Suicide: My Thoughts on One Case
By: Beth McHugh 2007
In Suicide: Is It a Selfish Act? I talked about the varied reactions of people to the phenomenon of suicide. Today I want to talk about a recent example of a typical reaction to suicide, one that I experienced just prior to Christmas, that season of love, family, and pronounced spikes in the annual rate of suicide.
The woman in question who took her own life left no note, so the family had no concrete explanation for why she decided to take her own life. Naturally they were upset. I did not know the woman involved but I knew one of her friends.
This particular friend was extremely angry at the woman who suicided. This is a natural way of coping with the enormity of the situation. Yet the level of verbal violence by others regarding the deceased was incomprehensible. And, of course, out came the “S” word. Selfish.
As I mentioned in Suicide: Is It a Selfish Act? the deceased is commonly regarded as being selfish in taking their own life. I also mentioned that I once naively believed that sentiment myself. I didn’t really give it much thought back then. In fact, that was the trouble.
But getting back to the recent suicide, I was appalled to hear that some family members declined to attend the funeral because they were so angry with the deceased. This rang a few alarm bells for me, the first being: Where are their feelings for the deceased’s grieving family? Do they not wish to show support for these unfortunate folk? Are they so wrapped up in their own needs that they cannot put them aside to assist the grieving spouse and offspring who, by definition, must surely be the most affected by the death?
The number of people who claimed that the deceased was selfish was also sad. Now that I have had the experience of working with distressed people, I understand completely why people commit suicide and it has nothing to do with selfishness. In fact, it is those who cry “Selfish!” who are, in fact, the selfish ones. They are too caught up in their own pain to even begin to see the pain the deceased must inevitably have experienced.
We all possess an incredibly intense drive to live. We are born with it, it is instinctive and originates in the hindbrain, or oldest part of our brain. All life forms possess this “will to live.” When a person completes an act of suicide, they have exhausted all their personal resources, have no hope, have no effective support system. It takes a lot to drive a person to end their own life. No one would voluntarily choose it if there were some other way of dealing with the dilemma they find themselves in.
To go on punishing the person after death by calling them selfish should be seen for what it is. It’s about the speaker, not the deceased. And in this particular case to which I refer, I found it interesting that some people condemned the woman so much that they refused to attend the funeral or assist her family. With friends and relatives like that, it's no wonder she felt so alone and desperate. They wouldn’t help her in life and they continued to judge her in death.
My heart goes out to that lonely lady who could not endure the pain
a minute longer.