Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Very Taboo Subject

Ever since this morning when I got to work and heard on the news about a very public figure in this area that passed away on Sunday this blog post has been rattling around in my head. I'm not going to mention this person by name because if you live in the Tidewater area you have heard about it and names really mean nothing to the meat of this post. The principal of a local high school that was well loved apparently committed suicide on Sunday. It just so happened to be the high school that I attended. He had been the Principal for almost 40 years, and that in itself is a stellar achievement especially in this day and time. Rumor has it that he was suffering from a terminal illness. Now I don't know if that was a fact or not but I do believe that obviously it was something very serious for this gentleman to take his life. After reading the comments online though about what a "travesty" that it was to be reported in a public paper, I felt the need to at least get my thoughts out there if only for the few that read my blog.

This person was a public figure whether we all like it or not. Should his death have been the cause for additional newspaper coverage? Well I guess that is debatable but I say yes because even though our area boasts a population of almost two million people, Tidewater is still a very small town especially when it comes to some of the local cities. Rumors would have been out there regardless of whether or not it was considered news. Yes, I hate it for his family but why is suicide in this day and time so taboo?

I remember when my life was first touched by suicide. It was the first week of August, 1979. One of my good friends mother committed suicide. It was horrible. It changed this friend in ways I can't describe. Her and I spent many a night at her mothers grave with her crying and asking the inevitable question of why. Even now, the memories of it brings tears to my eyes and an ache to my heart. Every August 6, I think of her mother. Every time I ever hear a Peter Frampton song I think of her mom as her and I and our dates attended the Peter Frampton concert that evening that her mom walked out of her home and took an overdose. I know this much. My friends mother was depressed and she was not thinking clearly.

In 1987, suicide again touched me when my next door neighbor walked in his back yard, entered his shed and hung himself. For the six months prior to his death, all he saw was failure and despair. He thought he was wearing rags. He thought that him and his wife were broke and they were going to be put out of their home. He thought that his house was falling down and in disrepair. None of this was so, but that was how sick his mind was. He did not see things clearly. His wife removed the guns from the house, took him to doctors, tried medications but inevitably he found a way to commit this act. My brother was the last person to see him that morning as Scott was cutting grass in our backyard. Scott said "I never talked to CJ when he was walking to the shed. I thought of waving or saying hello, but he was just looking at the ground and walking real slow. So I didn't. And I've regretted it ever since." This was a man that I thought of as something of a father figure. How could he do this to his wife, sons and all of the people that cared for him?

Again, just last month, I blogged about my friend Kathy. Her ex-boyfriend committed suicide in June. He had tried it before and failed. He had been on medications for depression and other mental issues. He had even called her three months prior and had her drive 8 hours to come and pick up his beloved dog because he told her he wanted her to have him as he didn't have time for him anymore. Kathy and I discussed her getting the dog and we talked about how it was not a good sign that he was giving Gizmo away. She called me that Sunday night when they had been talking and he had threatened suicide. She promptly called his mom and his mom and him spoke on the phone. She thought things were okay. When Kathy continued not to hear from him, she continued to call to S.C. until finally on the following Friday, 911 was dispatched to enter the house and his body was found. He had overdosed. He had committed the act that he had so desperately wanted to complete.

Finally on Sunday, my daughter called me while I was out and told me about my old high school principal. I thought nothing of his death really when hearing the initial reports. Found in his garage dead. I figured heart attack. He was nearing retirement age, in fact I actually thought he had retired in June. When I got to work on Monday morning, my boss inquired as to what I had heard. My boss grew up next door to this man and was a good friend of his. I thought it strange that he asked the question that way but thought nothing more. Again, this morning, he asked me what I had heard. I told him I had not read the paper yet and he asked that I go online and see what was being reported. There it was. The police were reporting it as a potential suicide that involved a firearm. That was when I first heard the rumor of a terminal illness. Throughout the day, I continued to hear the first rumblings of an illness and the very loud cry of "why was the newspaper intruding on this mans family at such a time of grief". Unfortunately, this was news and sooner or later it was going to get out. Maybe it was better to be upfront as the paper was and report things, not have the gossip twist and turn throughout the community.

I guess what all of this diatribe has been about really is "Why is suicide such a taboo subject in our society"?

