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Suicide

In April, we received word that an old friend had died 'unexpectedly.' This was a woman from church, but she attended the Evansville ward. We were in the same ward for nine years, and then after our return from a few  years in Bloomington, we would again see her from time to time passing in the halls or run into her and her grandchildren out in public. The last time I really talked to her was about a year ago, when I ran into her at a pizza/arcade with her family. Her name was Debbi. 

At the funeral, some of the comments seemed bizarre, even rude, to me. Afterwards David said, "I didn't realize she'd committed suicide." I hadn't either, apparently, even from the funeral, but in that light, the odd things people had said made more sense. (Still incredibly rude to stand at someone's funeral and say "Debbi wasn't perfect!" if you ask me.) Later, it was confirmed this was the cause of her death. When a mutual friend asked me what had happened, she followed it with, "I know she suffered from depression," like that summed it all up.

The disturbing part, aside from the tragic loss of life and knowing she felt so deeply despondent and alone that suicide made sense, is that in her eulogies people talked of her perfectionism, how she would mow her grass every other day and remove weeds instantly, how she swept her floors every single day to maintain a perfect home, how she never, ever said no to a service assignment at church. Good Lord, who wouldn't be depressed living with that kind of pressure of perfectionism? 

To be fair, I never knew Debbi outside of Mormonism. That was our common link. Even as a not-very-close friend, however, I know that she and her husband struggled when both of their daughters chose to leave the church. Their older daughter is only a few years younger than me, and I remember attending a baby shower for her when she wasn't yet married (gasp!) and it being mostly their non-Mormon extended family instead of church friends. Their younger daughter was in the church's young women program when I was one of the leaders, and many were the meetings when her perilous situation (not coming to church, or hating church, dating non-church boys, etc) was the topic of much discussion. As now a parent of a teenager, I can only imagine the pressure Debbi and her husband felt from their church family's "concern."

I do not know how much any of this affected her mental state, but I know from my own experience how it feels to be anything less than the ideal inside Mormonism. There is an outward statement that all are welcome, but in reality the pressure to conform yourself and your family to the ideal is intense. The ideal is, husband and wife, married in the temple, and all of their (many) children fully active, attending church each week, accepting callings and assignments willingly, keeping all the commandments and rules, and raising those children to marry in the temple, go to church schools, serve full time (18-24 month) church missions, and repeat the pattern in perpetuity. If any should happen to "fall off the covenant path," as the current jargon seems to go, leaders feel concerned and make a family a project - let's get that teenager to Wednesday night activities, let's get that dad a calling so he'll come to church, let's assign that mom a 'friend' to sit with her on Sundays and help with her unruly children. If you have spent much time at all in the church, you recognize these projects for what they are. 

With the suicide of designer Kate Spade this week (who admittedly I barely had heard of), there have been many op-ed pieces on the topic of suicide. Sometimes I think about my sister's death as a suicide. It wasn't a one-time event - though she did make a few attempts at that - but rather a long, drawn-out, slow-motion suicide. Every step that took her closer to her death was a conscious choice for her. She was smart and knew exactly where her decisions would lead her. I wonder how many deaths are attributed to different causes but in actuality are a slow suicide. 

I found a NY Times opinion piece about Kate Spade's death that said, "Some will inevitably blame Kate Spade for her decision or call it “selfish.” I don’t agree. It is very hard for those who haven’t suffered from serious depression to understand the hold it has on its victims — how it wipes out human connection, abnegating the claims of love or need, and the way suicide can begin to seem like an imperative, an escape rather than an ending." I remember feeling that way about people who committed suicide - how selfish, how thoughtless it was to those who loved them (and those would discovered them). I have had periods of moderate depression in my life, times when I felt hopeless, worthless, and frustrated, but not to the point where suicide entered in as a viable option out. Then, in July 2016, we lose our baby boy in the second trimester, and his death sent me on a downward spiral that I don't think anyone could have stopped. I was surrounded by love and support and encouragement, but the mental devastation of losing my baby, the physical trauma of having to birth his dead body and the emotional strain of burying that child, felt like an impossible thing to overcome. My doctors put me on antidepressants and antianxiety medications right away as a preventative, but it didn't matter. I think the 'nail in the coffin' for me was my maternal instincts to take care of my baby. I was far enough along that my body knew a baby had come out and some deep, primal part of my brain drove me to find that baby and take care of it, even though the logical, conscious part of my brain knew he was dead and did not need me to take care of him. You can't just turn that off. And so my arms ached to hold him and I fantasized about digging him up - not with shovels but with my bare arms - to open his casket and hold him. I read about women who learn their babies have died inside them, and they say they want the baby out as soon as possible, they can't bear the thought of having a dead baby in their womb. I was not that way. I would have carried him forever.  So to be unable to hold him, to take care of him, was impossible for me to overcome that feeling. When I was around other babies, I was angry and disgusted. They smelled and sounded wrong. I knew they were not my babies. There was no substitute to be found. It's no wonder then that about two months after losing Desmond, suicide became a very logical thing for me. I think that is what was so frightening (in hindsight) about the whole thing. I always thought people who committed suicide must have done so with tears streaming down their faces, sobbing, distraught and hopeless. I felt none of that. Yes, I cried a tremendous amount (and still cry a small amount), but not at that thought. The clarity of that thought made more sense than any other - if I could not bring my son back to me, I would go to him. Death is a one-way street and he had already gone down it. If I were dead, I would no longer feel this horrible, unrelenting ache, and I would be with him again. On some level I knew my parents, husband, and children would be upset, but this didn't factor in as much as my drive to be with my baby. People are resilient, I reasoned, people can get over anything. 

Obviously, I didn't do it. I didn't even attempt it. I didn't make any concrete plans to do it, either. It was just a thought that make perfect sense.

I told David about it. I told him I was so, so tired. I told him I didn't want to be alive anymore. He was frightened. He started checking on me all the time. I'm not sure what eventually brought me away from that thought. Maybe having hope in the life I was living now, and more patience for when I will see Desmond again. This was two months in, and the grief exhaustion was probably at its absolute maximum. This was also around the time we started trying to conceive again, and I think that gave me a reason to be hopeful. All I could think about was another baby. (It would take us 16 months to have another successful pregnancy.)

And so I no longer think suicide is selfish. I still think it's incredibly sad, and I feel just awful for the people left behind, but I understand why someone does it. I understand it's not done out of utter disregard for those who love you, but because it seems like the most logical, sensical choice to make at the time.

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