Omissions

By Payne, Diane | The Humanist, May-June 1997 | Go to article overview

Omissions


Payne, Diane, The Humanist


A few months ago, I wrote my first obituary. It was for my friend Jeff, and I omitted how he had died. I could have written anything, but I simply wrote that Jeff was forty four, loved birds and travel, and I claimed that he cared deeply about life. Now I regret what I didn't write.

Before Jeff died, I never bothered reading obituaries. Afterward, I found myself morbidly scanning them, searching for clues about death. Recently, I came across an honest obituary in which someone wrote about a person who had killed himself because of the horrific mental anguish he had been experiencing on a daily basis. I read this over and over, marveling at the courage it took to admit that this man had killed himself and then to publicly acknowledge the reason why he had ended his life.

For at least twenty years, Jeff had thought about killing himself and suffered from a debilitating depression. But I did not recognize the extent of his depression until he was gone. As his friend for the last six years, I witnessed Jeff's gloomy outlook on life, listened to him talk about how worthless he felt. Yet I also saw him plan trips to various countries with great detail and enthusiasm. So when I wrote his obituary, I wasn't really sure whether he cared deeply about life. Still, I added the line to ease my pain. I like to believe he wanted a more peaceful life, a life free from depression.

I feel somewhat like a cheat to have read Jeff's journals, but I believe he would have destroyed them before he killed himself if he hadn't wanted them found. He was methodical with his suicide; the journals were not left behind accidentally. In them I discovered that he had contemplated killing himself while diving in Belize, birding in South America, and walking in the foothills across the street from my house after visiting for dinner. He wrote that the depression he called his "beast" followed him abroad and at home, never leaving him alone.

Since Jeff's death, I have told many people about his suicide. To my surprise, there have been many suicide stories revealed in return--stories I probably never would have heard had I not admitted my anguish. These people revealed that, like me, they still waver between feeling grief-stricken and guilt-infested.

If Jeff's obituary had stated that he had killed himself, some suicide survivors may have felt comfort by knowing they weren't alone. Others contemplating suicide may have decided to seek help, knowing they could actually end up dead. Or at the very least, someone may have read it and wondered why someone so young and apparently healthy would kill himself. A discussion may have surfaced, a discussion about a topic that is usually avoided. …

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