I’m going to go out on another limb here and talk about suicide, because I believe it is another taboo that needs to be broken! One of the most frequent observations made about suicide is about how awful it is for those left behind. I have been guilty of using that phrase myself. If you are reading this essay, dealing with the suicide of a friend was obviously not as difficult for you as the problems that convinced the friend to end their life. At this point in my own understanding, I feel very uncomfortable making it about me. I believe it dishonors my friends who have chosen that path!   

A recent study found that baby boomers have a higher rate of suicide than any other age group.

In the first decade of this century the suicide rate in the United States increased by 30%.

Many of the factors that influence people to commit suicide have become more prevalent among boomers in recent years, such as hopelessness and despair, inability to enjoy normal life pleasures, increased substance use or abuse, and loss.

Personally, I do not considered myself suicidal. In the depths of my worst nightmares and depressions though, I have come to a better understanding of why some people do end their lives. Like many of my boomer peers, I do find myself making a declaration I do not remember being made by seniors when I was younger. Perhaps they only kept it among themselves, but I personally think not. When contemplating a life threatening illness, I believe many of my treatment options would be influenced by whether I believe the future is even worth living for. I hear this often from many of my friends. 

In the past few months I have been given a new perspective on what it means to struggle for survival. My willingness to speak of this struggle in public has opened my eyes to the incredible compassionate side of many of my neighbors and friends. I feel lucky to be the recipient of that kind of empathy. But I also understand that not everyone feels as comfortable as I do, about opening up about personal feelings. There is a side of this struggle that many continue to face alone in their daily lives. I would like to share two of the experiences that shape my own view.

My first real encounter with suicide was my friend Carey. Carey was struggling with AIDS in the early 1990s. I imagine the emotional strain of the continuous juggling of drug therapies alongside the incredible physical manifestations of the diseases became too much for Carey. Unfortunately, Carey chose to leave this world by putting a gun to his head. It’s hard to imagine what that experience was like for those close to him, especially for his partner who found him. 

My second experience with suicide was just four years ago on April 8, 2013, when my dear friend Jonathan ended his life at the Golden Gate Bridge. Jonathan’s suicide has special significance this year as I struggle to keep my home. I am not the only friend who believes Jonathan’s situation was exacerbated by losing his home. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not despondent over my situation. But I cannot help but imagine what Jonathan felt as he contemplated ending his life. I should at least be given the opportunity to say I believe I understand what he may have gone through!

Jonathan was one of our first friends when Rob and I moved to San Francisco. As our travel agent, Jonathan nurtured our wanderlust. I remember an exotic photo of Jonathan and his partner Peter in a rickshaw, that hung on the wall of Now Voyager in San Francisco’s Castro district. Rob and I both imagined ourselves in that photo. 

In 1990, my friend Gary and I stayed in Jonathan’s seaside condo on Maui, while Gary recovered from the death of his partner Russell. In 1994, Rob and I decided to travel around the world by continuing west until we arrived back at our point of origin. We were amazed when Jonathan showed up on our doorstep in Koh Samui, Thailand. A little more than one year later Jonathan held my hand and offered his shoulder as we arranged my ticket to London, where I would sit at Rob’s bedside until he left this world a few weeks later. 

It was Jonathan who pushed me to keep traveling after Rob died. He arranged the tickets back to Crete, where I spread Rob’s ashes in the 13th century castle ruins where we had taught yoga together. Jonathan arranged the ticket to Illinois to see my mother before she died. Jonathan arranged the tickets back to Illinois a few months later when I returned home to care for my father in the last month of his life. He arranged my trip to Australia the following winter and my trip back to Crete with my sister Pat the following spring. Jonathan was my travel guru. He knew as much, or maybe more about my life than many other friends or family.

Here’s what I have to say on the fourth anniversary of Jonathan’s death. I miss him. I wish he was still here. That’s all I have to say. Many of the other things that people say about this subject have the potential to sound stupid or arrogant or insensitive. So I will leave it at this.  

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Comment by koshersalaami on April 7, 2017 at 11:01pm

First, my condolences.

It's an easy subject to get insensitive about for a variety of reasons. Suicide often leaves a lot of very badly hurt people behind. Sometimes it's mental illness and we can't relate. The person I knew best who did had a terminal illness and decided he'd rather die quickly than deteriorate. 

Most of us have experienced it here with James Emmerling. 

Comment by J.P. Hart on April 8, 2017 at 6:22am

Contemporaneously (finger-paint graph commencing with the taking of Nagasaki) ring now: collective rem deprivation?

Jim's typist, lodge Kitchigami, warm, safe and dry

Soulful essay, Robert, thanks for communicating!

Comment by JMac1949 Today on April 8, 2017 at 6:23am

Ron, I hope that you prevail and find some way to resolve your current situation because I agree with what Kosh has to say about the aftermath.  JME wasn't the first person I knew who chose to end his own life, there have been others.  I expect that sometime in the next ten years I will make that choice myself.  I watched my parents slowly disappear from dementia and the terror that comes with that end.  I cannot see myself suffering that end, so when the time comes I'll likely choose to end my own life rather than lose it to that fog of indignity.

Comment by J.P. Hart on April 8, 2017 at 6:30am

S/R right now: collective rem deprivation?  Lily and me have consigned an installation: --chair:wrapped in chains--

Comment by Alan Milner on April 8, 2017 at 12:45pm

I am personally very comfortable with the intellectual concept of suicide, having dealt with numerous near death experiences in my own life, and having run a crisis intervention hotline for its entire ten year lifespan. Things come to an end, organizations, countries, people. Having watched people go through terrible terminal suffering from various diseases, I have made a decision that I will not put myself, or the people who care about me, through that torture when there is no hope for either remediation or an outright cure.

Whenever someone brings up the pain inflicted upon the survivors by the act of suicide, I balance that against the pain inflicted by watching someone die in terrible pain. for month after month after month.  

it is all about the balance, isn't it?  The good we do against the pain we inflict, what we take from this world and what we give back before we go.

Having said it, it still hurts every time I find myself wondering what Robin Williams might be saying and doing right now.  Unfortunately, MASH had it wrong. Suicide is almost never painless, but it is the final teaching experience, and the final learning experience at the same time.


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