A reader writes:
I’ve been reading the suicide thread and I just don’t understand how suicide is selfish. When torture victims break, we don’t call them selfish. People can be tortured by their brain’s messed-up chemistry as brutally as they can be tortured with stress positions and sensory deprivation. People break. That’s not a character flaw. Too much pain and a person will do whatever he or she has to to make it stop.
What could be more selfish than other people presuming that we should stay alive just to meet their needs? How is that not as, if not more, selfish than the selfishness they associate with individuals who take their own life? It’s my life, not theirs.
More readers share their stories:
I’ve known five people who have committed suicide. I agreed with two of them. The other three were needless tragedies, from what I knew of their lives. The common thing between them all: they were suffering, in one form or the other.
The first ones were early in my life, and they were young as well. Most took their life with a firearm and left their family and friends emotions and well-being as mangled as they had left their corpses. They became unmitigated tragedies akin to murder.
In my 20s, a woman that I had grown up with killed herself. However, in her case, I knew why she had ended her life and I could understand her reasons. She had been fighting serious medical problems her whole life and in final years, the complications were severe. She had a horrible quality of life and she talked about suicide for several months before committing the act. My regret is that she used such a brutal method to end her suffering because she didn’t know any better.
Over the years, I have acted as a hospice caretaker for my late friends and I have witnessed the agony of their last days. Hospice does help, but we as a society are geared to having someone live to the end of their days, regardless of their desires or how bitter and traumatising the outcome and stigmatizing their death if they should choose to end their struggle early.
The one exception to this pattern was a friend who, suffering with late stage colon cancer, chose to stop fighting, live his life as best he could for as long as he could, and when it got bad enough, he committed suicide. The outcome was different. No horror or trauma. His friends and family were deeply sad, but we were glad his suffering had ended. He planned it, he had a farewell party, and he went peacefully. Death was going to have him, but he choose and controlled his terms to meet death. I cannot disagree with him on choosing that path.
The subject of suicide (and euthanasia) is troublesome and complex. We have no cultural framework to deal with them in a constructive manner. We need to talk about end of life issues more and quit shoving the subject to the fringes of society. I suggest that in the course of discussing suicide, we must recognize that it can offer an end to suffering when death truly is the only way out.
A dear friend of mine from college, an Iraq war veteran, took his life in 2011. His funeral service was the most difficult experience I had ever endured. He was 24 years old and had so many who loved him. We played rugby together and the men’s and women’s teams from our college both attended. We were all so devastated.
The reception was better. We shared funny stories and loving memories. Some of his artwork was on display. There were so many pictures of him laughing and smiling. I don’t know if it was to punish myself or blame myself for not seeing it, but when I got home I looked through every one of the pictures of him on Facebook to see if there was some glimpse of what drove him to suicide. Two years later we all try to remember him and smile, but I find the fact that he would only be 26 now so painful. Suicide leaves wounds.
Then last year my cousin took his own life. I experienced a new level of “difficult.” Sometimes I feel so selfish because he took his life just hours after midnight, hours after my birthday had finished, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to really celebrate again. My birthday is tomorrow. I was in Mexico at the time, got back three days later, and called my mother to say we had landed back in the states. That’s when I heard the news. I was in the middle of the Atlanta airport, sitting across from my fiance, and I have never felt more lost in my life. He was a hero firefighter. He was a devout Christian. He was always donating money and his time to charity. A little over 24 hours before he took his life, he had organized an ran a charity event that raised thousands. Over 900 people came to pay their respects at his wake. 900!
At the funeral our family was there for six hours, as mourners came through non-stop. Didn’t he know that he had this effect on everyone? Is it worse if he didn’t or if he did know and didn’t feel like it had enough meaning to stop him? Nearly one year later the wounds on our family, especially his parents and siblings, are as fresh as ever. I love him so dearly, but sometimes I feel so mad and selfish that he would make us feel this way. If he is at peace, does it make our pain less important? I’m still lost.