“Suicide” is a word so sensitive in our culture that it is difficult for most of us to say it out loud. “Cancer” used to be that way. White people who don’t know any better sometimes whisper, “He’s black” about a person, as if there were reason to be concerned.
But “suicide” is today’s word, especially in light of the self-inflicted deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, people many admired and loved. There’s a lot of shock that their deaths were suicide and the news media whispers the word in reports.
Commenting on a new report on the dramatic rise in suicides between 1996 and 2016, the Centers for Disease Control wrote that “contributing circumstances include social and economic problems, access to the means to commit suicide, and poor coping and problem-solving skills.” All of those are symptoms of victim-hood, not choice and I’ll argue that a lot of suicides are simply conscious choices. (CDC suicide story here.)
Suicide is not disgraceful, shocking or even wrong in my world, especially if the choice to die by our own hands is made with clarity and good reason. I don’t know Bourdain’s, nor Spade’s circumstances, nor will I speculate. I will, however, say that–at my age–it is becoming clearer than ever what goes into the decision to take one’s own life, and it isn’t always depression or illness. Sometimes, we’ve just done all we can and we’re ready for what’s next–if anything is.
When my time comes, I hope to be able to make that decision and to go out with the dignity of knowing I did what I could, learned what was presented, was kind, offered help when it was needed, influenced people toward the good. I don’t want my family to be embarrassed or ashamed if I decided to take my own life. My decision should be mine alone and should not affect the way they remember me.
I hope, instead, they will look at my writings, my photographs, positive deeds, community contribution and time spent with me, then judge from that. I also hope they will see the ultimate nobility in suicide that is thought out fully and acted upon with grace and dignity (no messy cleanup, papers in order, debts paid, who gets what sorted out, no questions of foul deeds). If that’s the case, “suicide” becomes less sensitive and more a symbol of choice.