Sunday, September 28, 2008


I was listening to NPR the other day and heard that David Foster Wallace committed suicide. It immediately brought me back to the way I used to think about suicide. I am loathe to admit but I made crass comments about Kurt Cobain when he took his own life. I was in high school at the time and my young shallow mind couldn't comprehend how someone could do that. Not just physically... but also how the person could be so selfish. There are always people left behind that are devastated. In Kurt Cobain's case, he left a very unstable confused wife and most heart-wrenching, a child who was completely innocent. I found it easier to blame him for 'taking the easy way out' instead of trying to understand where he was coming from. So I made jokes.

Then in college a 'friend' of mine took his life. I say friend in quotes because I knew him but not incredibly well. We hung out in the same circles, shared a room at the Pi Kappa Phi's formal in OC and ate lunch together on the University Center plaza with all the other Pi Kaps. Needless to say, my heart softened a bit towards my intolerance of suicide. How could Mark of all people do this to himself? He wasn't some intangible celebrity figure that I could cast judgment on... he was a real live person who I thought of fondly and whose company I enjoyed. I can still recall the feeling I had when I turned the corner into his viewing. My eyes went straight to his parents. His mother was sitting in a chair openly sobbing while his dad stood behind her off to the side with his hand on her shoulder. Clearly he wanted to be crying as well but he held strong... just red rimmed eyes, no tears. I remember thinking to myself, how can any parent ever live with that. Too lose your child in such a senseless way... knowing they did it to themselves. How do you go on?

Flash forward to March 6, 2004. Adam called me at 7:15 in the morning. "It's Ryan"... "He's dead." My future brother in law had taken his own life. When I fully processed what Adam had told me I felt the sucker punch to my gut. He was gone, by his own hand. This was a loving, young, vibrant, life of the party kind of guy. This was the guy that every guy wanted to be like and every girl wanted to date. I could explain away all the other suicides... they didn't get enough love... they didn't know they were loved and would be missed. That had to be the only way someone could do this... until it was Ryan. Ryan knew how much he was loved... he swore he wouldn't do something like this... he knew it would devestate his mother if he did. But he did it anyway...

As you can imgine my heart softened as much as it ever could after Ryan's death. I immediately felt guilty for every off handed comment I made about Kurt Cobain, every mime motion I made with a 'finger gun' to my mouth, every 'If that happens, I will just kill myself' comment that I let fly. Not only were these light handed comments for a dark and heavy reality, they weren't true in the least. I won't kill myself because the guy in front of me won't get out of my way or if I don't pass this class. Such petty things don't deserve a mention of suicide.

I learned that suicide is deeper than I will ever know. There is a chemical imbalance that allows people to lose sight of everyone they love and everyone that loves them. There is a depression that pulls you so far in, you literally cannot see light anymore. There are real addictions that refuse to release their grasp. Depression can attack the homeless man on the corner or the dynamic personality in the cube next to you. It can take hold of a genius with a PHD or the high school dropout. Truly, depression isn't discriminating.

My heart goes out to David Foster Wallace's family. It's a club you wish you weren't apart of... but are glad it's there when you are thrust in.


AmyJean said...

I agree. I think the experience you guys went through with Ryan really opened up my own eyes to suicide as well. I never had any strong feelings towards it other than "what about the people you leave behind", but i think sometimes certain things don't always have a definitive answer, and we just cling to God in those instances b/c only he knows the answer, and the lesson learned is to truly cherish the ones you are with whenever you can, b/c you just never know when or who...

kathi said...

Depression runs on both sides of my family, and unfortunately suicide is no stranger either. I've lost both friends and family to suicide and my sister and I have both attempted it. I speak only from a personal experience when I say that it's coming from a place where there isn't any hope. Depression gates out hope and without hope, well...there isn't any reason to believe things can ever be better than they are at your darkest moment.

I look at my life now, and see all that wouldn't be if I'd succeeded. There'd not be a Casey and there wouldn't be a Charlie, and that would have done the world a great disservice.

Depression is so often overlooked as someone being moody, when in fact it is a physical illness, a chemical imbalance. We wouldn't tell someone mentally challenged to 'just think!', so why do we tell the depressed to 'just get over it!'?

Use to be antidepressants were taboo, and I've blogged about this before, but I thank God for them because I know that they not only saved my life, but the lives of my kids.

I'm sorry for the loss of this talented young man.

Asuthrngrl said...

to kathi, above, as well as jessi: kathi i thank you for saying what you said. my own family has been brutalized, and i use that word because sometimes there is no other way to speak of the harm that bipolar causes. i agree that we make excuses for all other illnesses, but we tell the depressed to "cheer up"! it still infuriates me the stigma that society has placed upon mental illness, and i dream of a day when i am not embarrassed to mention that yes, i am taking an antidepressant, and yes, it has saved me and other members of my family. jess, i applaud what you wrote and my heart is touched so deeply it aches. love you!