My life, like other people’s, has been peppered with its fair share of human tragedies. I don’t go to school reunions but I notice the student lists from my scholastic years are ones of diminishing returns. I never know what has happened to the names that are marked ‘deceased’ or, euphemistically, ‘no longer with us’ or ‘passed away’. There are always the accidents, the terminal diseases and illnesses, deaths due to unexplained causes and then there are the suicides.
It doesn’t matter that people gloss over suicides, there is always the niggledy question as to why did they do it? The how matters only because of the shock that attends suicides and is mentioned in hushed terms and then again in legal terminology at the Inquest held after the post mortem.
The why is the question in everyone’s mind, usually the first thing to be voiced and it is said in wringing tones of bafflement, non-understanding and distress. Except for those who know what despair can be and how unanswerable that question of ‘why’ actually is.
While this may be a blog post about suicide, there is another dimension to it. It is an acknowledgement of the life of my hairdresser who killed herself last week.
She was a terrific woman, younger than I am, single with a gorgeous little daughter. She also had the sort of oomph that I appreciated and was drawn to. She had her own business and, with it, a strong personality. She and I were just starting to reveal ourselves to each other and I was so looking forward to watching her laugh about my life’s disclosures and being able to laugh with her about her own. Wry, self-deprecating humour is so binding. As I say, she was good.
I saw her once a little contemplative and she told me she was concerned that she wasn’t thinking positively or helpfully. I lent her a book called A Mind of Its Own : How your brain distorts and deceives by one Cordelia Fine (what a fine name!). It is a well written and researched book with a quirky style about the way we use and abuse our minds and how we are used and abused in turn by our minds. What we think and why; how we deceive ourselves and why and how that 3lb bulk of tissue between our ears can let us down.
The next time I saw her she was happy and beckoned me into her salon. She introduced me to her daughter and her daughter’s dad; told me she loved my blog and its irreverence; that she was half way through Fine’s book and thoroughly enjoying it. She had a good bounce to her. She gave me a quick hug before we parted and I would not see her again.
A week later, I phoned her to make an appointment so the hunter gatherer could have his locks trimmed and tidied. She was fine with that – told me to give her half an hour to get organised; something was wrong with the salon phones. Not a problem. The appointment was kept, his hair was cut and jokes were made. That night she was unable to continue.
I have been here before. My husband of four years suicided in 1966 leaving me with the enormous problem of trying to make the sort of sense of this tragedy that would allow me to live and look after our 2½ year old son without descending into guilt and drug dependence. It is a very big ask.
Now my hairdresser’s family has this same enormity to deal with. It is still a very big ask.
It used to be called manic depression and is now called bipolar disorder. The problem with renaming medical symptoms is that current naming tends to smooth over the unadulterated horror of what can happen. I have known a couple of manic depressives. I was utterly out of my depth. The manic phase was so uncontrollable that I had nothing of substance to offer and the same happened when the depression took hold. I have watched, pretty helplessly, while a couple of my friends have terminated their lives. There is one still alive and married to a good woman. I hope he survives. I hope she does!
I am the sort of person who likes to build my knowledge through research and peer reviewed data. It is of little help though when confronted with human problems of interaction and having to cope on a minute by minute basis. While neuroscience and fMRI research is detailing the way our brains work, there will always be the problem of what do you do now when time is of the essence.
Meanwhile there are people whose brains tell them that they are worth nothing and that everyone would be better off if they were dead. That because they are useless and feel they can do no good whatsoever; that no one can talk them out of this awful neurological state and feel the world would be better off without them. And so they die.
What else can I say? I, like all of us, feel helpless in the face of such determined destruction. I wish I could stop this senseless waste. But I know I can’t.
So, farewell my dear as I fare welled my husband and others in my life. You live on because my and others’ memories keep you alive; for the rest of the short time of our lives at least.