Posted by: Kate | January 19, 2007

Or Not

Upon further musings, mostly in the shower because it’s one of the few places I can count on five minutes’ uninterrupted time at home, I want to clarify this post a bit.

I don’t think it’s the United States of America’s fault that this girl took her life, any more than I think it’s the moose’s fault when it wanders into the road and the driver of the car veers off into the woods. (Speaking of which, I’ve lived in New Hampshire for FIVE YEARS now and still have not seen a moose. I consider those big signs at the side of the road a contractual obligation, and I’m getting irritated at the utter lack of moose. I don’t think they actually exist.)

My point is, no, it’s not the country’s fault, but I do believe that the war, and therefore the country, was a contributing factor in her actions. Is it George Bush’s fault that anyone has died in Iraq? It’s handy to lay it on him, because he’s such a convenient scapegoat, but the reality is, it’s a big complicated situation which is well beyond my own comprehension. So, while it feels good to vent and point fingers, I’m actually able to recognize that I can’t blame any one person or entity.

I deal with suicidal people all the time, and it never becomes routine. And often, it feels like we’re able to make a difference; we’re able to help keep someone alive long enough to get through that really dark spot, and they go on and get better, at least well enough to live and stop wanting to die. So hearing about a 19-year-old girl, who lived about 2 miles from my house, who just impulsively killed herself, without giving time a chance to make things feel a little more manageable, that weighs on me. I don’t feel personally responsible, but I want someone to.

And while I recognize that adults are responsible for their own actions, and ultimately it was this girl who chose to hang herself in her room and break her family’s heart, I don’t believe that people who are suicidal are selfish in the traditional, conscious sense of the word. It’s not the selfishness of a two-year-old grabbing the last cookie from his sister’s plate (not that this has ever happened here), but more the selfishness that happens when you can’t see outside the moment; that is, it’s not a deliberate self-focus, but an inability to adjust perspective and realize that life will not always be that bad. They’re so involved in their own misery and fear and pain that they can’t hear you when you say, “Life without you would be worse than life with you. You’re not worthless. It will get better.”

I think it’s rare – not unheard of, but rare – for someone to suicide as a form of punishment for someone else. That, in my world, constitutes true selfishness. Instead it’s more a sense that they just can’t see over the horizon; they can’t imagine how things could possibly improve. So those of us sitting outside of their heads get frustrated and hurt because we can see that this is temporary and the urge will pass; life may not get better but it will get more manageable.

I’m not a true expert on this, but having been acutely PTSD/depressed with scattered periods of suicidal tendencies from age 12 to about 20, and now working exclusively with people in crisis, I don’t think I’m entirely making stuff up. I know very well that there’s no such think as a “typical” suicidal person, anymore than there’s any such thing as “normal” to begin with.



  1. When I was in college I took a course all about suicide in literature. The professor was a Freudian-Lit expert who had written books on the subject (his best friend and mentor had taken his own life, and chose him to be the last person to call). We often discussed the selfishness of the choice, and the damage to all the people left behind. It seems so utterly unbelievable to someone who isn’t depressed that a person could fail to see the multitude of choices they have available to them, to see only the one tragic choice as only option. The only choice that there is no return from.
    On the war, I do blame our government and our culture (and I’m conservative). What is it about us that we allow our representatives to skirt all responsibilty for the loss of these young lives, without any clear answer to what our objectives were to begin with. Never mind what they have morphed into in order to make it all more palatable. When they were voting to allow President Bush (whom I did vote for the last time) carte blanche to go into Iraq, if you remember, it was right before the mid-term elections. Robert Byrd (former KKK man) was the only one to stand up and say it was wrong. I wrote to Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer (my state senators) and asked them not to do this. But they did anyway (despite MY clear request!). Because of misinformation on weapons of mass distruction? More likely because it was popular in the moment and they wanted to save their political asses. To hell with the thousands of Iraquis and military that would lose their lives in the process. They just didn’t want to lose their jobs. Puke. Which ever way the wind blows, I suppose.

  2. Wow, I do go on. And it’s destruction, not distruction. I know that.

    Regarding your paragraph on punishment: A couple of years back 2 friends from high school were going through a divorce. He called her on the phone late at night and said, “I have something I want you to hear,” and proceeded to shoot himself in the head. Was this an attempt at punishment, or in his twisted mind, was he setting her free? It’s hard to use logic to make sense of this kind of thing, and you cannot get answers form the dead.

  3. You are correct. Me using the word “selfish” was incorrect….because when someone is in that state of mind – thinking about getting help or even what will happen to their loved ones is the last thought on their mind. I assume that most people who contemplate suicide – they think the world will be a better place without them. (I’ve thought that myself when in my late teens, early 20’s). So – I apologize.

  4. Wow, Erin. What an incredibly cruel act that man did. You’re right, it’s impossible to know whether it was intentional cruelty, because who knows what his mental state was? But cruel nonetheless.

    And Karmyn, no need to apologize. I think suicide IS selfish, just not quite the same flavor selfish as what I usually think of when I hear the word.

  5. I love this part in your post, Kate: “an inability to adjust perspective and realize that life will not always be that bad”

    You nailed that one on the head – depression is sitting alone in a deep hole, nothing to see but your own self and dark walls, maybe a light far above out of reach. That limited perspective makes such a difference on the hole-dweller’s words, thoughts, actions. After awhile, it’s difficult to even dream of climbing out yourself, or being handed a rope.

    Right. What I mean is, you said that wicked better. 🙂

  6. When I was an insurance agent I had a client who had inoperable cancer drive to the hospital, step out of his car (so as not to get blood in it) and shoot himself in the head.

    I found out a few days afterward when his wife came in to tell me, and to start the process of putting in a claim on his life insurance. He had been to all the doctors and knew he had no chance at life. He got all his affairs in order and left his wife explicit instructions about whom to call for what and when.

    He had been in my office a few weeks earlier, confirming that his policy was in order, and asking about exclusions – including suicide. Most people don’t know that suicide is covered after the first two years.

    He had taken out our policy 4 years before, but a little over 2 years ago he took out a few other policies with other cocmpanies. His wife thinks he knew something was wrong, but waited to go to the doctor until after the policies were issued.

    His wife, while devastated, thinks her husbad did a very UNselfish thing. He didn’t want his family to see him suffer. I don’t know if I’d feel that way, but for his family he did what he thought best.

    Ijust think it’s very sad.

  7. gh, thanks. I wish I – or you, or anyone – didn’t have personal experience with it.

    And Wendy, yeah. Very sad. I’m sure there are exceptions to every rule and situation and characterization, and I’m glad that the man’s widow viewed his acts as unselfish. If Willem got cancer and committed suicide instead, I’d be unspeakably angry that he didn’t fight like hell until the last breath – but it’s not cut-and-dried.

    When did life get so complicated?

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