Memories and regrets


Paul Tirmenstein and John Marthaler
in 1984, two years to the month
before Pauls' death

A lot of high-rise apartments (if you can call five stories a high-rise) are going up downtown, and as I walked past some of them today, I looked to see if the barber shop that Oscar went to was still there. It was, the whole thing containing no more than 200 square feet and looking out of place among all those apartments, but still standing and still in business. Oscar was in his eighties when we met but was still attractive in a benevolent, dignified, and intelligent-looking sort of way, especially when he wore a three-piece suit, which he usually did (I never saw Oscar but what he was dressed-up).

The day I took him to the barbershop, he said that his doctor had told him that he had a heart problem which would kill him without surgery, but that he was too old to survive the surgery. Oscar said this with a look of horror that made it clear that he wasn’t taking the news at all well. I had seen a lot of death by then—I was nearly 50 and had often worked around the dying as well as the dead—but I didn’t get it like I do now that the actuarial tables are predicting my own demise in a mere 16 years—which is about how long ago Oscar died, yet it seems like Oscar died just a little while ago. At the time I knew Oscar, I realized that anyone except for myself could die at any time, and I rather assumed that if a person was old when the time came, he wouldn’t mind it so much. Oscar clearly minded it, and I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. He died about a month later, and I still feel badly that I didn’t at least have enough brains to encourage him to talk about his feelings. I also wonder how a Christian could have been so afraid of death unless he didn’t really believe.

Thinking of Oscar made me think of Paul, maybe because he was Oscar’s age when he died, and because I had also talked with him about his death without being as supportive as I would have liked. Paul wasn’t much like Oscar except that he often wore a suit, although the only suit he owned had been crap when he bought it and hadn’t improved over the decades, plus Paul was the kind of old man who, every time he eats, ends up with crumbs on his face. It didn’t help his appearance any that he also had piercings in more places than I cared to look, this in rural Mississippi during the early 80s when the only piercings were in women’s ears, and then no more than one per ear. On the plus side, Paul was smart, thoughtful, and well-spoken. He collected Japanese fans, painted beautifully, made jewelry, had been a refrigeration engineer, and singlehandedly built the house in which he, his wife, and his daughter had lived (his wife being dead and his daughter living in another town when I knew him).

Other than myself, I only knew two atheists in the entire state of Mississippi, and they were a long way from my house, but I still saw them a few times a year. Paul was one, and John was the other, and since part of my name is Thomas, I called us the three apostles, much to their delight. Each of the other two was as eccentric as a village atheist is supposed to be and then some. For instance, they both had ten or more (far more in John’s case) atheistic bumper stickers on their cars. Also, John must have weighed 400 pounds (I know he doesn't look it in the picture), and this made his old Corolla lean heavily toward the drivers side. He wrote one or more letters to newspapers everyday, and carried them around to show people. Along with his piercings, Paul had a poster on an inside wall that was four feet from, and facing, his front door. It depicted Michelangelo’s god raping Uncle Sam under the caption, “One Nation Under God.”  Since no one could meet Paul (or John either for that matter) without being struck by how polite and soft-spoken he was, I finally asked him why he had that obnoxious poster and all those bumper stickers, and he just told me that some things needed to be said.

Because he knew I smoked pot, Paul phoned one day and said that he wanted to commit suicide because he couldn’t take care of himself much longer, and could I get him some drugs to do it with. Getting busted for drugs in Mississippi back then was no joke because even a couple of joints could land a person in Parchman Penitentiary for years. Still, I would have tried to have gotten them if he hadn’t called me on the phone, but I was just paranoid enough to think that the DEA might be listening in, so I said no. What I did do was to invite him to come live with Peggy and me. I meant it, and I had no doubt but what Peggy would have welcomed him, because that’s just how Peggy is. He turned me down because he didn’t consider a dependent life to be a life worth living, and because he wanted his money to go to American Atheists rather than to “be wasted keeping an old man alive.” A few months later, Paul was busy running a hose from his car exhaust into his car when a neighbor saw him, and called the cops. The cops took him to jail and called his daughter. His daughter, who was a born-again Christian, got him released and stayed with him for awhile. The day she left, he got in his car and killed himself. I admired him for that and for donating his body to the Ole Miss Medical School. If nothing else kills me first, I too will die a suicide. I’m afraid of death, and I hope to live for years yet, but, like Paul, I’m not willing to live at any cost and in any amount of misery.

