Tag Archives: suicide

For Philip, whose battle with life is over

Dear Philip,

I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it to your memorial service. I really did consider going. But last-minute airfares to Atlanta are ridiculously high (like more than a thousand bucks high) and that just wasn’t in the cards for me.

I’m glad, though, that your friends held the service in a book store. That was so appropriate. So you. The Facebook invite promised “lots of laughs and crazy Philip stories.” I hope there were lots of both.

Speaking of Facebook, I know you’d find it more than a little ironic that Facebook is where I found out you died. I mean, all those times you lamented how social media and technology were robbing us of human connection. But, true to 21st Century grief, your Atlanta friends took to your Facebook page and turned it into a cyber memorial.

The first messages were kind of cryptic. One said “I’ll miss your stories about books and movies. Stay mellow.” What did that mean? I thought maybe you got fired.

But it was something I’d never even heard of — an aortic dissection — that killed you. Even after Googling it, I’m still not sure what an aortic dissection is. But I guess it’s like your aorta just thought “fuck this shit. I’m out.” One of your close friends said you were in pain, but not for very long. I was at least glad to know that.


Philip and I both hated having our pictures taken, so this is the only photo I have with the two of us. It’s from his 30th birthday party. He’s the guy at the far left. I’m in the tan shirt by the presents.


I was also glad to know that your death was not a suicide. After the shock, that was the first thing that popped into my head. It was one of the things you and I had in common — membership in the Failed Attempts Club. I was often worried that you would kill yourself. After all, in the past few years, life sure gave you a lot of reasons. You lost your home to foreclosure, and since your temporary housing was small and didn’t allow pets, you also lost your beloved book collection and your beloved cats, Simon and Schuster. So many times, you told me that if it wasn’t for Simon and Schuster and the books, you would have committed suicide a long time ago. My response was always the same: you had reasons to live, and you knew it.

When I told you about my own suicidal ideations, you didn’t flinch. You related. You were not surprised. I honestly wasn’t shocked when you talked about your past attempts, too.

I guess when you grow up together, there’s a bond that’s always there. Remember how we used to laugh at the name of our apartment complex? It was the Edgewater Terrace Apartments, only it wasn’t at the edge of any water. You used to say that the name was so ironic. I think I learned about the word ironic from you. I’m an only child, but when we were little, I sort of thought of you as a crazy older brother. I mean crazy in a good way. Even when I was little, I knew there was something different about you. While the rest of us kids were Crocodile Rocking to Elton John, you were fiercely loyal to Ethel Merman and Judy Garland.

You were always singing show tunes, but I knew you weren’t happy. I couldn’t blame you. Your mother weighed something like 400 pounds. She and your father always argued. Your sister became rebellious, then became a drug addict. And your home was always filthy. I remember balls of papers strewn all over your living room, and your mother seemed oblivious to it all.

That was a big difference between your mom and my mom. My mom was a neat freak. When we had company, everything was spotless. Still, our moms were best friends. I saw a lot of you. You saw a lot of me.

In fact, you saw much more of me than I realized. You saw through me. Remember your last trip up here to Boston, and that long conversation we had about everything over pastrami sandwiches at the S and S Deli? I told you how abusive my home life was. How I was molested at age 11, and how no one did anything about it because Alex was the grandson of mom’s friend Betty, and mom didn’t want to lose her friend. When I told you all of this, again you didn’t flinch. In fact, you told me how you just knew things were wrong. You heard my mother’s yelling. I don’t remember crying, but you remembered seeing me cry.

At first, I was relieved when you responded this way. Family and friends who lived nowhere near my home told me I was over-reacting. Being dramatic. Making things up. But you — who didn’t live in my home but lived pretty damn close — you knew.

For this, I loved you and hated you. I loved you because you believed me. But I hated you because there were times when even I would tell myself that maybe it wasn’t all that bad and maybe I have a vivid imagination. Your confirmation robbed me of that. Damn you!

I didn’t say this to you, but when you visited me in Boston, I couldn’t wait for you to leave. You were too real for me. Oh, and also, you complained a lot. About the world. About the human race. About the Chinese restaurant that didn’t have a bowl of crispy noodles right there at the table when you sat down. (“How could they not have that! I thought all Chinese restaurants had that!”)

