Monday, May 18, 2009

Suicide is not painless

I had all kinds of things percolating in my head for a post today.

I could have written about how nice it was to go out for some grownup time on Friday night with Rich and Kathleen.  We left the kids with a sitter at their house, and walked down to a local music store to see Steve Earle do an in-store performance promoting his new album, Townes.*  We went out for a nice Italian dinner, and when we got back to Kathleen's house, Zeke was asleep, cuddled up in bed with Kathleen's 5-year-old daughter, who had an arm protectively draped over him.  It was seriously one of the cutest things I've ever seen.

Or I could have written about how much fun we had participating with some friends in a kids' pick-up soccer league at the local city park.  Pablo brought a big bag of soccer balls and some little collapsible goals, and showed the kids how to kick and pass.  When they scored a goal, there was the obligatory running around the field, arms held out like an airplane, yelling "GOOOOOOOOOAALL!!"  (Pablo is Argentine, after all).  The kids played and had fun and wore themselves out, and we made some new friends, and it was a beautiful day.  Afterwards we went to this awesome little Mexican dive of a restaurant to get tacos, served with the most delicious homemade tortilla chips I have ever eaten in my life.

I could have also written about how lovely it was to play Magical Present Fairy to my son yesterday.  We had been at the park, and he was salivating over another little kid's wagon.  The kid's dad let him play with it, and Zeke was entertaining himself opening the door, stepping in, sitting down, standing up, opening the door, stepping out, closing the door.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  When it was time for the kid and his wagon to go home, Zeke seriously lost his shit.  Partly because he really wanted to continue playing with the wagon, and partly because it was nap-time and he was exhausted.  So we got him home and got him to sleep, and while he napped, I found the identical wagon on Craigslist, called the owner, went and picked it up, and brought it home, all before Zeke woke up from his nap.  We had been planning on getting one anyway -- they're so handy for going to the park with balls and snacks and water bottles, so it seemed like an opportune time.  When he woke up and saw the wagon, he was ecstatic.  We took a walk around the neighborhood, with Zeke riding in the wagon with a huge smile of joy on his face, stopping every 10 feet or so for Zeke to open the door, step out, close the door, open the door, step in, and sit down again.

I could have written about any of those things.  But instead, I feel compelled to focus on something else, something that is really none of my business and I probably shouldn't be writing about, at least not yet, but I can't help it.  I can't stop thinking about it.  

This past weekend, the father of a friend of mine committed suicide.  He's suffered from crushing depression for a long time and has made a number of suicide attempts over the past few years, including as recently as a month ago.  This time, he was successful.  And in addition to dealing with the general agony of losing a parent, my friend has to deal with the fact that her dad left willingly.   

To top it all off, she's 6 months pregnant.  

Dealing with suicide is so much different from dealing with other kinds of death.  When a person dies of disease, or in a car accident or something, there's shock and sadness and dismay and a terrible feeling of loss.  A reminder of the fragility of life, and the need to live to the fullest, to the extent that the mundane details of every day life allow you to do so.  But with suicide, there's the added knowledge that the person wanted to leave, that they couldn't stand to be in the world anymore.  And that maybe you could have done something to help them.

I remember when my friend Kristin killed herself a couple of years ago, how sad but also how betrayed and angry I and so many of our friends felt.  She was about to be married to a guy who adored her, and was developing a close relationship with her 8-year-old stepson-to-be.  She had friends and parents and siblings that loved and cared about her.  

And she gave it all up because she fucked something up at work and couldn't deal with the shame.  I'm still a little bit bitter about it, as are a number of my friends.

But Kristin wasn't my parent or my sister.  That just takes things to a whole new level.  With my friend's dad, the reality is, he was desperately unhappy for a long, long time, and so maybe now he's found the peace he so obviously needed and couldn't find on this earth.  And I know she doesn't feel any sense of responsibility, like there was something she could have done -- as she herself has said, if there was ever a situation in which someone could be kept alive by the sheer force of other peoples' will, this was it -- she and her mother have done their damndest to try to help him.  But when someone is determined to go, they will find a way.  

And the survivors are left to pick up the pieces and somehow go on with their lives.

Years ago, my mom's college roommate went out into her backyard, crawled under a bush, and blew her brains out with a gun.  She had been in an unhappy marriage, but she also had young children.  I was only about 9 or so at the time, but I remember my mom remarking at what an aggressive act it was.  How clearly, this was directed at the husband and was a giant "fuck you" that would stick with him for the rest of his life.  But all I could think about were the kids.  How do you deal with the fact that your mommy can't stand to stick around for you?

At least my friend is older and has the maturity and perspective to recognize that her dad wasn't trying to abandon her or the rest of his family.  Her dad loved her, I know she believes that.  But still.  How do you deal?

I tend to view most suicides with a jaundiced eye.  It's an act of supreme selfishness.  How dare they do that to their loved ones?  But I don't feel as harshly about my friend's dad.  He was obviously in so much pain.  I don't condone what he did, but I understand it just a little bit.

I've suffered from clinical depression.  In the depths of it, I've felt that cold heaviness in my gut, that physical manifestation that depression takes, when you feel pulled down into the depths of despair. When the idea of getting up and going through life feels so incredibly exhausting that the alternative -- that unspoken alternative -- seems so tempting.  I've been at the precipice and stared down into the abyss.  But thank goodness, something always pulled me back.  And I've been healthy and off the medication for over a year, and all is well.  But the knowledge that I could start another downward spiral is always in the back of my mind, so I'm incredibly vigilant in taking stock of my mental and emotional state, ready to head off to a doctor at the first sign of that sinking feeling.

I'm rambling, I know.  I don't know what point I'm trying to make.  But this is what's on my mind.  

I'm just so sad for my friend.

*I love Steve Earle.  I was playing a lot of bluegrass in Atlanta around the time he released The Mountain, his bluegrass collaboration with The Del McCoury Band, and it's an album I still find captivating -- in my opinion, a bluegrass masterpiece.


  1. My thoughts and prayers go out to your friend and her family. And I'm sorry for the feelings that the situation has re-awakened in you about Kristin, etc. I'm so looking forward to seeing you next week and catching up.



  2. Michelle LeGault5:37 AM

    Wendy, I am just now catching up to your recent blog posts. I am so very sorry to hear about your friend's father's decision. Suicide is awful. I am glad you got some Ambien and an OB who's able to offer more than granola and yoga to pregnant women ;-)

  3. Michelle -- I love my OB so much. I want to marry her and have her babies.