Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. – Phil Donahue
Though I’m sure you’ve already determined the catalyst for this column, with the exception of some celebrities, we will not be addressing any particular suicide. Instead, we’ll discuss the notion of, and the fallout from, suicide in general.
Unless it’s a more-than-reasonable choice to end the suffering from a terminal illness, no matter how you slice it, suicide is the easy way out, because as Mr. Donahue so aptly noted, all of life’s problems are temporary. The problem is it becomes a permanent problem with no solution for the family members and friends inexorably dragged along in its wake.
Put more simply, contrary to the ubiquitous M*A*S*H theme song, suicide is far from painless for the survivors who will never be the same. It casts a pall over the lives of those who cared about the victim that never fully lifts robbing them of the life they might’ve had.
Suicide affects us even if we didn’t know the victim. Per the great John Donne “…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…” Robin Williams untimely death still haunts me because it still seems so pointless. Anthony Bourdain’s was even more difficult to understand, and there’s nothing worse than reading about a middle- or high-schooler who took their life because they were convinced that things wouldn’t get any better.
Suicide condemns those left behind to a life sentence of asking themselves what they could’ve done differently. They’ll never stop trying to figure out why they did it. They’ll ceaselessly question how they failed to see it coming. Could one more call, visit, or kind word have made a difference? It’s worse for parents who lose a child in this tragic manner because they’ll beat themselves up with the possibility they had something to do with it. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for a child to try to make sense out of a parent who takes their own life.
But the bitter truth is, if someone’s determined to kill themselves, there’s nothing anyone can do about it because suicide is ultimately a selfish act.
I understand some of us are prone to depression, and left untreated, it can have devastating effects. That’s why I’ve been arguing for a more robust mental health safety net for 17 long years. Thankfully, the stigma attached to depression sufferers is a far cry from what it once was and the treatment options have improved dramatically.
Still, we can certainly be our own worst spiraling-down-into-the-rabbit-hole enemies.
I’m also willing to stipulate that this earthly existence ain’t for sissies and it’s particularly sucked in the post-pandemic era where the old hierarchies are fading away and the new ones haven’t found their footing. But as bad as it can get, and regardless of anything else, per musician Bruce Cockburn, the singular reason we’re here is to “kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight.”
We’ve all faced those dark nights of the soul where expectations viciously collide with an unforgiving reality. But as difficult as it is to see at the time, those “nights” provide us with our greatest opportunities to learn and grow.
Anthony Bourdain woke up at 61 only to discover he’d become everything he loathed. He bullied his Parts Unknown staff, he neglected his daughter, and he was obsessed with his much younger girlfriend. But as difficult as it can be to face those revelations, the answer is to call a counselor and commit yourself to incremental change, not to put the final period on your life story.
We’ve all borne witness to human beings recovering from the worst circumstances. A bruised and battered Tina Turner fled a hotel room with 36 cents in her pocket to go on to have the life she’d always dreamed of.
I’m not saying anyone who commits suicide is evil, but that the act itself is. And I mean “evil” in the Kierkegaardian sense that it’s an attempt to diminish whatever god or force brought us into existence. Kierkegaard used the example of a reader erasing the words from a book’s pages as if to disprove the existence of the author.
But despite this perilous planet, life generally gets better because we all get better. I’m certainly not the same person I was just 10 years ago. The key is to make it through that first dark night, because once we have that experience under our belt, we know it always gets better.
And the key to making it through those nights is by refusing to exacerbate the depressive cycle by bottling it up inside. If you’re headed in that direction, please reach out to a parent, school counselor, family member, friend, therapist, or call the suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255) and share your pain. One of the greatest gifts we can give another human being is to allow them to give us a hand up when we really need it.
Taking your own life is never the answer because it leaves far too many questions. I’ll say it again, Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Please remember, it always gets better.
This is typically the time I’d warn you that, given the Memorial Day weekend, there will be no column next Tuesday. But you’re in luck Dear Reader! Having had some fun with ChatGPT last weekend, I have a 1,300 word piece just waiting to be published. Put more simply, we’ll continue the conversation both Tuesday and Thursday next week.