Kate, Anthony, and My Dad — When Celebrity Suicide Hits Home

When my dad killed himself nearly 10 years ago, we were shocked but not surprised. He had attempted suicide two times before that over the years.

When Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain killed themselves, we are shocked because they seemed to have the “perfect” lives. What on earth could compel them to take their own lives?

The people closest to my dad knew some of his struggles. Maybe Kate and Anthony had their own private struggles. Maybe they struggled with a mental illness we know nothing about. Maybe their families are shocked but not surprised. Or maybe they had no idea.

Every time a celebrity kills themselves, I can’t help thinking about my dad and my family — how some of us wondered what we could have done to help him. At least I did. I went through periods of blaming myself to some degree.

There was nothing we could have done. We tried to do stuff over the years. He wouldn’t accept help. He was on his own path, and he was in denial. He had his own answers. And his answer was suicide. Obviously, I don’t think it was the right answer. I wish he were still here, and I think more about him as his deathiversary approaches (this October) and when I hear about someone else’s suicide.

I hope that these souls find peace after death. But, since I believe in the soul, I suspect that they will struggle for a while after death as they work through why they killed themselves, why they thought that was the best answer. Not a punishment! Simply a learning.

What can we learn from their suicides? I honestly don’t know. We keep posting suicide hotline number, which is great. I think many people do use those, and they help. Reaching out when we feel on the edge of self-harm is the best thing we can do. And reaching out when we think someone else is in need is the best thing we who are well can do. But life isn’t always beautiful. It doesn’t always get better. The struggle is real. And, in the moment, it can feel as if it will never end.

I have bipolar disorder. I have never been suicidal, even though I have gone through periods of wishing I were dead, wishing someone would just end it all for me. I have felt as if nothing would ever get better, as if there was no way in hell as I could through whatever pain I was experiencing. Looking back, I don’t know how I got through those periods. It wasn’t always with help from other people. Sometimes it was. Sometimes it just took time. Sometimes it was sheer willpower. It would be so much easier if there were one clear answer, if I could write a book: “5 easy steps to get out of your suicidal tendencies and not want to die.”

In this moment, I know what I would do if I ever felt that bad again: I would call my therapist and psychiatrist, and I would reach out to a few specific friends. I say that now, but would I follow through in that moment? I’ve written down that plan so I remember it in that eventuality. But let me tell you that in that moment it’s really tough to follow through.

What’s my point?

It wasn’t selfish of Kate and Anthony except in the sense that mental illness (if they were mentally ill — I do’t know if they were) and suicide are by definition selfish in that you can’t help being focused inward. But it’s not selfish in the sense of “how could they do that to their families?” I know from my dad that he thought his suicide would help his family. He thought his suicide was the best thing he could do for his family.

The last time I spoke with my dad was six weeks before his death. It was on the phone. I called to tell him I’d be in Houston for my high school reunion and asked to see him. He couldn’t promise it would work out. When we were getting off the phone, I said, “I love you.” He didn’t say it back. It was the first time in my entire life that he didn’t say it when we were getting off the phone. Every single phone call with either of my parents, we say, “I love you.” I was devastated. I should have known something was up. But I took it personally. I just thought that he didn’t love me.

See. I didn’t view him as selfish. I viewed myself as unloved. I didn’t see him as suicidal. I viewed myself as unworthy. We don’t always see the signs of suicide even if they’re glaring. I’m not saying Kate and Anthony were showing signs! This would imply that their friends, family, and colleagues missed something!!

I’m saying that we have to forgive ourselves for missing signs, *if* there are signs. I couldn’t have stopped my dad. He was going to find a way. He was, pardon the pun, dead set on dying.

I wish peace on Kate and Anthony and on their families, friends, and colleagues.