I guess it must have been 20 or 30 years ago that I read in the newspaper about an elderly couple who lived in Florida. The wife being hopelessly sick, they got their affairs in order—including making their bed and washing their dishes—after which they wrote suicide notes, and then drove to a rural area where the man shot her and then himself. I think it’s a poor excuse for a country in which people who are old and sick and ready to die have to do that kind of thing, and I admire the hell out that couple, the man especially, for having the guts to do it. I’ve pondered that news article scores of times over the years, always with sadness that they had to die without support, and with regret that I refused to support Paul in his wish to die. Every time I remember that Florida couple, I ask myself all over again if I could do as the man did if I had no better option, and the answer is always yes. I might try to make things a little easier by taking a few pills or having a few drinks first, but if Peggy and I were to ever agree that it was our time to die, I could make it happen. I’ve always been that way, and I live with unending grief over something I once did because of it, yet I acted out of the best that was within me. I can look back on many failures in my life, but when it comes to matters of life and death, I’ve always been able to do what needed to be done with the exception of helping Paul, and his death has only increased my resolve to never fail again.

30 comments:

The Blog Fodder said...

Hard to get a pistol in Canada but a hose, duct tape and a car is easy enough if you really want to, I suppose. I hope I go fast. Dead doesn't bother my but dying sure does.

Snowbrush said...

"Hard to get a pistol in Canada"

What, are you too short to use a long gun? You can always depress the trigger with a stick. Of course, you might leave a messy corpse, and, for some reason, I want to leave a nice-looking corpse.

"Dead doesn't bother me but dying sure does."

I've heard of heroin killing people so fast that they die with the needles still in their arms, and I think, wow, I hope that when my time comes, I will know someone who can get me some heroin.

Elephant's Child said...

When life becomes an existence and no more, with no hope of improvement, I plan on leaving too. And hopefully will be able to take myself out. It is a decision I will reach on my own and an action I hope to be able to take on my own as well.
And Paul did find a way. Perhaps not as soon as he would have liked, but no less finally.

Snowbrush said...

"And Paul did find a way."

Yes, but when I smell car exhaust, I gag, choke, cough, and feel desperate for clean air, so I can but think it's a miserable way to go for however many minutes it takes to pass out. Here in the States, there are groups that advise people on how best to take their own lives, but I don't know if they existed back in '84, or how much difference it would have made to Paul if they did, the best way being drugs, and them not always easy to get.

Elephant's Child said...

One of my friends has decided that suffocating herself is her 'best' way. And practises. Puts a plastic bag over her head and practises no panicking...
A friend's father took that car exhaust route a little while ago. And ensured as much comfort as he could by taking sleeping tablets and pain killers first. A belt and braces approach.

Strayer said...

I thought wild hemlock produced a painful death, but then I read about it a couple of days ago, after a discussion on another blog, (about the horror of ending up in a nursing home). It's not such a bad death, just blocks the nerves from transmitting. That is easy to acquire in these parts, wild hemlock that is. I'm going to relocate some to my backyard, there should I ever need it. It's having a stroke I think about, that doesn't kill, but leaves you unable to do anything for yourself. Then what, you have no say in your fate.

Stephen Hayes said...

I'm a firm believer that people shouldn't be forced to live longer than they want to. Isn't this supposed to be a free country? If I get sick and can't deal with the pain, no law is going to prevent me from Doing what I feel is right for me.

kylie said...

i was about to say your corpse would look mighty fine but corpses dont ever look fine, having lost the essence of the person.

have you seen those pictures of corpses posed for photos at the funeral? bizarre

dont go before i meet you, snow
xx

PhilipH said...

An honest, reasoned and highly intelligent article Snowy.

Life goes on; unfortunately it goes on a heck of a lot longer than ever before in the developed world.