My BFF, Janet and I were talking about this today. Her father succumbed last year to ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. This is a disease where your mind stays intact but you lose the ability to function. The last six months that her father lived, he couldn't even feed himself or do anything for himself. He could hardly even talk, but his mind was fully functional. We often talked last year about the will to live and how far someone would reach to continue their life. On the other hand there are many people that want to hold their fate in their own hands. We both understand that and amazingly enough we agree.

I don't necessarily think that suicide is a bad option. Especially for one that has a terminal illness. I have often said that I would not want to live out my final days dependent on someone else or in horrible pain. I want to have that choice. I have discussed it with my family but we all know that assisted suicide is illegal in all states except Oregon.

I also know the pain of depression. I'm not talking about just being sad. I'm talking about the dark, heavy, never-ending despair that envelopes your brain like very sticky molasses depression. The "I can't see the forest for the trees" depression. The I can't see no other way out type. I was there at times last year and even a few years here and there since my mid 20's. I can understand that and oh how I sympathize with them. If it had not have been for Jessica last year, I can't say that I wouldn't have been a statistic. Jessica was my saving grace. I knew that if something happened to me that it would leave her holding the bag with her fathers care and I couldn't leave that legacy to my beloved child. I didn't want her to be like my friend and have to question why. I didn't want to leave doubts to my loved ones as to why I did what I did. I will say this. When you are in the middle of it, you can't necessarily see those things. I know my darkest moment was when I sat at the restaurant that I was working in last February part time, and all was dark and quiet and we were closed. I had sent everyone else home for the evening and it was my job to lock up. I sat at the bar area, though I did not have a drink, and just sat for the longest time. All I could think of was "what am I going to do from here" and "I can't handle it anymore". Butch was newly diagnosed with dementia, at that moment he had been hospitalized for six weeks in a geriatric psychiatric unit and was not in his right mind. I was being pushed to bring him home to care for him by his doctor and the social worker. His family was no longer speaking to me because I had said I couldn't care for him anymore and that he needed full time care 24 hours a day. Anyways I have already posted about that here. That bleak, dark, cold winter night I actually sat and contemplated suicide. Not just the thought, but actually walking around trying to figure out how to do it. Who would find me? Could I actually go through with it?

Was I sick that night? Oh yes!!! Just as sick as if I had had a physical ailment. The pain in my head and in my heart was the worst pain that I had ever had in my life. It would not subside, it was like a drum beating on and on and on. Get it over with, leave this earth, you will never have to worry about this crap again, you will never have to deal with all of this if you just go. Thankfully though, that small, still voice of reason whispered out Jessica's name and I simply could not do it. I could not leave that legacy to my daughter. The hand of sanity reached out and brought me back.

Now, I'm not saying suicide is right or wrong. Is the person suffering from a mental illness truly sick? I think so. They are just as sick as someone with a physical ailment such as cancer, ALS or even Binswanger's Disesase. I would like to see more states allow assisted suicide, under the proper guidelines of course. Suicide is not always a bad thing. Yes, in a way it is selfish, but is it not selfish in a way to want to continue to do everything in your power to live sometimes, even when you are on a ventilator 24/7? There is no right or wrong answer here. I guess I'm kind of debating with myself in a way. The bottom line is suicide is not a shameful act, it is a shameless act. The person that commits suicide is trying to either keep from hurting others (I don't mean physically here)or to put an end to some type of pain that they are in either physically or emotionally. Don't judge someone else's actions until you walk their walk.

I think in this case it took a very brave person to end their life. Suicide should not be that "dirty" word. It should be talked about openly and honestly. I know that if something happens one day and I want to make that choice, I want to have the ability to make it one way or another. Especially in the case of a terminal illness. I would much rather walk out the door of life my way than being dragged out of it in pain and suffering. Maybe really, my old principal walked out that door just the way that he walked in his life. His way.


  1. wow. This is a powerful post.

  2. Glad you're still here. Very controversial post, and major cause for thinking. I think everyone has been depressed at sometime or other. I'd say most people think about suicide at some point in time. Those that opted out are they happy now? If anyone in my family committed suicide I'd be devistated all of my days. I know my thoughts are selfish but but I would be! Ternimal illness aside! Thank God you are still here!