, however part of my challenge is having to face comments from people who are ignorant about mental health and use words like 'selfish' and 'weak' when speaking about suicide.  

I don’t have the added burden of other lives being lost due to his actions and couldn't pretend to imagine how difficult that would be. So my heart also aches for the family of the co-pilot who have lost a son and are now left to both try and make sense of how he came to be in such a dark place and carry the weight of the hatred and anger being directed at him.  

Please let me be clear here, I am in no way defending or excusing the actions of anyone who takes another  life. This is never ok and there is never a justification for a murder/suicide.  More often than not these horrific incidents are carried out by people who aren't just mentally unstable, but who are trying to consciously cause pain, instil terror or control others due to reasons such as religious extremism or racial hatred. 

Most of us will never know what drives someone to carry out an act such as this. However the fight to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around suicide takes a few giant steps back when public conversation jumps to the assumption that this person was evil and fails to acknowledge that these tragedies are caused by a vast range of reasons, including someone being mentally ill and not accessing the help they need.  

This doesn't excuse or justify their actions - it doesn't make it any less painful for the families left behind. But as a society that is trying to make sense of such events and identify how they could be prevented in the future, it is important to remember there could have been many different causes. 

It's devastating news and, as humans, it’s natural for us to talk about these events in a bid to make sense of them.  So of course people are going to talk about it... but I feel my face burning and my heart sinking, as words get bandied around like ‘selfish’, ‘evil’ and ‘cold-blooded killer’.  The water-cooler gossips in my office and media reports are always quick to jump to the most dramatic speculation but there is never a call to wait with open-minds and compassion, until further facts are known.  

A colleague of mine lost her good friend a few years ago when she took her life, and her daughters, in a very public way that caused shock in our community.  This woman had been battling severe depression and it is her loved ones' opinion that her actions were driven by her belief that she couldn't go on any longer and would be sparing her daughter from the grief and shame that would be associated with her mother's death.

Speculative, nasty and inflammatory comments in the media about the incident added so much extra pain to their grief. In no way is it logical or 'right' but they could never consider her to be a hateful or violent person or a bad mother and their grief was compounded with the despair that she would always, in the eyes of the public, be remembered this way.

When something like this occurs we have the mammoth task of needing to process what has happened and find some peace in a place where there is no logic.  This is not something that our brains are wired to do.  We have an instinctive need to pigeon hole or diagnose or label a situation in order to file it away in our sub-conscious and lay it to rest.  When this is not possible, when the cause is either quite complex or beyond our realm of every-day comprehension, what are we to do? 

My hope is that when people hear about these events in the news and find themselves trying to understand what caused them, they come from a place of compassion rather than judgement.  This man was not well.  His family are grieving his loss as well as coming to terms with the enormity of his actions. The one thing they will know for sure is that their son was suffering so badly that nothing made sense, including his reasoning for taking the life of another.  

So I am choosing not to quickly judge something I don't and could never understand.


  1. Dear Rebecca-
    I am so sorry for your loss, and the loss of all the people on the flight. I don't judge.
    My husband dropped dead for no apparent reason. A very wise cab driver told me that the coroner would come up with some excuse, but we are all here temporarily, and it was his time. Instead of trying to make sense of it, I like to think that we are all just passing through this world.

    1. Hi there, thank you for your perpective, that's a really helpful way of looking at it.

  2. Thank you, Rebecca. Such an important message.

  3. I totally agree with you, Rebecca. And I'm glad Michele gave us all a safe space to discuss what needs to be discussed. I can recognize the strong feelings on both sides. If someone were to have taken my loved one's life, instinctually my first urge would have been to hate and destroy that person. I can only imagine that time would've given me compassion and a more open mind. Logic says that imprisonment or even the death penalty only adds more loss. Nothing can restore the love that was lost except positive actions. Remember, restore, rebuild. And then my thoughts go to my own struggles and how my unkind words have hurt others. I have changed so much in the past few years because I reached out for help and had open and honest discussions. I can attest that fighting Hate, not vilifying those we do not understand, can make all the difference.

    1. Yes, Michele is wonderful and offered me a lot of support in writing this, which really helped. You are right, the families of those who died are facing a living nightmare right now and all their energy would be going in to making it through each day. I pray that they will find a place of peace over time, but whatever emotions and feelings they have are not something I would ever judge. I would never have thought as much about this topic before Dan died, so like you - my eyes have been opened because of my own grief. Thank you for your contribution and for adding to the conversation. Much love x

  4. Rebecca thank you for posting this for so many reasons. My darling Tony completed suicide almost 4 years ago now, and I still can't escape the insensitive comments of others. It happens in my daily life, and now with this tragedy, in the media once again. My profession is in aviation, I know perhaps more than the average person about the requirements of this man's career and the type of news that will unfold in the public eye. When I heard about what happened, my immediate thoughts were with his family along with all the others affected by this tragedy. I prayed for compassion. But as the story unfolded my worst fears for all involved were realized. The media frenzy is relentless. Everyone is so quick to judge. The wounds it reopened for me, like you, were many. It made me more determined than ever to get out there and raise awareness regarding mental illness. Made me vow to be an example of patience while the professionals conducting the investigation complete their terrible task. And I continue to pray, for all those who are grieving, and for all of society to think outside of themselves and not to judge harshly.

    1. Thank you for contributing with your experience and perspective Lisa and I'm so sorry for your loss. xo

  5. dear Rebecca,

    thank you for writing this post. i am so very sorry for all that you are and have been going through with the tragic loss of your Dan that has given you such insight and understanding. i so value your words about not rushing to judgement, reminding and urging all of us to extend compassion to everyone who is hurting so badly and forever changed by this horrible event. i try to envision a collective and massive amount of compassion so powerful it is able to be felt by each individual, settling on to each heart to offer comfort and healing for all those who are reeling with such consuming grief. your generous and insightful post is exceptional and most compassionate, and i hope you, too, feel the love and understanding from all who read your beautiful message.

    much love,


  6. When my mother was 90, she and I were looking through family photos, the really old ones. She came across a photo of her father who hung himself when she was 19, in 1936. A tear rolled slowly down her wrinkled cheek. "He never knew you" she said.

    1. Thank you for sharing Deborah. I don't think the pain will ever really go away.

  7. Good for you Rebecca, for writing this. You are a beautiful person, and your compassion gives you a gigantic heart. It is only by talking about these things that are uncomfortable to talk about - that we can better understand them.