What's the bloody point of it? We all get weaker physically and millions get sicker as they get older. Life becomes a 'guinea pig' existence, trying different and often harmful drugs just to ease pain (especially in your case) or to alleviate the symptoms of an illness or to further lengthen an already long life.

We should ALL have the right call 'time' on our earthly existence. A 'pill in the pocket' to die quickly and peacefully as and when we wish. It is OUR life and it is WE who should be able to quit peacefully and with certainty when so desired.

In the UK people with no hope of a decent existence can pay to go to Switzerland to have a private death within the law.

But the law, politicians and the bloody religious fraternity are all against this basic freedom.

As Mr. Micawber said: "If that's the law, Sir, then the law is a ASS". How right he was.

Charles Gramlich said...

Being that I'm in higher education I would say I probably know about as many atheists as I do religious folks. I generally interact a lot more with atheists on a daily basis than I do believers. My wife, who works at the library has the opposite experience by a good amount.

Snowbrush said...

"One of my friends has decided that suffocating herself is her 'best' way. And practises. Puts a plastic bag over her head and practises no panicking..."

I don't know that not panicking is even possible when you're suffocating. If Australia doesn't have resources for ways to kill oneself, America sure does. I haven't read but one of them, and that was long ago, but hopefully she could find a better way than suffocation.

"And ensured as much comfort as he could by taking sleeping tablets and pain killers first."

I would worry that I would vomit. I've often heard of people accidentally dying of carbon monoxide, so maybe if you set things up where you were only breathing a small amount over a long period of time, you could escape the gagging.

"I thought wild hemlock produced a painful death..."

Strayer, there are two different kinds here. One is called water hemlock and the other poison hemlock. Poison hemlock is what Socrates drank, and his death was painless (I refer you to Plato's eyewitness account). Water hemlock is a whole other animal, but even with poison hemlock, I would want to do all the research I could to be sure I had the right plant, knew much to take, how to prepare it correctly, and so on. I would also want a backup (maybe a gun) in case things didn't go as planned. Of course, then I would have to hope I would be able to use the gun if I was in distress...I wonder how Heaven's Gate killed themselves...Maybe barbiturates are easier to get in Mexico, barbiturates being what you're prescribed under Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.

"If I get sick and can't deal with the pain, no law is going to prevent me from Doing what I feel is right for me."

No, but (1) you will have to do it alone, and (2) you might not be able to do it in a bloodless, painless and dignified manner, (3) if you have a disease that will eventually render you physically or mentally incapable of doing it, you will have to do it before you are ready, and (4) it might not be you, it might your wife who wants to die but is unable to kill herself, so then what do you do? You and I live in one of only two states--last I heard--that has legal assisted suicide, but you still have to be able to take the pills yourself.

"have you seen those pictures of corpses posed for photos at the funeral?"

When cameras were new, it was commonplace here in America. I took a photo of my mother in her coffin, but I had just as soon burn it as to look at it, so the next time I see it, I probably will burn it. She just looks like a wax effigy.

Here, the retirement age keeps going up as longevity increases. The problem is that people's ability to work those extra years isn't increasing at the same pace, especially when it comes to jobs that are hard of the body. I've heard of late that American longevity is showing signs of decreasing because we're getting so fat and sedentary that we're dying of diseases related to obesity and a lack of exercise.

"In the UK people with no hope of a decent existence can pay to go to Switzerland to have a private death within the law."

I know, but a person must be able to afford the trip and be in good enough shape to make the trip, which means that UK law works against the poor and against those with injuries or diseases that either make the trip impossible, or force the sufferer to go to Switzerland before he or she really needs to go. I'm sure you'll agree that people with ALS, Alzheimer's, and so forth, need the legal authority to arrange their deaths by the hands of others. As with the old couple in Florida, would the man have killed himself if he hadn't been facing prosecution for murder if he remained alive? It's certainly possible.

Snowbrush said...

"Being that I'm in higher education I would say I probably know about as many atheists as I do religious folks."

And you're at a Catholic college (I think you said it's Catholic) in south Louisiana. I can but think of your college as an enclave where people are free to express thoughts that they wouldn't dare express if they worked as a public school teacher, or even a car mechanic, in the same town.

