Today my daughter wanted to watch this new movie 13 Reasons Why. A movie about the suicide of this girl who apparently left tapes behind for people explaining how they were in part responsible for how she felt, which feelings led to her suicide. I have vaguely heard of this movie before and knew there was some controversy about it but I had not seen it and I do not intend to.
The argument with my daughter was pretty straight forward. She thought she was old enough for the topic and should be allowed to see it and “all her friends were watching it.’ I said, no, it is not your choice as it is my job to protect you and that I would decide after watching it or finding out more about it. Somehow she came to the conclusion that my protecting her was an excuse – an excuse for what I do not know.
After soliciting opinions from people I trust who had seen it, I emphatically denied her permission to watch it. She was pretty upset. But all opinions that came in were that this movie glorified suicide without any insight or direction to something that would help someone with this struggle.
My daughter was so insistent that she was old enough for the topic. But is anyone really old enough to manage suicide or the desire to end one’s life? Having had this struggle and having attempted suicide in the past, I think not. There is no preparing someone for the reality of this struggle. We can talk about getting help and where to get it. We can talk about what to do if someone says they are feeling so despairing that they want to end their life. But the actual reality of that despair and what it is like to be in that or be in it with someone going through that? There is no preparing for that. There is help and support but that does not diminish the trauma of going through this as the suicidal person or the outsider trying to help.
I hear people say “the struggle is real” and “life is hard” all the time. But these are flippant statements of minor struggles. The struggle of choosing life is a whole other thing. To have to face what it means to be here, with all of what life does and how the mind sees no other options other than death – that is the ultimate struggle. To find meaning in life when the mind says it has no meaning. To uselessly try to find meaning in the traumas of life, the pain, the suffering – only to find out that sometimes there is no meaning other than those things have brought us to where we are today. To this point of finding joy amidst the pain and suffering.
What I have learned is that we have to process everything. That most often the despair, fear, sadness just needs to be heard in detail. That we can in fact go back and write a different ending – perhaps not “in reality” but rather energetically. I have done this a lot in my personal work around my parents and the traumas from my childhood. I have used statements like “that was not my real dad, my real dad would have done this…” and I have talked to my “real dad” and asked questions, told him how I felt with my therapist playing the part of the real dad, mom or whoever it was I needed to work with at the time. It did change the story for me. I did help me know that there is that essence of people – the essence of the real dad and mom to work with to help heal. My therapist calls it part of the re-parenting process. The work was unspeakably hard and required a lot of support. But for me the decisions I made about life not having meaning, that nothing and no one was safe, that I had no worth in this world, that life itself was not safe and that therefore death was better were decisions I made during this trauma period when I was young. For others I am sure the story is a little different although the feelings are so very often the same.
But as a parent now of these 13 year olds, I get to be that real mom. The one who protects and nourishes. I am a fantastic mom not just because I do these fabulous things with my kids but because I know what it is to not have that role model in my life. I don’t know how I ended up being such a great parent but I did. I did not act like my parents did. I made different choices. My kids will probably never know all of that. They don’t need to. They need to know they are loved and valued, that their love is precious and wonderful and more than enough. I have told them bits and pieces of my life. My struggle about life and suicide I do not share with them and I am uncertain that I ever will. Certainly not now and not without good reason. The hubris of youth thinks it is prepared for anything. But its not. I’m grateful that I know this and that I can protect my kids by saying no, you are not ready. No one really is. We deal with it and get help and support around it when it comes up but to say we are ready for that is just the mind being arrogant and indulgent.
This glorification of suicide in a movie frightens me. Was it made just because it could be made? Because someone had the idea? Is that kind of like making the atom bomb without thinking of the consequences just because it could be done? And why are so many parents just letting their kids watch this movie? When did it become ok to detach from the consequences of letting children decide for themselves what they are gown up enough to do, see, and experience? I may not be able to stop them from everything I think they should be protected from. But I won’t sit blindly by while they expose themselves to things that are so hard, so traumatic and that will ultimately desensitize them to something that is truly horrible.