Friday, August 15, 2014

The last thing I want to write about....


I don't want to write about that. But the truth is, Robin Williams' suicide has put the issue front and center. Never mind that hundreds? thousands? each day commit suicide. All of that hasn't made it the thing that dominates social media. So, I feel I have to write about it, want to or not....

First of all, I'm the worst person to write about suicide since, and I believe this is true, I've never had a suicidal moment, not ever. I'm not sure I've ever even been 'depressed' in a way that deserves that title. I've seen a lot of psychologists and counselors in my life--but it was never about 'depression' in any clinical sense, it was always about: 'what do I do next in my life'.

I have, however, known suicidal people. One of the wards I covered in my Clinical Pastoral Counseling summer Spring Grove Mental hospital in Maryland was a ward of suicidal teenage girls. Most of them had tried more than once and most of them would keep trying, I believe, until they succeeded. They were dead set (excuse the pun) on killing themselves. They talked to me about it very matter-of-factly. It was what they were eventually going to do as soon as they could figure out how to have their doctor check all the right boxes and let them out of the hospital--where suicide was more difficult than out in the world. (One girl got her wish without getting out of the hospital--she filed down the tend of a plastic fork she stole from the cafeteria until it was sharp enough to slit her wrists, which she did.

The day after, in the ward, everyone was trying to counsel girls to not be upset, when, in fact, all they were upset about was it wasn't them in the morgue.

So, here's my first observation about something I have no first-hand, experiential knowledge about: for the person committing suicide, it is an act of hope.

Those girls convinced me of that during that summer of 1974. People who commit suicide think of it as a hopeful act since they seem to assume that death is 'better' than life.

One thing lots of mental health care folks got upset about regarding Robin Williams' suicide was that somebody involved in the movie Aladdin (where Robin was the voice of the Genie) and a movie critic on National Public Radio reflected on the reaction of the Genie upon getting out of the lamp and compared that to Robin's death. "He's free of his demons", both those people said. I disagree. What I believe is 'the demons WON'.

Joan Rivers, of all people, not my top echelon of psychological experts, said that Robin's suicide was 'a permanent solution to a temporary problem'. An amazing insight.

Suicide doesn't 'free' us--it kills us.

Now, I don't think any of us has the right to judge anyone who chooses that 'permanent solution'. We haven't walked in their moccasins. Not for a moment. No one can understand why someone kills themselves any more than I can imagine being Nigerian or Palestinian. I just can't imagine that. So, don't judge them.

It's possible to disagree and not judge. It really is.

Of course, great pain is left behind and visited on people who didn't decide to kill themselves. That much is obvious to the point of being overstated. Robin Williams' wife and children and friends will be second guessing themselves for the rest of their lives. "What could I have said/done/been that would have mattered?" they will ask themselves always.

But here's my second observation: someone who 'hopes' death is better than life is not held responsible for the pain their suicide causes. They just didn't consider all that--probably 'couldn't consider' any of that. Life had simply become so globally unbearable that nothing and no one could have possibly considered into the decision.

I don't think people should kill themselves, though faced with unendurable pain--psychical or psychological--pain I can't imagine since I've never had it...well, who am I to say.

I never met him, of course, but I think of Robin as my friend. Rest in Peace, my friend. I'm sorry you felt you had to grab for this particular hope. And I will miss you always.

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.