Winifred said...

Crumbs I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this Snowbrush!

Living to a ripe old age is fantastic but only if you're in sound health in mind & body. It's so depressing isn't it when you know people who are not & as time creeps on you start to think about it happening to you.

As one of life's great procrastinators I'm putting off thinking about it til another day!

Joe Pereira said...

Euphanasia should be available to all who wish to die with dignity, as it is in Holland, Belgium and Austria. It's ironic how some nations find the necessary chemicals to execute criminals and put to sleep lame animals but don't offer the same service to those people who, through lack of quality of life, wish to die. Good thought-provoking post Snow

Practical Parsimony said...

I would hope to die of old age. But, if that means suffering indignities and ill care, over-medication, bed sores and poor food, death does not seem so bad. The valium can put me in such a state that maybe I could stand gas fumes. We will see.

Using a gun in my house would be just wrong, maybe in the car.

Even if the old man would not have been prosecuted, he probably would not have wanted to live alone. He would not have wanted to live, knowing what he had done, and remembering his wife as he last saw her. That alone would have killed him sooner.

Snowbrush said...

"As one of life's great procrastinators I'm putting off thinking about it til another day!"

You can afford to, I suppose, where you live. Here in the US, it's good to plan ahead because if you need institutional care, you have to pay for it yourself if you don't have insurance (unless, or until, you're destitute in which case you are sent a place you wouldn't really want to go). The problem is that the insurance is so expensive (it can run into hundreds of dollars a month depending upon your age) that few people can afford it, at least without seriously affecting their enjoyment of life now in order to be taken care of when they're too frail and sickly to enjoy life.

"It's ironic how some nations find the necessary chemicals to execute criminals and put to sleep lame animals but don't offer the same service to those people"

Executions are usually done in places where religion has significant influence, as in the American South. Of course, they also occur in North Korea and China, but secular nations in general don't execute people. It's one of the ironies of religion. Did you hear about the U.S. execution this week during which the prisoner didn't die? http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/30/us/oklahoma-botched-execution/

"The valium can put me in such a state that maybe I could stand gas fumes. We will see."

When I read your comment, I looked up Valium to see if it wouldn't kill you by itself, and what I found was that it can, but that it usually doesn't.

"Using a gun in my house would be just wrong, maybe in the car."

I would vote against using a gun in a car, and I'm also opposed to using a shotgun anywhere. A local man shot himself on the lawn of a funeral home, and I've wondered about maybe dying outside a hospital with an organ donor sign pinned to one's chest.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I do think that the lack of euthanasia in this country and the world is inhumane and a travesty! What can't we do for people what we provide for the animals we love.

My beloved dog Maggie was in so much pain and it was a gift to know she simply would not hurt any more. My childhood friend's dad killed himself when we were 19. Before he did, he told his wife, "You don't know what it's like to hurt everywhere. Hell! Even my hair hurts!" I feel so sad that he had to die alone on the side of a Mississippi highway. I ache knowing his sons had to go down to that road with buckets of water and sponges to clean up his brains. Why??? Why wasn't there some other way? Why couldn't he receive the same gift of dying without pain, with loved ones and dignity that I gave my dog?

Even though his family was all VERY Catholic (he was more of a God is in Nature type... and I realize just now, writing this that maybe he was the leader of MY church...that he is the reason I'm so comfortable walking in the woods alone and find such peace there.) The family was able to reconcile his death their own minds not see it as some sin that cast him in to a Purgatory.

As someone who does believe, I'm not afraid of dying...I'm just afraid of PAIN! (I know, I'm a wimp!)

lotta joy said...

I've written, and deleted, my comment so many times I've grown tired with the telling.

I just don't want to say too much and get "nailed" due to making my precise plans known and published.

My dad used to tell me: "If you get the chance to live to a ripe old age, don't." I now understand and agree.

I don't fear becoming non-existent. And if I did, what good would that do. I fear the pain, the lack of dignity, and doubly fear the possibility of ending up in a situation where my demise is taken out of my hands.

