Saturday, March 28, 2009

When a Student Dies

Last week one of my students died.

It's bigger than that really, it's not a simple situation. She committed suicide and she was in the teacher training that I'm leading. This isn't now me just dealing with my own grief about losing someone in my life, I'm now in a position to manage how other people are going to be dealing with it because it happened while our training is still underway. We graduate next weekend.

Her death is timely and thought-provoking. Besides the grief I feel for losing her and the guilt that comes with thoughts of "what if I had connected more with her, what if I had taken special care, what if, what if," I'm confronted with the teachings of yoga that deal with karma and surrender.

Someone said she felt that yoga had somehow let her down. That yoga should have helped this person. It's supposed to make you better and happy.

Yoga is not supposed to make you better and happy. There's nothing wrong with you, you're whole and complete as you are. Or are you?

The student who died was clearly going through a hard time, was clearly dealing with some big stuff. Should I have had her leave the course? I considered it for sure. But with some conversations with others, I felt it was right to have her be there and that yoga is for everyone. She ended up leaving the course on her own to deal with some of that stuff.

But then she came back. She wanted to continue the course, knowing that she wouldn't graduate. This is the place where if I were to do it again, I'd do it differently. In the future I would seriously consider not letting people who leave the course come back. In this case, after some conversations we agreed she could come back. But then she left again. And this time she left for good.

When she wasn't in class I tried to reach her. I do that with everyone who isn't in class. If you're not in class, where are you? In the future, students who don't show up without communicating with me they're not coming, will be a red flag for me that perhaps the course is bringing up stuff for them and that perhaps they'll need to deal with their therapists or friends and get some of that sorted out before taking the course again. She isn't the only one who didn't show up at times. We all do that at some point, we bail. As a yoga teacher, if you don't show up to teach your class, you won't have a class for very long.

"What if we screened people for mental health issues?" has been asked. I am not in a position to evaluate someone's mental health and if someone were to write on a health history form that they were in therapy and perhaps on anti-depressants, they would be considered quite normal by today's standards and I would keep welcoming people to the class. What I can evaluate is behaviour - are you following the agreements of the course and if not, you're not in the course.

That wouldn't have prevented the tragic loss of this particular student. It would have had the group that remained be intact instead of being disintegrated, which is kind of what's happening now. The edges have frayed.

While I was at the Police College yesterday, we had a chat about suicide, which they tell me happens much more than gets reported, especially among cops. The people I was chatting with were each angry at the person who took their own life. Life is hard, but for some people it is unbearable. The pain we all feel isn't the same pain that someone with mental illness and suicidal thoughts feels. It isn't. We can't just wish that if they did a little more meditation or breathing or worked out or whatever helps us that they wouldn't feel that way. Suicide is a symptom of stress of the kinds we are familiar with but will never feel the way someone who is driven to kill themself feels. Because if we felt the same way, we'd do the same thing.

1 comment:

Lola said...

Many think suicide is a selfish act and get 'mad' that those who commit. But really, these souls need our empathy and our understanding. It is sad that the pain and helplessness is so unbearable that these individuals get tunnel vision and see this as the only way out. Imagine hurting THAT much. I used to resent it-when someone close to me did this but then as I grew as a person and learned more, I was just sad and felt helpless even though there was nothing I could do. There was nothing you could do to ultimately save someone that does not want to be saved so don't carry this burden. BUT use this experience as a tool to reach out again in the future.