“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun—for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax—This won't hurt.”
—Hunter S. Thompson in his suicide note
I’ve known a healthy handful of people who have committed suicide. By hanging, by poison, by wrist-slitting, by gunshot. I know a few people who tried it by poison but there were friends or family nearby to call the paramedics and prevent the death. For one of them who tried, it was me nearby. But that's a story for another time.
I’m not an expert on human psychology or mental illness or the struggles of every individual. And though I’ve fashioned a part of my career as a journalist, I have not contacted a respected source in this arena to quote in this story. Because I’m writing this in the pre-dawn hours and the experts aren’t awake yet and having only hours ago received news of another suicide—a hanging—I’m writing this one from the gut. I’m writing this one from what I know through my experience, my shock, my sorrow and my empathy.
Besides, in times of suicidal tragedy, what good can the experts do? They can pontificate, present findings based on the studies of thousands of depressed people and suicide notes. They can tell us about the human brain and how it processes choice and ultimatums and how we all own and uniquely perceive our own legacy and mortality.
No matter what the expert says, they cannot provide any satisfaction to the bereaved. And in that way, I don’t suppose I’m any better than the experts. Or any worse.
Suicide is ugly business and its attempt to clean things up—in the eyes of the suicidal—winds up leaving the living bowled over in confusion, rage, regret and sadness with little else to do but ask questions.
“Why would they kill themselves over that?”
Money. A sour relationship. A troubled career. This is the stuff that makes life hard and makes all those Facebook posts about embracing the storm and dancing in the rain so annoyingly unbearable and naïve.
The first person I knew who committed suicide was a kid I really didn’t know that well. We were in sixth grade together. The story went that he got into a fight with his parents—a grounding or some such thing—and stormed up to his bedroom saying he was going to kill himself. In the moment, it sounded like perfectly standard melodramatic twelve-year-old boy bullshit. But after the kicking and screaming and thumping around upstairs had stopped, the parents ascended to talk to their distraught son and found him dangling from the rail bar of his bunkbed, a jump rope tied around his neck.
Maybe it was an accident. Maybe he didn’t intend on dying. Maybe he just wanted to make a statement, do something he thought was equal in absurdity to his parents’ parenting choice. Maybe he really wanted out. I don’t know. None of us can. I hardly even knew the kid. And because of that, I can’t fairly begin to assume his intentions. But that’s the story as I remember it and that’s how my shock perceived it and still does all these years later.
In the case of my classmate, yeah, he killed himself—accidentally or not—over one little thing. But he was a kid. And kids do impulsive, stupid things. If they live through the repercussions of those actions, they learn from it. They grow resilient. But in other instances, it’s rarely the straw that breaks the camel’s back that kills the camel. It’s not the money or the job or the sour relationship. Those things are just the one thing to make the person say, “Ah, screw it. I’m done with all of this.”
The question is then, not “Why would they kill themselves over that?” but “Why would they kill themselves?” And the answer is because killing themselves is the opportunity to finally and forever stop hurting. Stop being afraid. Stop trying and failing.
We know that suicide is mostly committed by those with a history of depression or another kind of mental illness. If you’ve ever had depression, I mean real, deep, dark, heavy depression, imagine what it must feel like to never be able to get out from under its vicious hold. No amount of therapy or drugs or sunshine or exercise or family fun can cure you of that horror. In fact, knowing that the joy in your life cannot bring you any joy just makes things worse. And you get to a point where the only thing you can do to cure yourself is to kill yourself.
When you get to that point, there’s just no reasoning with you.
“What could I have done differently?”
Probably nothing. Either you fought the Black Dog alongside that person long and hard or you had no idea. Because some people are really good at hiding their misery from us. They laugh, they joke, they work hard, they get up early.
Fact is, if you loved the person as best you could, as best as you knew how, as best as they would let you, then you did all you could. But I know that’s about as helpful as a sharp stick in the eye because, goddammit, they’re still dead. And you’re left holding the bag of your own kind of new misery.
“How could they do this to me?”
For the living left behind, suicide is seen as a cowardly and selfish move. And it is, if you only consider the point of view of the living. But for the dearly departed, suicide was likely the better option, the bold move necessary to actually improve the lives of the living. “They’ll be better off without me.” Well, that’s at least the opinion we can deduct from the notes and clues left behind by some. For others, yeah, it’s completely self-motivated. They want out or they have something to prove and they don’t give one fuck about how it will affect the living. Or maybe they do give one fuck, but one fuck is rarely enough to mean much of anything.
Suicide is no small feat. The rest of us can, in anger, call the person a coward and suggest that they cheated their way out of their problems. But killing yourself is perhaps the biggest decision you could ever make in your life. And to pull that trigger—pun sadly intended—takes guts.
When the anger—which is rightful to have—clears up, what’s left is the sadness. And what makes the sadness even worse than the anger is that the person you loved and cherished and respected thought so little of themselves to think that you and the kids and the friends and all of us would be better off with them gone.
Sometimes, suicide is not motivated by selfishness, it’s motivated by selflessness. But that is, of course a terrible untrue result. Things are always worse with them gone than with them here.
How do you reconcile? You don’t. There is no reconciliation. The person is gone. All that’s left is the twisted hope that things will one day feel better. But you’ll never shake the image of finding them. You’ll never make total sense of the clues they left for you to sort out. You’ll never be able to tell them, “Hey, I love you, it’ll be okay,” so they can hear you and believe you and trust that it will be.
The end is absolute. For the rest of us, your suicide is not the end but a new beginning. New waters to navigate a new kind of squall in a ship we’re unfamiliar with haunted by the ghost of the person you didn’t want bothering us anymore.
I understand the desire to call it quits. And I understand why it’s total bullshit. It’s a battle of sympathy versus empathy. And I don’t know if the suicidal could save themselves if they were able to properly weigh the two.
Suicide presents two contradicting outcomes. You can kill your pain and sadness that you had carried with you all those years, but you can’t kill the pain and sadness you’ve now created and left behind.
I’ve long been a fan and a creator of dark comedy. Black or gallows humor. Tragedy + Time = Comedy, and all that. There is nothing funny about this most recent suicide that has touched my life. There’s nothing funny about the despair and pain felt by his wife and kids and parents and friends. There’s nothing funny about it.
But I found it curious that the same day the wretched news came down about this suicide by hanging, the following cartoon was in the Chicago Tribune.
Any other day, I would have seen it and chuckled but on this day, I guffawed. And not because of the dead or how it happened but because of the timing of the thing. Of all days, Hägar the Horrible offers this pun on this day. It seemed like divine intervention.
When faced with the tragedy of a loved one committing suicide, it’s hard to find comfort in faith in a God that would have planned for this. But I find it proof that God exists because of things like that Hägar comic running at that time. God doesn’t reveal himself in rainbows or sunsets or the laughter of children, or in kittens. God reveals himself to us by fucking with us through the Chicago Tribune funnies page.