Is the time ever right for suicide?

dsdepression_550pxWhat does it say about American society that more middle-aged people now die of suicide than of car accidents?

While I wouldn’t say that suicide rates are soaring–the suicide rate for middle-age men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000, according to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—these numbers do represent a dramatic increase from previous norms.

For men in their 50s, suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent in the decade from 1999 to 2010. For women, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent during that decade.

A few weeks ago I was stunned to hear that an old friend of mine, a woman in her 50s, had committed suicide by hanging.

I have bad days too, when I just want to lay down my load and become a lily in the field.  We all do.  But to actually plan and execute a self-hanging?  That I find hard to fathom.

Apparently most men commit suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wounds, while women are more likely to take their lives through overdoses of prescription medication.

According to the CDC report, poisoning deaths were up 24 percent overall from 1999-2010, while hangings were up 81 percent.

Whenever I find myself feeling too despairing, I remind myself that I have to hang on at least until my two children are independent and self-sufficient.

The truth is that if you have children, there can never be a right time to commit suicide.

Your children are always going to be counting on you to be blazing the trail ahead, setting the example, holding the fort.

It would be terribly selfish of me to give up and take my own life.

I believe that people should have the right to make their own end-of-life decisions.  If I were diagnosed with a terminal disease, I would want the ability to dictate the circumstances of my death.

And it’s true that in some ways, we are all living with a death sentence.  All of us will die sooner or later—of that we can rest assured.

For some people—for instance, the hunger-strikers at Guantanamo—courage wears a suicidal face.

All in all, it’s what we do with this short, precious lifetime that matters.  What do we want to be remembered for?  What do we want to leave behind?

I want to be remembered as a woman who confronted the challenges of my individual life, and my zeitgeist, head on.  Who did not give up, ever.  Who looked on the bright side and tried to see the glass as half-full.  Who blazed a trail for those behind me to follow.

There are some desperately serious situations to which suicide is a rational response.  If I were to come to such an impasse, I hope I would have the courage to do the right thing.

But in the meantime, I will continue to embrace all the challenges life throws at me, and meet my own expectations for being a stalwart mother, daughter, sister, friend and teacher.  It’s the least–and the best–that I can do.

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  1. Gerry

     /  May 2, 2013

    I think there are times when suicide is justified, but I would be hard pressed to say when.

    If I ever were bedridden due to paralysis due to stroke (or something else?), I would want to have the option of ending my life. I don’t want to be a burden on others.

    I knew a woman who knew she was coming down with Alzheimer’s and wanted to die, and I thought she should have been allowed to.

    I am glad that Oregon and Washington have right to die laws.

    As for the hunger strikers, well, offhand the force feeding really offends me.

  2. leavergirl

     /  May 3, 2013

    When in doubt, choose life. 🙂

    I used to do the Tom Sawyer thing when I was young… fantasizing about suicide as revenge for the meanies in my life. After nearly dying a few years back, no way would I kill myself — none of us gets out of here alive, why rush?

  3. I feel that suicide is an individual option, and also much more than that. Those who choose to commit suicide do not have your or my take on life–and death. By the time they decide to kill themselves, they are in a very different mindset, one that unfortunately does not include worrying about who or what they are leaving behind. I do not think we can judge suicide from our non-suicidal place. As for the hunger strikers at Guantanamo, as with Bobby Sands and the other Irish Republicans so many years ago, I don’t think their act has anything to do with suicide in the conventional sense. They are using the only thing they have left, their bodies, to make a point they have been unable to make any other way in all these years of imprisonment without trial. In short, to me deciding to kill oneself because one is incurably ill and in pain, committing suicide out of some personal despair, and giving one’s life in a political action, are all very different expressions.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  May 3, 2013

      Agreed, Margaret–you are right, I was conflating these different forms of suicide a bit in this post. Undoubtedly, just as every human being is unique, the reasons we have for choosing to take our own lives are unique as well, and hard to generalize about.

      Short of coming down with a terminal illness, I hope I will never become so despairing that suicide would seem like the right choice for me.

  4. Jennifer,
    I have thought seriously about suicide as an option and have even discussed it with my adult children. It has never been because of depression or pain of any sort, I cared for my father with Alzheimer’s Disease for 5 years and I saw him lose everything that made him who he was (or at least that is how it appeared to those of us who knew and loved him.) He not only did not recognize us, he did not recognize himself. He was fearful, sad, isolated and really the complete opposite of the person he had been.
    I saw how it affected my mother and my older brother and I lived with a growing sadness each day as he lost another little piece of himself. I know that I do not want my husband and children to live with my long, slow loss of myself if I end up with Alzheimer’s. Not only, do I want to spare them, I want to spare myself that kind of life,
    The verdict among my 5 sons is mixed. Two support the idea, two are on the fence, and one is completely against it. My husband says it has to be my choice, he does not support it, nor does he condemn it.
    I don’t know if I would have the courage to actually go through with it. From what I know about Alzheimer’s I would have to make the choice early on during the course of the disease because if I waited I wouldn’t know what to do, or even that I had a plan.Could I make that choice early on, when we would all be hoping for some miraculous medical intervention to halt the disease’s progress? I don’t know.
    But I do know that I am strong and resilient. I know that I raised 5 sons as a single mom starting when the oldest was 14. I know that I never gave up when I was doing what I thought was best for them. I know that I am surrounded by a loving family of sons, daughter-in-laws, grandchildren and my second husband. I know i have friends who love and care about me. I know that every day I find reasons to smile and laugh, and usually, as I look at our weary planet, reasons to cry too. I know that I love to dance and to sing. My dancing is clumsy; my singing is off key, but I don’t care. I find great joy in life and I have a lifetime of memories. I think that I want to die when I still find joy in life, when I still know who I am, and before my family has to suffer the sorrow and burden of losing me in ways big and small day after day.
    That would be my final gift to myself and to my children.

  5. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

     /  May 14, 2013

    Jan, I have thought about this too. I remember being so shocked when Carolyn Heilbrun chose to end her life…but I was only in my 20s at the time and could not possibly understand her vantage point, which comes ever closer to me now. We hold on to life instinctively, like trees or squirrels. But we should be able to go as gracefully as they do, too. I have been quietly exploring the different avenues, scientific and spiritual, that have insight to offer about death and what comes next. It seems like for the dying one, death is a beautiful release. It’s the loved ones left behind who suffer. I don’t know if I would have the courage to take my own life in the face of advancing Alzheimers or another terminal and terrible disease like cancer. But I hope so.


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