It’s a delicate subject, but after the passing of a dear friend by his own hand, I feel I have to say something. Too many have suffered in silence and indignity, so I must speak: I am pro-suicide. No, I’m not talking about the legal rights people have to do with their bodies however they see fit. I’m talking about the decision itself.
For almost my entire adult life, I was suicidal. Still am sometimes. It isn’t something that ever really leaves for good. Some circumstances do change. Every great life event that would have caused me to abandon this world (the last of which being far more recent than I’d ever care to admit) never transpired. One circumstance that hasn’t changed has been myself. I am still, at my core, the same person I always was; with all the misunderstanding, brilliance, inability, exuberance, despair, and terrifying solitude that comes with the package. I know what it’s like to struggle on with a smile on my face, when everything inside screams the opposite. I know loneliness. I know despair. I know futility. And I know what it’s like to continue on in pain, with no conceivable way of bringing it to an end.
Too often, through an inability (or unwillingness) to let go of the illusion of control over the lives of others, the living bully and demonize the dead. One common accusation I hear is that the suicidal are selfish, acting without considering what pain their passing might visit on others. While there’s no avoiding the fact that dying will profoundly affect many people, to call taking one’s life “selfish” is itself one of the most selfish ways of viewing human life. Each of us only has one precious life. One. It is ours to deal with as we see fit. Truly, it’s all we have. To therefore suggest that we owe any part of our life to anyone else, that our life is not our own because others’ lives may be affected in some way, is supremely arrogant and dismissive of the humanity of others.
The other slur I often hear hurled at the suicidal is that to take one’s life is height of cowardice. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While taking a failing life and turning it around takes a certain degree of courage and strength, simply not dying is no act of heroism. Death is terrifying. Ceasing to exist is the one great horror that has driven humankind into hundreds of religions, has served as the ultimate punishment since time immemorial, and drives advancement in medical technology. The thought of losing that one thing, the only thing we know for sure that we have, our precious life, is frightening beyond measure. To actively take control and remove ourselves from the land of the living is possibly the bravest act imaginable. I sought to end myself before, but couldn’t work up the courage. The sheer thought of forevermore cutting myself off from every possibility and experience to join a great unknown was too much for me, and so I never could quite end it. I salute the nerve of those who can.
I have to be clear about one thing: I don’t encourage leaving the suffering to their own devices. In fact, the biggest mistake of the suicide-prevention advocates is that they focus on preventing physical death, and not its precursor, death of hope. I never sought to end my life for the fun of it. I experienced ongoing and unbearable pain and despair, and saw no end in my future. Instead of simply seeking to prevent people from ending their lives, then, we should seek to help alleviate the agony that pushes them to that point to begin with. Take our friends’ loneliness seriously. Comfort our family’s pain. Provide the opportunity for a bright and fulfilling future to our fellow man. And once we’ve done all in our power to help the suffering and come up short, let them go. Let them be free.
I miss my friend. I miss the long days we spent together, his goofy sense of humor, his blissfully unaware antics. I cherish every moment I spent at his side helping him grow from a boy into a man, and the thought of never seeing him complete that transition kills me. But I support his decision to leave us. I’m glad he left his pain. I hope he’s in a better place now, even if that place is no place at all. And I hope that, when my turn comes to stare down the eternal specter of death, I can face it with half the courage he did.