Like you said, knowing the outcome of a particular disease means the person has to take charge of their death before it becomes a finality in their mind. Pain and loss of dignity is a great motivator, and we have to hope our exit can be painless, SUCCESSFUL, and WITH some dignity.

If I outlive my husband, the hardest part for me will be to take my dog out first. I'd not want him to end up in the pound or abused, and he is too tightly bonded with me to fare well in my absence.

My prior husband was emotionally abusive (as you're aware) and he once told me to "go out into the yard and blow your brains out so you don't mess up the house" In hindsight, it was good advice. Women want to die "neatly" so as not to leave a mess for someone else to clean up.

But honestly, having a precise plan in place and knowing I CAN do it, gives me peace.

Snowbrush said...

"If I outlive my husband, the hardest part for me will be to take my dog out first."

Would it be easier if you had a vet do it?

"Pain and loss of dignity is a great motivator, and we have to hope our exit can be painless, SUCCESSFUL, and WITH some dignity."

As is money. If I had a disease that was going to kill me a little more everyday for months or even years until I finally ended up in a nursing home, only to at long last die and leave Peggy destitute, I wouldn't want to keep going, and I think she would give me her blessing not to. If she had such a disease, and it was her choice to live as long as possible, I would respect that. Her decision doesn't have to be the same as mine, but I would very much want, as you put it an exit that was "painless, SUCCESSFUL, and WITH some dignity," and that wouldn't be likely to be the outcome with a degenerative disease.

"having a precise plan in place and knowing I CAN do it, gives me peace."

People who get lethal prescriptions (barbiturates) under Oregon's assisted suicide law say the same thing. Once they have the drug, they can continue for however long--or short--a period they choose, but they talk of the peace that comes with knowing they have a painless and dignified way out when they no longer want to continue living. Also, since there's no legal problem, their loved ones can be at their side without wondering if they will go to jail once the person dies.

Snowbrush said...

"having a precise plan in place and knowing I CAN do it, gives me peace."

One more thing. When Peggy worked in ICU, a woman was brought in unconscious after having tried to kill herself with pills. When she finally woke up some time later, Peggy was standing over her, and the woman said angrily, "Why did you save me?" Well, of course Peggy had no choice in the matter. So, dear Lotta, I hope you live another 50 years, at least, but if your time should come, just be quadruply sure you have a plan that will work. I recall that when Meriwether Lewis killed himself, he used two guns, one for his heart, and one for his head. It wasn't an attempt that was likely to leave him alive, and it didn't. By contrast, I know a woman who shot herself twice on separate occasions. The first time, she survived with punctured lung, and the second time, she was left a quadriplegic. I hate to bring up things so gruesome, and I certainly hope you don't have to resort to a gun (painless though they can be), but I've seen too many attempts with guns and pills that looked good in theory, only to fail in practice. For instance, 70 mgs of oxycodone is supposed to be enough to kill a person who isn't used to the drug, but I know of a dog that survived more than that, and he wasn't even a big dog, so I would be wary of anything less than an enormous overdose if I were to use pills. Okay, enough of this. It's getting me down.

Paula Kaye said...

I think that I have told you before that I am the surviving daughter of a father who committed suicide when I was only 7 years old. I think people have the right to die as they please but I can't help but think that it is the most selfish act of mankind. I have never gotten over that devastation that he left behind....Just my opinion

Snowbrush said...

" I think people have the right to die as they please but I can't help but think that it is the most selfish act of mankind."

If you would deny death to anyone in any circumstances, perhaps, you are the one being selfish. All suicides are not the same, and I would agree with you regarding most of them, but to say that someone who has nothing to look forward to but a miserable death from a debilitating disease MUST continue to live to the bitter end isn't a loving position. In the case of my friend, Paul, he might have lived in relative comfort and a fairly high level of functioning for some years, and I wish he had, yet I don't view the voluntary death of an 85 year old man who is no longer able to do the things he loves as equal to the suicide of a 17-year-old who killed himself because parents wouldn't let him perform in the school play (I knew of such a person). The latter is unquestionably a tragedy, and the former is in what I would consider a gray area, but even so, I wouldn't deny Paul his death, whereas I would lock the 17-old in a padded cell if that's it took to keep him alive.