After a few days, I just got tired of all your bitching. But then, when you got back to Atlanta, you called me and thanked me, and you even said this was one of the best trips you’d ever had. I laughed. I realized then that complaining was just your way of dealing with the world. I understood how you’d rather spend time re-reading your favorite classic books than spend time with people. Ruth Rendell, Margaret Mitchell, James Michener, and Harold Robbins (for those times when you just wanted something stylishly trashy.) They were the ones you turned to most. .

Of course, now I miss your complaints. My Facebook feed just isn’t the same without your carping that they don’t make good movies anymore, and that people have become so rude, and that there just aren’t any modern-day authors who know how to tell good stories nowadays. Some people try to hide their depression. You wore yours for everyone to see.

I remember a phone conversation when we both talked about our mothers. We were sure that our mothers both had some form of mental illness. You wondered why they didn’t talk about it. “They couldn’t,” I said. “If they talked about it, they could have been locked up. At least we can talk about it.”

Only now, we can’t. When your sister died a few years ago, you didn’t say that she died. You said she “lost her battle with life.” Those words were just so sad and powerful and raw and honest. You didn’t sugarcoat anything — even in death.

I wouldn’t say that you lost your battle. The last time I talked to you, you seemed pretty content. Well, content for you, anyway. But your battle with life is over.

An aortic dissection. Did you even know what that was? I guess it’s fitting that you died of something unusual. A good old-fashioned heart attack would have been too common for you.

But you don’t have to fight the world anymore. Rest in peace, my friend. If anyone deserves peace, it’s you.

Love, Alan












I wish I could cry more

Occasionally on Facebook, I’ll see a post from someone who says “I’m writing this with tears streaming down my face.”

First, I think “yeah, right.” But in short order, I become a little envious of this person. Why? Because the only times in my adult life when I’ve had tears streaming down my face was when I’ve been suicidal. So many times, I’ve wished that I could cry more easily. Today’s an example: I had a bit of a rough day today. A good friend who promised he would come through for me didn’t do what he said he would. In no particular order, I was mad, hurt and upset.

I didn’t even consider crying in front of him. As hard as it is for me to shed tears, it’s even harder to let the dam burst in public. When I got home, I tried to cry. I really did. But all I could manage was a slight watering of my eyes.

Maybe this comes with being a man in America. When I tried to pick a photo for this very post, I went to my photo sharing site. Even when I typed man crying in the search field, there were very few photos showing men crying. In most, the men were yelling, slouching over at their desks with their faces hidden, or raising their clenched fists in the air.

But I don’t want to use this as an excuse. It may sound strange, but I believe that if I cried more, it would help my depression. It’s a very healthy release. And lets face it, hurt and pain have to get out of your system some way. The last thing I want is to store it all up. I’ve been suicidal before. I don’t want to be that way again.

If anyone has tips for learning to cry more, I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day

Tomorrow, September 10, people in nations all over the world will commemorate World Suicide Prevention Day. This has been going on for more than 10 years, but I’m just finding out about it now.

Anything that raises awareness of suicide prevention is a good thing, and I like the international approach. While stigma here in the United States concerning suicide is still prevalent, it is far worse in many other countries.

So, let’s make people more aware of suicidal ideations, and what can be done to try to convince friends and loved ones to get help. For more info, check out the website here.

Can we all agree that it’s not a good idea for mentally ill people to have guns?

Another day, another senseless gun attack in America.

This one was played out on live television. A Virginia television reporter — all of 24 years old — and her cameraman were busy doing their jobs. Suddenly, shots rang out — live and on the air. Eventually, the suspect was captured. Then he shot and killed himself.

The suspect fired off a long, rambling fax to a television news station. He called it a suicide note. He said that the recent Charleston shooting was what sent him over the edge. People of conscience all over the world reacted to that shooting with grief and anger. This man reacted by buying a gun, and killing others.

God knows, I’m not a psychologist. But you don’t have to be a psychologist to know that this man clearly needed help. I don’t know much about him, but he was an African-American man, and I do know that in general, African-American men are among the least likely to seek help regarding mental illness. A lot needs to be done about that.

But in the meantime, can we all agree that this man should not have had a gun? Nor should anyone with a mental illness? For me personally, a gun would never keep me safe. I have a history of depression and anxiety. A gun would just be too easy. You do the math.

