The way to honor suicide.
By Tim Moody
The distinguished French philosopher and priest, Teilhard de Chardin, wrote, “Humankind is being brought to a moment where it will have to decide between suicide and adoration.”
The distance between those two is enormous. It’s a long drop from adoration to suicide but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45,000 Americans killed themselves in 2016, the most recent statistics available. Another 1 million people attempt suicide each year.
The latest casualty was celebrated chef, author, and world traveler Anthony Bourdain. He left us at age 61, devoted to a beautiful girlfriend and the father of an adorable 11-year old daughter. Famous, wealthy, revered by millions of fans, Bourdain nevertheless found life unbearable.
He follows the famous fashion designer and entrepreneur, 55-year old Kate Spade, who took her life only a few days earlier. And in April of 2018, the iconic Swedish musician and record producer, Avicii, committed suicide. He was 28.
There are no simple answers to this. Suicide is not just the choice of celebrities. People of all walks of life, young and old and everyone in between, make a conscious decision to end their life. The reasons are endless—depression, despair, inner rage, self-loathing, shame, merciless guilt, addictions, grief, loss, and so on.
The reality of our ideal self and our real self; the painful memory of betrayals; the awareness that I am not living what I believe; midlife oppression, the debilitating frailties of aging; the disappointment of what I had hoped to be and what I have actually become; the heartbreak of the death of a child; the splintering separation between us and those we love; are only some of the reasons why some cannot go on.
People determined to stop living will only change when they have decided that whatever is spiraling them into self-destruction can be overcome or dealt with. And the only force strong enough to even move the needle for them, is love. And often even that, with all its magnificent abundance, does not bring one back from the brink and at last fails.
A character in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, “The Bean Tree,” tells a friend, “There is no point in treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, ‘There now, hang on, you’ll get over it. Sadness is more or less a head cold – with patience, it passes.’” No, she says, “Depression is like cancer.”
Anyone living with depression and anxiety knows how true that is. How it eats away all the joys of one’s happiness. How it slowly consumes one’s willpower to survive.
We cannot fully enter into the pain of others. We may want to. We may try. But it’s impossible. What people carry inside them fills a space only they have passage to. And for some that place propels feelings and moods, obsessions and fears, into terrible foreboding thoughts that life holds no more beauty, that purpose has disappeared entirely, that the light in all that one loves has finally flickered and gone out.
Writer and poet, Kathleen Norris has written, “The exhaustion that I’m convinced lies behind most suicides finds its seed in stagnation; the rhythms of daily life, and of the universe itself, the everyday glory of sunrise and sunset and all the ‘present moments’ in between seem a disgusting repetition that stretches on forever. It would be all too easy to feel that one wants no part of it anymore.”
And so, many have. Good people. Loving people. Gifted and brilliant people. Yet, the struggle for them to keep going is unconquerable.
Our heart breaks for them. We hurt, deeply and profoundly, that they exist in thoughts carrying them to an act of finality. To an event enveloped in relief for them but wrapped in catastrophe, misery, and mourning for us.
The film, “The Hours,” is based on the lives of three women battling devastating inner issues leading them to suicide. One of the women is the famous novelist, Virginia Woolf, who one cold cloudy day fills the pockets of her jacket with heavy stones and walks into a river and drowns. Before her death, her husband, worried about her dark moods, asks her why someone must die in the novel she is writing. She says, “Someone has to die so the rest of us will value life more.”
If that is the lesson those who take their own life leave us, it is certainly one we all must honor; to find the gorgeousness of life hidden in the awareness that however dire and rotten our existence, there can be meaning.