Saturday, July 6, 2013

"He made his choice."

“He made his choice.”

I bristle at this. An act of desperation is not a choice. A choice is a deliberate decision made after considering the options. The suicide literature says that people who kill themselves are no longer able to see other options; they have lost their problem-solving abilities. Hence the idea that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. 

Rational minds can make choices, like some people with terminal illness or chronic pain or a degenerative condition who have made an action plan for when they reach a certain point. I’m willing to grant that such people might make a rational choice to take their lives. Their loved ones might even understand their reasoning and not agonize over the “why’s” and “what if’s.” 

Until today, I assumed those people were unlike my son because they were elderly, had suffered with pain for many years, and had no hope of a cure. I didn’t see that my son may have had a legitimate reason to choose to end his life. I assumed he was, literally, out of his mind, no longer himself, unable to think clearly or to feel the love and regret that might have tied him to life and the living. That he was in so much pain, all he could think of was how to end the pain.

Now as I write this, I wonder. If he felt his suffering was unbearable, had been going on forever, and could never be fixed, then in his mind, it was a terminal illness, chronic pain, a degenerative condition, regardless of what doctors might say. But physically sick people who plan to pull the plug intend to die and do so with full awareness of the consequences. Did N intend to end his life—or to end the pain, as suicide researchers suggest? 

“It hurts me to think how much pain he must have been in to do this,” N’s uncle said, over and over, in the early weeks.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to face my son’s pain. That would mean putting myself in his place, which feels too threatening. I want to live a good life and die a natural death. I have never felt suicidal. I can only see N’s act from the other side of the divide. 

This rock bottom of despair is a place we parents cannot go with our children. It’s not just that we will never understand their suicide because they are not here to explain themselves. It’s that our minds operate on a different calculus for what makes rational sense. And if we don’t know what that kind of pain feels like, we can never understand the “why?”. 

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