I wrote an extensive piece about suicide last year, in which I asked whether it had lost its shock value. I pointed to the rash of public ones at the time, and the too-easy dramatic solution it has become in so many artistic endeavors.
The latter has not abated: Last night I watched an episode of The Knick and during the very first scene, after a surgeon loses a patient, he walks solemnly to his office. I thought, "oh no, not again." Sure enough, he grabbed a gun out of the drawer and put a bullet in his head. I also watched an episode of The Honorable Woman, in which a suicide was a key dramatic point. An off-Broadway show, Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter, opened this week, based around the main character's suicide. Small wonder why the idea has been planted in so many brains, and why we risk becoming desensitized to this most horrid of choices.
Back to real life and real death. The answer to my question, ultimately, was yes, of course suicide still shocks, even when it doesn't entirely surprise. Friends, co-workers, and family may be aware when someone is suffering, but they still can't believe it. Robin Williams' tragic end has brought this all up again, and we are seeing countless, and helpful, articles and comments about depression, for which suicide is obviously the final solution. What is not being openly discussed is the ugly issue of repercussions.
Read between the lines of Williams' daughter's initial comment -- which apparently set off some unfriendly accusations of insensitivity. She said, basically, that while she is sorry her father couldn't find enough reason to "stay here," she is glad he touched so many people who would also miss him. Therein lies the other part of these heartbreaking cases: how it feels to be someone for whom one you love did not "stay here." Last week, I ran into a woman who had just returned from the funeral of a friend in Los Angeles. Her friend apparently was still grieving over the death of his wife and finally, wrote a note to their only child -- a 16-year old son -- and then took his own life.
Obviously, no one can understand the black hole the depressed sink into, from which they cannot see a way back up to the light. But it is difficult not to also feel rage that they could not find a way to spare others a pain they will never escape. I am not talking about the millions of fans who now have to live without Robin Williams' unique genius. I am thinking of his children, and I am thinking of that 16-year-old now-orphaned boy, who will live with the realization they were not enough.
Not to mention being left with the very possibility of that final solution. After her father-in-law threw himself in front of a train, one of my friends was simultaneously saddened and seething. "Everyone in the family had their own narrative," she says, "including that he was heroic because he felt he was a burden. But my narrative is that my kids now have the option of suicide in our family."
A few years back, a high school senior jumped off the roof of the Dalton School in my neighborhood in Manhattan. At the time, the lower grades were having their recess on the street and watched it happen. That boy is out of his pain, not so his parents and brother. And about 80 children are still having nightmares.
Call me insensitive to even utter the word "selfish" in the same sentence with "suicide." This is not to lay guilt on the deceased, and I guess it does not serve as a deterrent to those who see no hope or anywhere to go to find it. But it is a part of the story.