‘Our little songbird has flown the nest’

Ever since Trish Lane told me during our talk about a blunt Reader’s Digest article that convinced her that suicide wasn’t an option, I wanted to find it. It took just seconds. Several websites have posted it as a warning, or a plea. I’ll paste it here, and soon enough someone will let me know whether I’m infringing on copyright and need to take it down.

One note: I was curious about the article’s author as well and wanted to speak with her. What responses did she get over the years? What more would she like to say about her work and the people she met? However, Renee T. Lucero passed away in 2010, according to an obituary on the website of The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Washington state. “Our little songbird has flown the nest,” the obituary says. It does not mention the cause of death, but it does say she was a nurse and published an article on suicide prevention. Here is the text of that article, called “Before You Kill Yourself”:

You’ve decided to do it. Life is impossible. Suicide is your way out.

Fine — but before you kill yourself, there are things you should know. I am a psychiatric nurse, and I see the results of suicide — when it works and, more often, when it doesn’t. Consider, before you act, these facts:

Suicide is usually not successful. You think you know ways to guarantee it? Ask the 25-year-old who tried to electrocute himself. He lived. But both his arms are gone.

What about jumping? Ask John. He used to be intelligent with an engaging sense of humor. That was before he leaped from a building. Now he’s brain-damaged and will always need care. He staggers and has seizures. He lives in a fog. Worst of all, he knows he used to be normal.

What about pills? Ask the 12-year-old with extensive liver damage from an overdose. Have you ever seen anyone die of liver damage? You turn yellow. It’s a hard way to go.

What about a gun? Ask the 24-year-old who shot himself in the head. Now he drags one leg, has a useless arm and has no vision or hearing on one side. He lived through his “foolproof” suicide. You might too.

Who will clean your blood off the carpet or scrape your brains from the ceiling? Commercial cleaning crews may refuse that job — but someone has to do it.

Who will have to cut you down from where you hanged yourself or identify your bloated body after you’ve drowned? Your mother? Your wife? Your son?

The carefully worded “loving” suicide note is no help. Those who loved you will never completely recover. They’ll feel regret and an unending pain.

Suicide is contagious. Look around at your family. Look closely at that 4-year-old playing with his cars on the rug. Kill yourself tonight and he may do it 10 years from now.

You do have other choices. There are people who can help you through this crisis. Call a hotline. Call a friend. Call your minister or priest. Call a doctor or the hospital. Call the police.

They will tell you that there’s hope. Maybe you’ll find it in the mail tomorrow. Or in a phone call this weekend. But what you’re seeking could be just a minute, a day or a month away.

You say you still don’t want to be stopped? Still want to do it? Then I may see you in a psychiatric ward later. And we’ll work with whatever you have left.

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2 thoughts on “‘Our little songbird has flown the nest’

  1. I am left frightened at our mental health system, that a veteran of the psychiatric nursing community thought that her vignette of the terrible aftermath of suicide “that didn’t work” might encourage people to top before the act. Using “scare tactics” to attempt to terrify people who are already hurting and desperate seems like exactly the opposite of what is called for. Having read this passage, I’d never want to go get help at a “psychiatric ward” either, to be locked into a unit with providers like her, who have so little empathy and so much blame at her patients who “failed.”

    She misses the entire point of what I, as someone who has attempted suicide, need from professionals and what they so seldom offer – “Hope.” If there is no talk of the reality of the hope of recovery with a person living with the pain of depression so excruciating he is seriously contemplating ending his life, and no supports available, even in the Reader’s Digest, then that person is at greater risk of acting, not less.

    This nurse is very angry at people who are thinking or, in her examples, have attempted suicide, and has nothing to offer of value to her patients – no caring for them, before or after the suicidal attempt.

    I suspect she had to “clean up” after the death of by suicide of someone she loved to be so enraged at the most vulnerable of her patients. I fell sad that she died never having resolved her rage, whatever the cause. Yet, I am sadder for the people who fell under her “care” or who read this article. People who are contemplating suicide are at a time in their lives where they have a lack of hope and and are teetering on the brink of loss of control.

    Being attacked for contemplating the act, in such traumatizing and explicit language as the nurse uses, might push a person to act, instead of having the opposite effect. It is a sign of societal stigma and misunderstanding of mental illnesses that Reader’s Digest thought this article was fit to print, and that the author is certainly not alone in her negative perspective of people with mental illnesses – here she characterizes us as irresponsible and clueless as to the pain, suffering and other potential consequences of attempting or completing suicide. Who would want to help such sick and socially “deranged” people? “Just say no” is her message, as if it were possible to, by sheer force of will, stop extremely powerful thoughts of dying as an “end to the pain” and the actions that may follow.

    The “pull yourself out of it” attitude is too common among providers in the mental health system (who ought to know better), and rampant in the general public and among many elected officials – as evidenced by public policy that continues to cut the mental health safety net past its breaking point – leading to an extremely high suicide rate across our country. We need healing environments and providers working in different paradigms than solely using dangerous drugs to stop this epidemic – and to eliminate nurses like this author from working anywhere in proximity to .

  2. My mother wrote this while working at the VA in Palo Alto, CA. She was always happy to hear that it had helped jolt someone back from the edge, and wanted it to be reprinted anywhere, any time, by anyone.

    As to her own life, it was fairly sad. She had five kids in six years, managing to raise us on her own when my dad left just two years after the fifth was born, attending nursing school a couple of years after that. It was a good fit, she was very nurturing, but she never got over the loss of her dream of being a stay-at-home wife and mom. I know that sounds a bit strange these days, but she came of age in the 50’s. I think that is why she never really gave herself credit for the good she did as a nurse.
    The sadder part is that shortly after writing the article, she began to experience mental health problems of her own, which became debillitating. We never really got an adequate diagnosis, and were unable to do much to help her until she began showing signs of dementia 20 long, frightening years later. Her last several years were spent in the very kind of psych hospitals in which she had given so much comfort to others–where she identified with the staff and always, always sang. Even at the end, when the words would not come, she hummed along in perfect tune…

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