“Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!”
Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2
Next to a country road in rural Minnesota there is a memorial to a young teenage girl who died a suicide. It features her likeness and words of loving farewell from her kin.
I hate it with every fiber of my being.
My son is 12, my little girl is seven. When we first passed that memorial they of course wanted to know who the pretty girl is. And I had to tell them.
Then I had to tell them that death is final. That the young lady isn’t around to appreciate the lovely memorial.
There are studies of child suicides which found many children plan their own funerals, as if they expected to be there to enjoy them like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
There was a local suicide recently of a woman in her high thirties. She was in the words of people who knew her, “different” and had been tormented for it all through her childhood.
Most of us are not strangers to at least some amount of bullying when we were younger, children can be very cruel, but this evidently never stopped. She was actually on her way out of town when one last vicious prank pushed her over the edge.
We newspaper people are very, very wary of reporting suicides. Adult suicides may get a brief mention of cause of death, and even that gets us some flack. Child suicides are too hot to handle, we often just report them as a death. Period.
In cases like these though there is a tremendous urge to name and shame, drag the heartlessly cruel bullies into the light of day and let the world pour scorn upon them.
And then it occurred to me that this might actually encourage suicides if someone thought they could have posthumous revenge on their tormenters through an avenging media.
Maybe it’s best to grit our teeth and hope their conscience torments them. If they have one.
I have had two close encounters with suicide in my life.
Years ago I worked as an operator and lab tech at a sewage treatment plant. One day I came into work and found everyone sitting around with long faces. It turned out a colleague had hanged himself at the end of a three-day weekend.
If we’d known he was suicidal we might have worried that he was just too cheerful on his last day of work.
It seems his wife was cheating on him, openly, flagrantly and contemptuously. I think this was a sort of revenge to make her suffer.
Except it was his five-year son who found him.
She had the last word though, when she named her lover as an honorary pallbearer at the funeral.
A few years later the 30-year-old son of one of my oldest friends committed suicide at the home of his girlfriend. They were in a contentious relationship, but we really don’t know what motivated him to put the gun to his head that night.
You’re not supposed to do that when you’re 30!
And just this weekend I ran into a friend who is a pastor in a rural church. He had just presided over the funeral of a 27-year-old woman who’d also committed suicide.
He told me that of her entire graduating high school class, the size of which he didn’t know but couldn’t have been large, five were dead already. Some suicides, some traffic accidents.
What he said at her eulogy may have offended some people, may have hurt some.
But it needed to be said.
“I know we’re supposed to say we’re here to celebrate her life, not her death – but this sucks! This is not OK!”