Coming into the new year it's hard not to think of the recent suicide of the talented and tortured YA author, Ned Vizzini, and the emptiness his loved ones must feel. Little has been left unsaid by my (and his) gracious and articulate colleagues and I am tempted to bow my head and wish his soul a silent Godspeed as it rockets into the universe. But some of the public responses to his death compel me to add some thoughts.
The folks who suffer the same crushing depression from which Ned must have suffered, understand, and their responses seem the most eye-opening and revealing. The responses that bother me are those calling him selfish for leaving a young wife and son without a husband and father, or for committing the act from the roof of his parents' house or simply for committing the sin of taking an early exit.
My years as a therapist working with abuse and neglect families taught me at least one important lesson for my own life. Never judge until you can see through the eyes of that person you are judging, and then... never judge. There but for the grace of chance go any of us. When I was able to help clients who were experiencing what Ned probably experienced -- and there were many times I could not -- I could only tether myself to all in my life that was good and leap into the abyss with them -- provide a witness -- secure in the belief that, whether or not we could find a way to their light, my tether would hold. It always did.
I was lucky.
There are those who believe life is sacred, that suicide is a sin. There are those who call it a selfish act that doesn't take into account the pain of those left behind.
But those responses say far more about the responders than they say about Ned Vizzini. As much as we'd like to think life is sacred, there's not a lot of evidence for that. The universe is maddeningly casual giving and taking it. Nothing about life is sacred until we make it so. Each of us. Our own individual lives. And sometimes from inside that awful blackness it simply isn't possible.
Rather than think Ned Vizzini stole from his wife a husband or from his child a father, I prefer to consider his bravery. In the face of that dreadful darkness, he brought love to a woman and life to a child for as long as he could. He wrote stories that allowed many who shared in that paralyzing experience to find connection, and so feel less alone; stories in which his characters found strength he ultimately could not find.
There are fates worse than death.
I didn't know Ned. I don't know if he could have been saved. I do feel cheated. When I read It's Kind of a Funny Story and when I saw the movie, I knew a powerful, embracing voice had emerged in our profession and I wanted more.
But he stayed as long as he could.
So Godspeed, Ned Vizzini. Your life has been proven sacred by your works. We know more now than we did before you put words to paper and some of us will use that knowledge to reach back to ease the pain of those who walk in your shoes.