Saturday, May 29, 2010

Vita Brevis

He was tall, blond, stunningly good-looking. An ex student of a famous and expensive school, he was studying the combined degree of arts- law. My self-estimation rose when I knew him well enough to have a fleeting chat: I would never have dared aspire to more.
Then he deliberately shot and killed himself.
For the first time I recognised that there could be a vast difference between outward appearance and internal life, although I was a master of this myself...who isn't, at 19?
For the next x years, a suicide brought on - I saw this in others, as well as myself - the thoughts of what could I have done: why was I so blind: if I had only, etc etc. even of people known only peripherally.
But David died around 1960. In the early 1990s here, suicides became so frequent - several mothers, but mainly teenagers - that one didn't question them, or wonder, and their peers normalised and minimised it as "he topped himself". "Topping"? Why that word? The old Vietnam -era word of "wasting" seems more appropriate to me, about these sad children.

David's suicide made headlines on page 3 of national newspapers. Was youth suicide then so rare? Later, it became encoded in the death notices. "18 years old. Died of natural causes." Ah. Despair. A natural cause of death. RIP babes.


Elisabeth said...

Frances, this is such a sad tale and so horribly true. Suicide can feel a bit like an epidemic these days.

Frances said...

Thankyou, Elisabeth.
yes, these sad sad things happen, and the world keeps on turning.
I'm out of the loop now, and had hoped that the epidemic had passed.

Relatively Retiring said...

This is so sad to read, and the sort-of reason why I have been privileged to give a lot of time to Samaritans. Young men are the greatest and saddest victims of suicide. It leaves their friends and family totally bereft

Charlie said...

I cannot even begin to comprehend a despair so deep that it causes an act that takes great courage (although it is called "selfish" and "cowardly").

Perhaps we could use another euphemism so popular with the military: "collateral damage" caused by a selfish and cowardly society.

Susannah said...

Tragic. I think one reason why suicide isn't more publicised is because of copycat suicides. Other people reading the newspaper thinking, well if he didn't think he was good enough but is obviously so much better than me, then I really don't have anything to live for.
Very sad story.

Frances said...

Relatively Retiring: I know that you are not inviting such a comment, but I must say how much I admire people who give of themselves via such as the Samaritans.

Frances said...

Charlie, there has always seemed to me to be an inherent paradox: but, I think, to paraphrase Gerard Manley Hopkins..hold it lightly if you've never been there.

Frances said...

Hi Susannah. How nice to see you here.

Penny said...

There were as many suicides back then as now. It was once an offence and on the statute books to attempt to kill yourself, and so coroners would return a verdict of accidental death to avoid distressing the family further, as it was regarded as shameful by many. So the few suicides that were recorded as such did indeed make the newspapers.

I can empathise when you ask if you could have done something, if you had only known. And I think the answer is: you couldn't possibly have known. People who are contemplating their own death usually hide this so effectively that their own families are not aware anything is wrong.

Frances said...

You know, Penny, I understand that what you are saying is the prevailing wisdom, but I suspect that is a canard to fool us.

David's death was reported a day after the event, well before the coroner had his say.
Occasionally, young people were killed in traffic accidents or such: but, generally, young people did not die.
Not from suicide, or from anything else except disease.
It would be a good area for study: to see the difference between my perception and the reality.