A friend of my sister’s committed suicide a few days ago. I didn’t know her that well, but I’d met her several times. Including last fall at my sister’s birthday party. She was nice, this woman. Friendly. Chatty. Kind of pretty. She had put on a few pounds over the years, but you could see she had a very pretty face. I knew that she had some issues with depression. Had been hospitalized for some period of time. Had some periods of time where she couldn’t work. I felt for her. But when I met her, none of that was evident. She was friendly. Chatty. Kind of pretty.
She jumped off the Tobin Bridge, apparently. That puts her in good company with Charles Stuart, the sociopath who killed his pregnant wife and then tried to blame it on some unknown black man in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston. Is scheme eventually unraveled, and eventually he flung himself off the Tobin Bridge. And now my sister’s friend has followed him down.
I’ve really known only one other person who succeeded in killing herself. That was the wife of a friend of my brother’s. Suffered from severe post-partum depression, it seems. I knew her a little bit in high school, but only really met her once. It was at a party at my brother’s house, probably 25 years ago, and we were all playing basketball together. This woman was a lot of fun. And charming. And beautiful. When I heard that she had killed herself, I though, really? So, we never know who’s feeling desperate, do we? We just never know.
I always have such bifurcated feelings about suicide. On the one hand, it’s the ultimate form of self-expression. It’s the final civil right, the right to say that this life isn’t working for me anymore, I’m going to end it. I always thought that criminalizing suicide or attempted suicide was crazy. First of all, if you succeeded, any resulting criminal penalty would hardly be an effective deterrent. It would, in fact, be no deterrent at all. And if you didn’t succeed, putting that person in jail was going to help?
We can lay the blame for some of those responses at the feet of the Catholic Church, of course. That enlightened institution that came up with boatloads of theological nonsense completely unrelated to anything that Jesus Christ ever said. Not that Muslim majority nations are any better, many of which still criminalize suicide or its attempts to this day.
And I’m an ardent supporter of medically-assisted suicide, the right to kill yourself in a humane way when a terminal illness is involved and all hope of recovery is lost. That should be the ultimate civil right, to end one’s life under circumstances like that.
On the other hand, people who kill themselves mostly do so out of despair. They are in a great deal of pain, and they see no end in sight or obvious way out of the pain. Of course, suicide causes a great deal of pain for the people who love them, but by the time the people who do kill themselves really can’t factor that into the equation anymore. It’s a very final solution for a condition that may be transient, so that part of it is certainly unfortunate.
So, what to do for the friend of my sister’s, or the wife of my brother’s friend? We failed these people. We, and the medical system on which we rely. My sister’s friend had gotten a lot of care, but obviously it wasn’t enough. In many ways, our understanding of mental health is still way behind our understanding of physical health. It appears that we really don’t have very effective treatments for those who really are suicidal. Some treatments may postpone the outcome a little bit, but in the long run, there is little evidence to suggest that we’ve found anything effective.