Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Death Comes When We Do Not Struggle Against It

on January 8, 2014

struggle“I’m sorry but I can’t take any more. My apologies to the world for being the awful person I am. I’m of no value to anyone any more. Even God doesn’t want me. Please make sure my dog goes to someone who will love him as much as I do.”

A friend, who I’ll call Rick, posted this message on Facebook yesterday at 11:30 am. I found it about 45 minutes later. By then, others had seen it and called the police. Friends called one another in dismay and fright. “Have you seen him? Have they found him?” The answer was no.

I spent most of the afternoon scouring parks near his house, because when I told Bryan about the post, he responded, “Rick has his dog with him. Muscle memory will kick in, and he’ll walk the dog in a familiar place. Let’s go search. Perhaps we can find him.”  It was as good a plan as any. It gave me something to do besides just sit and wait – because, to be honest, sitting and waiting was leading to crying and shaking.

Some of you know that I’ve been through this before. One terrible morning eleven years ago, I too called the police. They coaxed me away from my home, away from my despondent husband and his gun. They led me to a neighbor’s house where I waited…and waited…and waited through the long afternoon, until an officer knelt by my chair and gave me the news  no one ever wants to hear.

So yesterday we hiked in the rain and the cold. We searched three rustic parks and covered acres of ground. We didn’t find Rick, but someone else did. He’s alive and safe, and for that we’re overjoyed.

Why would an upbeat, intelligent, well-loved person try to take his life? It’s a question people are asking about Rick today. It’s a question many asked after my husband died.

I researched and wrote about suicide during my MFA studies. We read much about teen suicide, and many believe it’s a malaise of the young. But I found that, contrary to popular belief, young adults aren’t the largest population of suicides. They attempt in large numbers, but they do not succeed as often as the middle-aged. Suicide frequency actually reaches its peak between ages fifty-five and sixty-five.

Regardless of age, research shows that people don’t want to die. What they want is for pain to end. Suicide – death – is the final barricade between them and unbearable emotional agony. What triggers a suicide attempt? For instance, was the torment stronger yesterday for Rick? Did it press in on my late husband more cloyingly on October 3, 2002? Maybe, but maybe not. This sounds trite, but I what I found was that suicide results when a human fails to strive to remain living. Life continues because we work at it; death results when we do not. Whether we refuse food or wade into a river with rocks in our pockets, death comes when we do not struggle against it.

There’s a tired platitude that says God never gives us more than we can handle. Bullshit. I disagree. There have been many days when I’ve collapsed under the burden of worry, of grief, of all the stresses and strains that come with living in this human container. (By the by: I don’t believe God bestows pain and suffering upon us. She/He does not loom over us with a scoop, dumping burdens into our life like wrapped caramels into a plastic bag, watching us stretch and distort, seeing how much we can hold before we totally give way.) We are all sometimes pushed by life beyond the breaking point. We are all blown-out bags.

What makes the difference between those who continue to work at living and those who don’t? Two things: others and ourselves.

Over 150 people posted messages on Rick’s Facebook page yesterday. One-hundred-and-fifty people who were ready to drop everything and rush to his side. One-hundred-and-fifty friends, family, clients and even strangers who prayed and worried and loved. At my husband’s funeral, over five-hundred people attended. Five-hundred people, any one of whom would have dived head-first into the sludge pond by the Rickreall dairy to save Lee from drowning in his despair.

One of my favorite books is The Curse of Chalion by Margaret McMaster Bujold. In it Cazaril, the protagonist, asks a local saint why he was tapped on the shoulder to save the day. Why was Cazaril chosen by the gods? The local saint replies that Cazaril was not the only one chosen; a hundred may have been sent, but Cazaril was the only one who listened, who acted, who arrived. When I first read this passage, I thought, “Let me be one who arrives.” I determined then and there to be more deliberate about being open to nudges that cause us to act on behalf of another.

This passage came to mind as we searched for Rick yesterday. You see, he reached out to me via email more than a month ago. He didn’t tell me what was causing him pain, but he did tell me he was discouraged, and he asked for a word of encouragement. I was happy to talk,  happy that he had asked for help. After a few email exchanges, he indicated he was doing better. I checked in with him a couple more times. He didn’t seem despondent, but he didn’t seem like his usual self, either. Our last exchange was two weeks ago.

I failed him. I should have seen the signs. I should have pushed a little more and insisted on a face-to-face meeting. I should have kept more consistent correspondence, whether he responded or not. I, of all people, should have known better than to believe the social face of a person who’s admitted he’s in pain.

This was my self-talk, expressed tearfully to Bryan. “No. Just, no.” he said. “You reached out. You were a good friend. You are not responsible for another person’s actions. We cannot control what another person does.”

And that is the second thing that makes the difference between life and death: ourselves. We have to choose to shout out when our boat is being swamped. We have to choose grab the saving hand, to be drawn up from the depths. Sometimes, we have to choose to let others breathe for us when our lungs are still.

Bryan is right. I did reach out, both to my husband and to Rick. So did many others. My late husband did not choose to accept this help. Rick, thank goodness, did.

Struggle, my friend, struggle. May we all continue to struggle. May we all be blessed with one-hundred Cazaril’s, who listen and arrive.


One response to “Death Comes When We Do Not Struggle Against It

  1. af7s says:

    When you’re in the depths, you feel like you don’t deserve help, from yourself or anyone else, and you won’t reach out and grab the hand that’s extended. That’s why it’s so important for those extending the hand to be assertive, insistent and relentless. I was forced to get some help and it made all the difference

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