Posts Tagged ‘“choosing” suicide’

One of the persistent questions following my daughter Mary’s suicide went something like this: “What was that moment of decision like for her? What must it have been like not to be choosing suicide one moment and then to be choosing it the next? What happened to Mary in that lonely and horrible instant of choice?”

In writing of her sister’s suicide, Jill Bialosky offers insight about the question.”[My friends] wanted a clear reason to explain [my sister’s] death. I didn’t know what to say. For those whose lives are secure and steady, it must be difficult to imagine the inner fragility of an individual who chooses to die rather than live with despair. I imagine that the thought of suicide was something Kim had held up to the light like a many-sided crystal, thought about, toyed with in moments for years” (History of a Suicide: my sister’s unfinished life. New York: Washington Square Press, 2011, p.13).

Having spent a good part of his career studying suicide notes, psychologist Edwin Shneidman reinforces Bialosky’s intuition about Kim “toying” with the idea of suicide: “Suicide is the result of an interior dialogue. The mind scans its options; the topic of suicide comes up, the mind rejects it, scans again; there is suicide, it is rejected again, and then finally the mind accepts suicide as a solution, then plans it, and fixes it as the only answer” (The Suicidal Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 15).

So at least I now have an idea about the process my daughter went through in arriving at her horrible instant of choice. Her suicide was not an impulsive act so much as a woeful wearing away of the ability to keep on living and an increasing attraction to suicide as the “only answer.” From what I read in her journals after her death, Mary’s wearing away took place over at least a two-year period. But recognizing that reality gives rise to another question without an answer: how could I, the rest of her family, her psychiatrist, and the many who loved her not have picked up a sign that she was toying with the idea of suicide for two years and intervened to help her?

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A year before my daughter died by suicide in 1995, an aquaintance named Anthony told me that after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, a friend of his had driven out west and shot himself on a desert highway. In his anguish, Anthony received little comfort, I’m sure, from my ill-considered response: “Well, you know, it’s all about free will.”

(When I began to grieve for Mary the next year, Anthony generously sent me a Mass card with an inscription from Lamentations [1:12] that I treasure to this day: “O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.”)

Talking to Anthony the year before, however, I was just saying “stupid things.” Jill Bialosky describes “stupid” this way: “Friends, meaning to help and offer sympathy [about her sister’s suicide], said stupid things. One of the most common was that suicide was her choice. How would it have been her choice, when she was only twenty-one years old? She hadn’t yet developed the maturity to understand how to cope with her challenges and believe she could get through them or have the foresight to understand the repercussions of what she did.” (History of a Suicide: my sister’s unfinished life. New York: Washington Square Press, 2011, pp. 11-12.)

I appreciate Bialosky’s insight regarding the lack of choice surrounding her sister’s suicide. What she writes applies to my daughter, as well. Mary was not using free will when she chose death; her will was not free. Like most suicide victims, my daughter’s reasoning ability was clouded by the “psychache” of despair which drug therapy and psychotherapy had not yet alleviated.

But she also lacked a depth of knowledge–a heart knowledge–that is essential to the task of profound and human decision-making. One of my first reactions upon finding Mary after her overdose was, “She can’t possibly have known what she was doing. She can’t possibly have known what her death is going to mean.” She was seventeen and not, I insist, freely choosing suicide.

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