I Am Not Afraid of Suicide: Breaking The Taboo
When I was fourteen I got up at my Sunday school teacher’s funeral. He had killed himself. What compelled me to stand up in front of that room full of grieving family and friends is still beyond me.
His name was Bob. Robert, I suppose. Never would I have thought to call him that in person. I was an adolescent when he became my weekly “spiritual adviser.” I think he would laugh at that last sentence. He had a great laugh. Boisterous and random. If he thought something clever or innocently amusing his soul had a way of crinkling out through his eyes.
He treated me like an adult. No questions were pithy or dutiful. It was always gorgeously apparent that he got a deep gratification from seeing a young person explore a brand new concept. His wisdom was not given through lame bible stories attached to prefabricated lessons. He asked us about our real lives. Our problems at school, how we felt about the world, and he always gave sound advice without constantly attempting to prod us with the God stick. Though he would sometimes, as this was a church after all. But it was never a nagging guilt-laden belief he would approach us with. He truly loved God and life.
Most importantly, he would listen to each of us, really listen. Sadly, that is a scarce resource to a lot children.
I still have no idea to this day why he decided to pull the plug on himself. I’m not even sure how he ended his life. These are things that are supposedly impolite to talk about, and certainly nobody was going to come right out and tell a fourteen year old the intricate details of a suicide. I never asked, so fair enough.
Nowadays, I am not afraid to talk about suicide. I don’t think the act deserves any power that comes from furtive gossip. It is an honest problem that needs to have the light of day on it as much as a flat tire or a divorce. Let us talk freely in hopes that those considering the tragic path, will reach out as quickly as they would if they were stranded and needed a ride. And please if you ever need a ride or an ear, I offer you both with love and honesty.
Though I had fear back then, I was hesitant, and there I was in that funeral home, walking down the aisle to the lectern. God, I hate that word. But podium would be incorrect. The podium is the platform one stands on, the lectern is the box from which one speaks behind.
Why did I have to go up and speak words at these people who definitely knew Bob a lot longer than I had?
I had to let them know my side of it. How fucking arrogant in retrospect. But this is why all these strangers gathered in this room. To ruminate and ponder over the mortal end of an otherwise healthy and happy man. What sense was there to be made from it all?
So I gave it a shot. I was nervous and choking up from the start. Looking back I’m sure it was touching to see a young person, the pupil of the teacher, laying down their Truth. Maybe that’s why I had to speak. Bob was a Christian Scientist, and those folks tend to be a bit stuffy. Actually, almost any overly religious person tends to have that unfortunate penchant.
I had to let them know that I wasn’t scared. That it was alright. We we’re alright. And inevitably, as the course of the human ego tends to wind, I was alright.
I was a kid just getting into the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, so you can imagine the eloquence factor of my words. I bumbled through the perfunctory explanation of my presence at the front of the room. People like a little background, especially at a funeral, where surprises can be caustic.
The exact words will never be written down, because honestly I can’t recall them. I only remember the last sentence I spoke before padding back down the soft pink carpeted aisle to my seat.
I said that Bob was a great man, and I’d be lucky to live my life to be half the man he was.
Those words puzzled me for a long time. I told them that I wanted to be half the man of someone who gave up on life and left a hole in so many hearts? Was I some kind of ignorant attention whore, oblivious to the reality of the tears and pain?
No. In fact, this was the exact reason I said it, to defy the stupid common blunt judgment of a rash action made by an apparently depressed man.
I had to let them know that Bob was still Bob. He lived on in all the children he listened to and laughed with. I really looked up to Bob and still do. I don’t judge him for a stumble he made that caused grief for so many. He was a good person, and I still follow in his example. This is what I wish anyone thinking about their own end would realize.
Nobody is judging you for that one thing or chain of bad decisions you made. You are more than that dark cloud that’s been over your head for so long. Stop looking in the mirror doubtfully questioning your worthiness. A mirror is only good for vanity and vanity is fleeting and fickle. We love you because of the good things you exemplify and can’t see in a reflection. Love comes through interpretation and connection, not isolation and self-judgment. There is always a helping hand out there and I know one good way to find it. All you must do is unwind your fist and the finger that is constantly pointed at you, relax your palm with your fingers outstretched and you will find it.
Anyways, thanks Bob, you silly coot. I know I’m not alone in wishing I could hear you laugh again and maybe listen to you for a change.