Like many people, suicide has been a part of my life. My family history includes it; my personal journey also includes it. Family members have killed themselves; friends have killed themselves. It's part of the story of my life.
I've found 2 dead bodies from intentional suicide and I've found one dead from unintentional suicide. The difference seems semantic and yet it's meaningful when thinking about the people who used to live in those bodies. How people die is a big chapter in the story of one's life. It can define how we're grieved and how we're remembered. It can fuel all kinds of emotions and ideas; it can drive the direction of the survivors lives.
An intentional suicide victim? I feel they chose the fact of suicide to be a fact of their life. Did you know that when people shoot themselves, they have to pull the trigger with their non-dominant hand because they need the strength of their dominant hand to hold the trigger hand down? That's how hard the body fights to live. A police officer in the homicide division told me that.
In other words, it seems an impossible thing to deny - that person took his life. It seems to me to be a ferocious act of will fueled by horrific suffering, but a defining act of personal will none-the-less. In this regard, an intentional suicide is fundamentally different than an unintentional one.
When talking about intentional suicide, people ask, "Why did he (she) kill himself (herself)?" I have the answer. I really do. Search teams of great thinkers have swept the wide terrain far and wide for centuries upon centuries seeking the answer, little did they know an ordinary lady would hold it. It's a true answer, unarguable, and has given me great comfort when I've been driven sleepless, traumatized by my own exhausting search for "why". Here it is:
People kill themselves because they don't want to live.
That's it, it begins and ends there, it's the only answer that anyone living can live with. It's the only answer that a grieving survivor can be calmed with. I know, I've calmed many. And it's worked for me.
When my dear friend Tobey commited suicide I thought, oh God, how does one cope with this? I thought, I can be brave. I thought, I can choose not to die. I thought, how terrible his suffering must have been - how wretched and lonely and crushing - for him to have done such a violence to himself and our lives. Because Arun and I found him, because he shot himself in the head in his bed in their house on Constance Street, with the dogs and the kitchen and the toilitries, the magazines and coffee cups, the daily living life of stuff. He did it there and it was gruesome; there was a roomful of blood.
Yes, that is how great his suffering was, that he created that for us. Breathing that idea in, becoming intimate with it, pressing my lips to it, clasping it to my bosom, carrying it against my bosom as I carried his things to the thrift store, as I carried Arun through the days - that is how I have managed to build compassion for suicide victims in my life. That is how great his suffering was, that he did not want to live.
This idea of the immensity of some suffering, I didn't come up with that one; I had help from the Buddhists with that - help from Gelek Rinpoche in Ann Arbor Michigan, in fact. And it comforts me. It helps my heart soften, it softens my heart. Cuz I was mad, oh yeah. Anyone would be. Anger is one of the stages of grief? Anger is an honest reaction to something so ugly happening in your world.
Tobey's suicide took Arun away from me, is how I felt then, and I was mad. And I confess, I was mad our adventure was over, that reality had slammed down upon us and now, death. I was mad when I saw what it did to Tobey's parents - the most charming, generous, loving people I've ever known. Immense, heavy, black - there it was, the fact of his suicide and the terrors it brought down upon my people, and still: I wanted to live. Building compassion for him, forgiving him, it wasn't some idea in a book on meditation on some glossy bookshelf - it's what I needed to do in order to survive - it was really a matter of life and death.
Funny thing - there were people who wanted me dead then. Yep. One guy - an infamous redheaded Detroit rock & roll junkie - backed me against a wall at Tobey's funeral and said, "It should be YOU, dead." It's interesting, having someone wish that upon you; it brought the phrase "in cold blood" to life for me. And I had no answer to him; I just walked away. What can you do to make someone feel better about the fact that you're still alive?
So - Arun's death 2 months after Tobey's was ruled "unintentional". Yes, I found his body and yes, it was horrific. But the whole "unintentional" thing with him, that makes sense to me. Because it wasn't a month earlier that, sitting in my kitchen eating potatoes and eggs, Arun told me, "It's not that I want to die. I just don't want to feel alive." Yep, that can kill someone, too. But that's a different death, it's a different story of death.
The differences in their lives and deaths? They are significant and they are meaningless. They mean nothing to grieving parents and siblings; they mean nothing in the end. And still, I can't help but think - these are their stories, death is a part of the story of life.
And there were people after Arun's death who also wanted me dead. One woman - an infamous mousy haired skinny Detroit rock & roll junkie (a pattern!) - told me she wished I were dead instead of Arun and that she'd kill me if she had half a chance. That's something. It's breathtaking. And it's hilarious, if you look at it the right way.
Because they tried to kill me with slander and fear, and they failed. Because the events I was surviving, that I was in the middle of, that haunted my eyes and panic'd my nights, threatened to kill me with their weight, and they failed. Winters, beatings, rape, homelessness, poverty, hunger - failed to kill me. And then I spent years chasing the bottom of my own bottles, trying to not feel alive, and I failed. I have failed to commit suicide. Again, why? Eureka, I have the answer!
And it's a good one, it's as simple and brilliant as my answer to the suicide question. I've honed this answer through years of peeling bark from trunk, of threading needles and splitting hairs - I've pieced it together from shards of bloody glass and opalescent wings of things I don't know the names of - I've practiced it in the mirror, morning and night, and I've been waiting all this time to tell you:
I haven't killed myself because I want to live.
I've been thinking lately about the unfairness of life, how so many people will never know what it is to read a book or drink clean water, how so many animals will only be tortured, how many people will never know what it is to be truly loved or own a new car or a house or a mattress or even an old crappy car or a cheap ass mattress - how unfair life can be for the living. Anyone who thinks they got all their good things because they somehow did something right? Foolhardy. You can't tell me that stuff isn't random; it's just the arbitrary stuff of life.
Which leads me to thinking of death and coming to believe that it's the fairest thing about life. Every single living thing is going to die. This calms me, the impersonalness of it. It has nothing to do with me, or you or you or you; it's not going to take some people and leave others, nobody gets out alive. It's an even playing field. None of us knows how or when and we certainly don't know what happens in that immensity of the after-life. So I'm thinking, death - it comes - with its voracious appetite for all things - and the person who enacts his own death? Well, that is its own kind of bravery.
I want suicidal people to get help and to stay alive; I don't want anyone to suffer that deeply; I don't wish for anyone to find the body; I don't wish for people to have their lives shattered and hearts broken and buried and wrung. But beside all that human emotion, that natural reactivity, there's a part of me that kindof admires the man who intentionally takes his own life. I couldn't do it, that much I know.