Paula Kaye said...

While I do agree with that I do believe in medicating and the use of Hospice...not the same a suicide...more like maybe assisted suicide. I can assure you that I was NOT the selfish one when my father took his life and left my mother to raise 5 children on her own. He was a selfish coward and I feel that way about most suicides. However when we are talking about long, painful debilitating disease, then I don't call it suicide...does that even make a bit of sense. There is a huge difference, to me, if someone just doesn't want to go on living for whatever reason and someone who is suffering from a disease that has not cure and leaves a person with no life quality.....

kj said...

Snow, what a thoughtful and fine piece of writing. I flowed effortlessly with you and these men with one exception:

'I also wonder how a Christian could have been so afraid of death unless he didn’t really believe'

You are so harsh and rigid with your lines and beliefs about what it means to be a Christian. And I think obsessed. I never understand why.

Okay, with that off my chest (it bugs me, snow ) I'm pretty certain JB and I will choose as you will, if needed. It's possible by the time we are ready to die the laws will be less restrictive and more supportive: probable,even.

Ps I thought I met you last weekend. I met a man I so easily thought to be you. It was a good meeting.

Love
kj

Elephant's Child said...

I have been brooding about this on and off all day. While the impact of suicide can feel selfish I am not certain that the intent is there. And am certainly convinced that it isn't always or even perhaps often done for purely selfish reasons. When I have been in dark spaces I certainly considered that everyone would be better off if I was no longer there to be a burden. If I had followed through with my plans I would have done so thinking that I, and the people I cared about would have been better off.

Practical Parsimony said...

I have heard that if you do live through the valium the devastating effects are not pretty.

Snowbrush said...

"However when we are talking about long, painful debilitating disease, then I don't call it suicide...does that even make a bit of sense."

Yes, but it makes it confusing to discuss the issue because there is only the one word no matter who's ending their life or why they're doing so.

"He was a selfish coward and I feel that way about most suicides."

I know nothing about your father except that he killed himself when you were young, and that you have been extremely angry and judgmental toward him for decades because of how you interpret his final act. I also know that I too am extremely cowardly and selfish at times, but that I can also be generous and brave. The difference is often determined by how hard I feel pushed. Sometimes, when I feel like I've been pushed into a corner, my desperation to get out of that corner is such that I suspect that, if my circumstances were a little different, I would be capable of murder or suicide if I thought it would get me out of that corner. It seems to me that you reduce your father's entire existence to one act, and even if it was as you believe it was, he was more than that. I watched a film (from a camera mounted on a bridge) of a man who jumped to his death. In the film, he walked to the edge repeatedly and then walked back repeatedly, obviously agitated. Finally, he turned, ran toward the edge, and jumped. Watching that film I couldn't help but think that things might have ended differently had just one person come along and reached out to him during those moments of hesitation. Of course, he might have killed himself anyway, whether then or later, but with all my heart, but I still wish that someone had been there because at least then, he might have had a chance. I wish for you--not for your father but for you--that you might find some good in him, no matter how little. Just as I'm stuck in regard to a God in whom I don't believe, you're stuck in regard to a father who no longer exists, and I know it's not good for either of us, and I wish we could both escape our prison.

Snowbrush said...

"You are so harsh and rigid with your lines and beliefs about what it means to be a Christian..."

The verse, "Oh death, where is your sting; oh grave, where is your victory?" strikes me as being the outlook that I would expect to find in a believer who is old, sickly, has no one who needs him, and believes that eternal paradise awaits him. Why would such a person not look forward to death, KJ? I can see why he might fear pain, gasping for air, and so forth, but why fear passing through the gate of death when nothing but more joy than any of us can even imagine is waiting on the other side?

"...And I think obsessed. I never understand why."

