Recently a young community member committed suicide. A group of us were talking about how sad it was, and as the group was breaking up, one of them commented that suicide is selfish. What surprised me was the vehemence in her voice — she sounded angry. I remembered that someone she knew had committed suicide months ago, and realized the anger was her way of dealing with her grief.
Today I read about an ex-Marine named Clay Hunt who recently committed suicide. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan, received a Purple Heart, and since his discharge has worked a lot for veterans and in disaster relief. Friends and family say he suffered from PTSD, depression, and had survivors guilt. Most people who knew him were sad, but understood he was dealing with difficult things. Yet one friend said, “He was always a guy to stick things out and he basically quit life, and I was mad that he felt he had to do that at that particular time.”
Anger is one of the stages we all deal with when we grieve over a death (whether it is the death of a person, a relationship, a cherished dream, whatever). But it is a stage in the process, not somewhere we are supposed to remain at forever. We can never know exactly what a person who commits suicide was feeling or thinking, even when they leave letters or journals behind. I don’t think we can imagine the pain experienced by people who see death as their only way out. Nor should we blame ourselves for not being able to do something to make life better for the person, or to stop them. We do the best we can, and some things are beyond our power to change. The only person who could have prevented the suicide was the person who committed it.
People who commit suicide see no way to make things better. Indeed, they often see themselves as making life better for others, by taking their pain out of the equation. I am not arguing for suicide. What I do ask is that people respond to the news with some compassion. I argue that people who see suicide as selfish are themselves being selfish. Deal with your own issues, and don’t blame the person who was in pain for your inability to deal with your grief.
PS (several days later): Have been thinking about this, and perhaps asking if suicide is selfish is like asking if living is selfish — it is a blanket statement, and therefore cannot be true for ALL cases. We are individuals, and the reasons we do things are our own. So it is possible a suicide may be selfish. But just as that person is responsible for their actions, we each are responsible for our own issues.