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how do you feel about death?

By December 25, 2008 - 10:45pm
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I just saw the movie "Seven Pounds" with Will Smith. It was pretty intense -- not exactly an uplifting holiday movie. But it got me thinking about death, and also about a friend of mine whose nephew died last month. The most troubling thing about his death is that it has yet to be determined if it was a suicide or murder. Do you feel differently about a death when the cause is a suicide versus an accident or murder?

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What a thought-provoking question.

I agree with Susan -- age and circumstances make the biggest differences. And I think that it is the circumstances that forevermore dictate how -- or whether -- those who are left behind can go on.

A family whose loved one was killed in an accident is devastated not only by loss, but also by the knowledge that it was perhaps preventable. My best friend's 11-year-old niece was killed when a tractor-trailer whose brakes had not been maintained slammed into the back of the family's SUV. The family was shattered not just at the loss of an 11-year-old girl's life but also because it was such a stupid stupid accident. Why would a large company do something as heinous as not maintain the brakes of a multi-ton vehicle? In their case, not only did they miss Beth, but there was a constant "what could we have done differently" element that haunted them. If they had eaten for five minutes longer at the Burger King, would that have changed everything? If they had made a left turn at a single corner instead of a right turn, would their daughter and sister still be alive?

A family whose loved one was murdered must be even more devastated, if possible, because not only would they feel every emotion that the accident victim's family felt, they also must deal with the circumstances of the murder, the worry as to whether the person was frightened, and the ordeal of arrests, trials and sentencing before they can even grieve quietly for the person they lost.

That brings us to suicide, and I agree with Susan here -- I'm not sure that the person who commits suicide is, at that point, able to see that people will grieve, mourn and miss them; that their death would be a loss; that they are worthwhile people who deserve happiness. I think at the time a person commits suicide, they are in some ways already lost, and can't find their way back home inside themselves. In some ways, I think at the moment of suicide, people can't see any options left. And they leave behind a group of loved ones who will never understand what they could have done or said to have made a difference.

I think we mourn the natural death of a loved one in small ways forever, just because we miss them. I think that the grief is worse when someone dies in an accident, and even more complicated when it's from murder or suicide, for different reasons. The lingering anxiety and unrest just seems like it would never go away.

December 26, 2008 - 5:22pm
HERWriter Guide

This is a great question to ponder.

I think I absolutely think of death differently, depending on the circumstances.

For example, there is nothing tragic about the death of a 92 year old woman who lived a good and fulfilling life and died in the company of friends and family who loved her. It may be a sad time, and a time of reflection - but it's not tragic. It's the natural order of things: the circle of life. Her death, albeit a loss, it's natural and makes sense.

As far as murder: someone who commits suicide at least has a choice, somewhat. Murder is someone else deciding that you must die simply because they are jealous, want your money, want your power or want to cover something up. Their death is not only illegal, but shows another person playing God, and no-one has the right to do that.

But a 30 year old man with children, or a teenager with his or her life before them who dies by suicide is entirely different as well. It's nature at her disordered best. I have heard people say that suicide is the ultimate selfish act; I've also heard it described as incredibly brave. I don't think it's either, because I think all people who commit suicide are in a state of mental illness and cannot take credit for either selfishness or bravery. We are conditioned genetically to survive. We have immediate reactions to pain or danger by flinching and raising our hands to protect our head and upper body in times of immediate danger. These are automatic reactions, not socially learned. We will eat anything we can get our hands on, including grass, leaves or worse - in times of famine. To do anything to survive is in our DNA.

So to refute that, and kill oneself, means we are in such chaos, such emotional and mental turmoil that we need to end our own life. This is the unnatural order of things and shows how desperately in need of help the person is, and is unable to get it. I think it's incredibly sad. I often think that if a person about to commit suicide had received maybe one phone call, or one visit, or if someone had said just one thing to them right before, they may not have killed themselves.

I think many, many people have considered suicide at certain times in their lives. Those who haven't : consider yourselves lucky.

I think a huge difference that separates suicide from any other way of dying - even murder - is that it leaves the people left behind with a huge sense of guilt. What did I say? What did I do? Or what did I NOT say or do? What could I have said or done to stop this? Suicide is a life-sentence of guilt, doubt and sadness for those left behind. Perhaps that's why people call it selfish and I can see their point on this issue. I just think the person who commits suicide does not have the mental capacity to see it.

December 26, 2008 - 6:02am
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