I don’t have the answers for how to solve this, but I wish sensible people would come up with some. And of course, I wish that the suits in Washington would not be so fucking beholden to the NRA. This morning, before I heard about this latest tragedy, I friend of mine shared this video. It’s even more powerful for me now. We need to do something about senseless gun deaths in America. NOW!

Movies I love: Harold and Maude

I watched Harold and Maude for the first time last night. Netflix just added it to its classics list, and I thought I’d give it a try. What a weird, strange, funny, beautiful movie! I can’t get it out of my head.

In the film, Harold, who is barely in his 20s, meets Maude, a free-spirited woman who’s almost 80. They develop a relationship–and fall in love. Yet, despite this massive age difference, theirs is actually one of the most believable relationships I’ve ever seen on film. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so. The American Film Institute compiled a list of the 100 best love stories of all time. Harold and Maude made that list, coming in at number 69.

The film has a lot of humor, and most of it is very dark. That works for me, because I love dark humor. But it’s not for the masses, and if you have a mental illness, it could be triggering. Harold tries to kill himself several times–so much so that his attempts become a running joke. And here’s one of the things Harold and Maude have in common: they both love spending time at cemeteries (and even crashing funerals for people they don’t know.) If you find these notions troubling, avoid this film at all costs. But if you can find humor in very dark places, this film is one of the best.

Even though Harold and Maude is dark and strange, it’s also full of life. This scene is a great example. Among many beautiful scenes, it’s probably my favorite.

I may never look at a daisy the same way again. I’m so glad this film is on Netflix, because I may have to watch it again. And again.

On Memorial Day, remembering veterans lost to suicide.

Every day, an average of 22 veterans commit suicide. That’s where the organization Mission 22 gets its name. Along with providing help and resources for veterans and their families, Mission 22 collected some stark, stunning photos of homes where veterans killed themselves. They were taken by a photojournalist who covered several wars with this camera, then realized after he got back that, for too many veterans, the wars continue long after they come home. This Memorial Day, let’s not forget about the veterans who endured tough field battles, but could not endure the battles within themselves.

Check out Mission 22’s website, and the photo series, here.

Olive Kitteridge was right: suicide is never clean

Last week, I attended a memorial service for a friend who died suddenly.

I didn’t know Debbie all that well, but I knew her as a facilitator for one of my mental illness support groups. She had recently broken her ankle, and apparently, the cast was put on in a way that was too tight. It affected her circulation and she developed blood clots. Apparently, blood clots aren’t necessarily painful, and she had no idea that she had them. When the clots got into her lungs, she couldn’t breathe. She collapsed and died a few hours later.

To say the least, everyone who knew her was shocked when they heard the news. Life is full of mysteries, but you never expect someone to die as the result of a broken ankle. Yet, as I spoke to several people who knew Debbie better than I did, I heard an almost unanimous hushed whisper: Debbie’s life might have been taken from her, but at least she didn’t take her own life.

People have told me over and over again that when someone commits suicide, the grief faced by their friends and loved ones is the worst kind of grief imaginable. After attending Debbie’s memorial service, I think that’s probably true. No doubt, a death as sudden as hers is difficult to process. I really only knew her from support groups, and it’s hard for me to fathom that I’ll never see her again. But suicide would have been worse.

olive-kitteridgeRecently, I watched the HBO series Olive Kitteridge. Olive, the protagonist, is a woman whose father committed suicide. Though she admits to having depression, her father’s suicide affects her in more ways than she realizes. There’s a scene where she talks a young man out of committing suicide. He’s outside in the woods and he thinks no one can see him. Olive tells him that kids live in a house nearby, and they often look out the window. “What if they see you,” Olive asks the young man. “You can plan and plan, and you think suicide can be clean. It’s never clean.”

It’s never clean. Those three words hit me like a ton of bricks. I loved the mini-series Olive Kitteridge so much that I’m now reading the novel that it was based on. Debbie’s memorial service reminded me that Olive is right: suicide is many things, but it is never clean. As someone who has certainly been down in those dark depths myself, I know full well that most people who kill themselves probably aren’t thinking of the pain they cause others, and they certainly shouldn’t be blamed for it.

But at least for me, it’s important to remember what Olive Kitteridge said. And it’s important for me to remember that, as hard as Debbie’s death is to deal with, I am comforted knowing that she did not take her own life.