the ‘selfishness’ of suicide

In the whirlwind of comments on social media following the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, certain sowers of discord keep popping up:

  1. People who viciously attack those who die by their own hands as selfish;
  2. People who viciously attack those who die by their own hands as sinners bound for hell;
  3. People who do both.

I am not going to post screenshots of the tweets in question, because they piss me off and I don’t want to give them any more airtime. But take my word for it: They are glimpses into a foul, judgmental and unhinged cruelty of the worst sort. I’ve been tempted to chime in with a barrage of 280-character rejoinders taking each and every one to task, but the most I’ve done so far is to issue a few generic tweets on the nature of suicide and the need to respond with love.

As one who’s lost too many people to suicide, my husband and sister included, this whole conversation breaks my heart. It breaks my heart because my heart is already broken, because grief after a suicide never really fades, because the loss scatters and lingers like white noise in the background of all that I do and am. You needn’t tell me or any survivor how much devastation a suicide wreaks on the living. We know. We’re in it.

But to call my beloved husband or sister “selfish” for dying? No. Not selfish. Suicide is the result not of selfishness — not the aggrandizement or promotion of self — but its opposite. Their selves were crushed. They had lost their selves. That’s why they died: They felt not large but small, not powerful but diminished, reduced to a point so infinitesimal against the enveloping darkness that they couldn’t see any of the light around them, not even the people they loved. Perhaps, in their incomprehensible, illogical, blacker-than-black final moments, they felt they were relieving us of a burden.

I don’t and can’t and won’t ever believe they wanted to cause any of us pain; how could they? They were among the most loving and mindful people I’ve ever been graced to know. Not selfish. Not in life, not in death. Not in the afterlife, which I happen to believe in, and where I’m certain they’re not boiling for eternity in some nasty giant stockpot inside Dante’s inner rings. (Seriously, give me a break. My sister and husband both had extremely Catholic funeral masses, and I am pleased to report that the hand of God did not reach down through the church roof and smite us all. Though I admit that would have livened things up a bit.)

FACT: Those who die by suicide cause undeniable, immeasurable anguish among those left behind.

FACT: No one should do it. No one should kill themselves. If you’re thinking about it, don’t. You’re loved. You matter.

FACT: Those who do wind up killing themselves should not be disparaged as self-centered, contemptible, cowardly or evil.

FACT: They turn toward suicide because they hurt. In the process, they wind up hurting others. But all of that hurt is part of the same tragedy: their anguish, our anguish, the collective anguish of everyone who has ever walked through the mists of this life and stumbled.

As suicide rates climb, as more Americans struggle with depression and more of their loved ones struggle with grief, we must come to grips with the plague. It isn’t something that happens to other people; it’s something happens to us. Our spouses, our children, our siblings, our lovers, our best friends. Us.

It’s good we’re discussing it more openly now, because taboos get us absolutely nowhere. But as we talk, let’s not mock or vilify those who’ve died. We’re all in this together. We’re all part of the same crazy, beautiful, kaleidoscopic, often joyous, often agonizing, massively confusing existential soup. Pain is no stranger to any of us. Who hasn’t touched a finger to the darkness? Who isn’t prone to questioning this life?

And shouldn’t that inspire us to love?




29 thoughts on “the ‘selfishness’ of suicide

  1. So awed and inspired by your truth, Amy. I am in agreement about judgement of any/all Kinds. Judgement doesn’t hold a candle to ❤️

  2. Thank you for putting into words how I feel, you never get over the suicide of someone you love..even after 16 years…it is still there….

  3. Thank you for this. I have seen slow changes in attitude as more and more people educate others. Even (maybe especially) in the Catholic Church.

    • I agree. It’ll take time, but already attitudes are much better than they were. Even in 1992, the year my sister died, no one associated with the church uttered even a word of judgment. Nothing but compassion.

    • Thank you so much, LuAnn. I don’t know how strong or eloquent I feel (most of the time, I’m more broken and bumbling!), but I’m grateful for whatever I can muster.

  4. I have touched a finger (or two) to the darkness, and I am so sad for their families because you know their pain and the why of it will never be known. Amen Amy, for writing this.

  5. Very well said Amy, its hard going thru a family member commiting suicide. Your words always seem spot on.

  6. My brother committed suicide on Father’s Day. It was also my birthday. A similar weekend approaches. Some were pissed. I can’t really explain my thoughts … only that he was finally at peace. We didn’t really know he was tortured until he made an attempt in February. He was young. He was so fun. I miss him dearly. But i don’t blame him. I just really really miss him.

    • Bless you, Joyce — on this rough anniversary, and on all days. I know exactly what you mean: no anger or blame, just a profound sense of loss. (Sorry I didn’t see your comment until now, as I was away and almost completely offline for the week.)

  7. I think of you every time suicide is in the news. My heart goes out to you. I’m sorry people say things that make it hurt more.

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