I think the difference between being seen as obsessed and being seen as committed is similar to the difference between being called a terrorist by some and a patriot by others. If you approve, it's the one; if you disapprove, it's the other. I'll tell you a secret--I don't even find Christianity interesting. It doesn't draw me; I'm not ambivalent about it; I don't respect its Scriptures; I don't find it to contain unique wisdom; and I think Christ behaved like an ass as often as a like a wise man. It's rather the idea of God with which I'm "obsessed" because without God, life is very, very short and completely devoid of any but the most fleeting of self-assigned meanings: if God exists, we matter; if God doesn't exist, our existence is a mixture of absurdity and tragedy.

"Ps I thought I met you last weekend. I met a man I so easily thought to be you. It was a good meeting."

Are you sure it was't me? I have thought that it might be fun to meet my blog friends without at first telling them who I was.

"When I have been in dark spaces I certainly considered that everyone would be better off if I was no longer there to be a burden."

Right. It is bad enough to suffer, but to see the result that our suffering has on our loved one's and not have a way to make it better for them is a nightmare, and it's easy to go from that realization to picturing all the ways they could be enjoying their lives if they were free of us. If our problem was temporary, it would be tolerable, but to think that it will only get worse pushes the limits of tolerability.

Paula Kaye said...

"I know nothing about your father except that he killed himself when you were young, and that you have been extremely angry and judgmental toward him for decades because of how you interpret his final act. I also know that I too am extremely cowardly and selfish at times, but that I can also be generous and brave. The difference is often determined by how hard I feel pushed. Sometimes, when I feel like I've been pushed into a corner, my desperation to get out of that corner is such that I suspect that, if my circumstances were a little different, I would be capable of murder or suicide if I thought it would get me out of that corner. It seems to me that you reduce your father's entire existence to one act, and even if it was as you believe it was, he was more than that. I watched a film (from a camera mounted on a bridge) of a man who jumped to his death. In the film, he walked to the edge repeatedly and then walked back repeatedly, obviously agitated. Finally, he turned, ran toward the edge, and jumped. Watching that film I couldn't help but think that things might have ended differently had just one person come along and reached out to him during those moments of hesitation. Of course, he might have killed himself anyway, whether then or later, but with all my heart, but I still wish that someone had been there because at least then, he might have had a chance. I wish for you--not for your father but for you--that you might find some good in him, no matter how little. Just as I'm stuck in regard to a God in whom I don't believe, you're stuck in regard to a father who no longer exists, and I know it's not good for either of us, and I wish we could both escape our prison."

This is what I love about your blog and therefor about you too, Snow! I was only 7 when my father died. It was in the 1950's and suicide was mostly a hushed up thing that wasn't talked about the way that it is today. But it was certainly talked about around most people's dinner tables. And little children listend. And those very little children made my life hell for me up until we moved from that small town. They liked to say such things as "Even your own dad didn't like you. He shot himself in the head to get away from you." And in the church that I was raised in (A Quaker church) we were told that our father was NOT in Heaven, but in hell because he had committed a sin when he killed himself. My own grandmother, who was a hateful old woman, told us that he did us a favor. So I was angry. But I was a daddy's girl so I didn't blame it on him, or hate him, or resent him at all for all those decades. I blamed it on MYSELF. That is what the people who are left behind do. They want to know why they were not good enough, loved enough, yada, yada, yada...that would make someone rather be dead. My father's autopsy showed that he would have not lived much longer due to the cirrhosis of his alcoholic liver. It would have been so much better for me, as a very young child, to have my father die...than it was to have him take that shotgun and blow his head off. I don't feel that I any longer hold any animosity against my father. I don't think that I ever did. It is too bad that I didn't blame him instead of myself. But I have no anger as you suggest. I just commented in the hopes that someone who is considering suicide might think about the people they are leaving behind and how the suicide will affect that person's life. I know that I could NEVER do such a selfish thing to my family. But I feel that people really do have to do, for themselves, what they find is necessary....I hope that you can someday escape your prison, as you call it...

All Consuming said...

I've read theist and the all the comments and I'm not adding my two penneth because I reckon it'll add to the general sad air that comes with the hard truth. Suffice to say I agree with The Elephants Child, Dana, and you and others when it comes to making sure (hopefully) I can send myself off successfully when/should the time come.
X