Friday, October 12, 2012

The tenuous thread of life

At my writer's group Tuesday I wrote most of a post about the killing spree I went on over the weekend -- if you can call killing a second mouse and later an injured chicken a killing spree. It was titled "Reticulated Reaper," and there even may have been some funny bits about giving a mouse a cookie and the frustration of setting a trap with feta cheese only to have it snap and spray the cheese down my shirt.

Killing the mouse wasn't a big deal. I'd already killed one a couple of days before, just like I promised I would in this post. Little Bunny Foo Foo got nothing on me.

Killing the chicken was a bigger job, and sadder because it was one of Chicken Grrrl's hens. It had been attacked by a big dog that somehow got into their fenced yard. Killing it was a merciful act.

Tonight neither story seems funny, interesting or appropriate to tell. I'm weary of death, and stunned by how easy it is for life to slip away.

I spent the evening at a memorial service for a 34-year-old man who committed suicide last week. I've known his family for over two decades, and I can't imagine ..... I just can't imagine.  I don't want to imagine such a thing. All I want to do is get my kids over here and cook them a big dinner and hold on to them as tight as I can. As if I could prevent anything like this from ever happening to them just by loving them enough.

But that would imply that somehow suicide could be prevented by cooking big dinners and loving enough, and that just isn't true. This young man's family loved and supported him as much as any family could. He was cherished by many people -- friends, family, the kids he mentored. He was loved. And he was a computer whiz, a fine musician, an athlete. His smile lit up a room. Everybody liked him. I know I did.  He was practically perfect. And he had medical care too.

I'm not going to tell his whole story here, because it's not really mine to tell. But I do want to say something about the possible reason for his infrequent, but debilitating, bouts of depression.

Because the first question most people ask when such a bright, talented, well loved person commits suicide is why? Why would someone like him do something like this -- to himself, to his family, to his friends, to the people who found his broken body? This is not something he would do. He wasn't that kind of person.

And yet he did.

Nobody can really know why, but one possible answer is that his depression was a result of his difficult birth. He almost died during the first couple of days of his life because his birth was so traumatic. And there's a strong possibility that the trauma of being born set him up for the depressions that plagued him until he just couldn't take the pain any more. His doctors warned his parents about the possibility of depression 34 years ago after his birth. And they were right.

A few weeks ago I was doing some freelance work for an internationally known lactation consultant. If there's anything about birth and breastfeeding she doesn't know, it hasn't been discovered. She's written several textbooks on such topics.

She told me that one body of research shows a correlation between how a person commits suicide and the type of trauma he or she suffered at birth. For example, someone  who suffered forceps trauma during birth would be more likely to choose a mechanical method for suicide. Someone who experienced cord strangulation might be more likely to choose suffocation.

That's not to say people who suffer birth traumas are more likely to commit suicide. The correlation was found among people who had already committed suicide, and it can't be used as a predictor of who will commit suicide. Lots of people who suffer from depression don't commit suicide, so even if birth trauma can predict depression, it doesn't necessarily lead to suicide.

What those studies do show though is that we humans are tough, resilient and sometimes we survive tremendous odds. And we're also so fragile. So very very fragile. From the time we leave our mothers' vaginae, we are all terribly complicated and tenuous survivors of conception.

Tonight a young man's father stood before more than 400 people, played his guitar and sang three heartbreaking songs in honor of his son. In honor of the many times they sang together, their voices blending in harmony that only comes from a bond that close. I don't know how he did it. His usually booming voice was quieter than I've ever heard it, but it didn't break. Not really. He sang every word. I don't think I would even have been on my feet.

But we are resilient creatures, and he sang his love for his son. He sang for his son in appreciation of the years of joy his son had given him. He sang because sometimes just singing a song, just putting one chord in front of another, is what keeps us on our feet.

I'm not trying to answer the question everybody asks -- why? -- because I don't really know. Nobody knows. There are things we must not be meant to understand. The bottom line is that a much loved young man decided he couldn't stand to live another day.

I wish so very much he had been able to live just one more minute, and then another. But I can't judge how much pain another person can bear. I can't judge why. That's a question each of us can only answer for ourselves.


  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome. I wish I'd just been able to write about mice and chickens.

  2. Thank you, Carol, for writing about this. It helps, somehow, to hear you talk about it. One of the gifts that writers give us. With love, Sherry

    1. You're welcome, Sherry. Love you too.