Suicide is the great iconoclast. We have a certain view of a person and then that certain view becomes uncertain with the event of suicide, and the whole world seems to shake.
Right now the Kennedy family is having their world shaken… again.
Joseph (1888 – 1969) and Rose (1890 – 1995) Kennedy had nine children. Out of those nine children, Joseph Jr. died when his plane exploded during WWII; Katherine died in a commercial plane crash in 1948; John (JFK) was assassinated in 1963; Robert was assassinated in 1968; Rosemary, who was “mentally ill”, lived an incapacitated life due to a failed frontal lobotomy in 1941; Patricia died an alcoholic in 2006; Senator Edward “Ted” survived a plane crash and major car crash only to succumb to cancer.
Eunice – the founder of “The Special Olympics” – died a peaceful death. And Jean remains the only surviving 2nd generation Kennedy.
The untimely deaths of the Kennedy family have arguably been the most documented deaths of the TV era. First, there was JFK, whose death was recorded with cameras. Then there was the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald … the first murder to ever be recorded on live TV.
Robert’s death caused media frenzy and John Jr.’s plane crash in 1999 garnered the world’s attention.
And on May 16, 2012, Robert Jr.’s estranged wife Mary committed suicide.
Suicide through overdose, gunshot wound and carbon monoxide asphyxiation are considerably timid forms of suicide when compared with the way Mary killed herself.
Overdose, gunshot wounds and carbon monoxide are one step methods that sometimes result from impulsive moments of considerable darkness. But, hanging oneself. This is a whole different method of suicide.
In many ways, it is the most premeditated form of self murder. Unlike other methods, you must find the right place to hang yourself; you have to bring with you the appropriate rope; tie the rope tightly enough to hold your weight and either kick the chair out from under your feet, or pick up your feet off the floor. And yes, I’ve seen the suicides where the deceased opted against a chair and simply lifted their feet.
Suicide by hanging is a statement suicide. It’s a suicide meant for others. Suicide by overdose and gunshot is usually an “I just want to end it” method … not so with hanging.
Mary hung herself. She was making a statement.
In Mary’s case, it would seem that her suicide that was aimed at her husband and was a “this is what you did to me” statement. Her friends and family stated explicitly that her depression coincided with her husband’s marital unfaithfulness and calloused behavior.
Mary’s body was almost late to the funeral service as litigation between Mary’s estranged, but still legal husband and Mary’s siblings fought over custody. As is the law, Robert Jr. is the legal next of kin, even though estranged (he’s currently dating actress Cheryl Hines) and so had the right to do what he wished. And in his selfishness, he did as he wished. Apparently, his well documented egotism wasn’t affected by Mary’s final statement.
Some suicides are the result of mental illness. Others from pure selfishness. And yet others are the last cry for help. A cry that goes unanswered.
Friend, if you see signs in any of your family and friends, listen. And you may find that their hurts and pains are based on real and actual problems. Problems that might be caused by you.
Listen. It just might help save a life.
When Jay Cincotta was a young boy, his Uncle Anthony hung himself — but it was never spoken of. Suicide had a stigma in his Italian family and it was years before Jay even learned how his uncle died. Decades later, Jay’s younger brother, Tom, hung himself. In shock and grief, Jay reflected upon how he’d approach this sensitive topic with his own children, his cousins, his brother’s children and the rest of their friends and family in his eulogy for Tom.
This is the eulogy he delivered at his brother’s funeral:
Thank you all for being here today joining my family in celebrating the life of my little brother.
If it wasn’t for Tom, I wouldn’t be here today. You see even as a young boy, Tom was a passionate entrepreneur. Tom was building a candy empire, and in his effort to protect his inventory, he actually saved my life.
We used to have a spare refrigerator in our garage in New York, and being an imaginative eight year old boy with lots of curiosity and no apparent common sense, I locked myself inside it to see if I could get out.
I learned that the light turns off when you close the door. And you can’t get to the latch from the inside. It was pitch black, cramped, airtight and nearly soundproof. As I kicked and screamed, the air got hot and thin. Sweating, panting and crying, I realized I would die and wondered how long it might be before anyone found my body.
Suddenly, there was a burst of white light. I thought maybe it was heaven. I thought an angel had come for me as I fell to the floor gasping for breath and I heard a voice. But it wasn’t the voice of an angel. It was the voice of my brother, Tom, and the voice said, “Jay, were you eating my candy?”
Tom was always clever and inventive, particularly in the pursuit of hoarding and selling of candy. In middle school he once rigged up an oversized jacket with all these inside pockets where he could hide candy and open it wide in front of potential customers, like a guy with a coat full of cheap watches.
Tom was a great athlete. He could have been a pro bowler. I think he even bowled a perfect game of 300 one time. He ran track. He loved lacrosse and played varsity in high school.
When we shared a dorm room at the University of Maryland in College Park, Tom and some of the other jocks would play lacrosse in the long hall using toilet paper rolls instead of balls to bean unsuspecting nerds enroute to their dorm rooms. Like me.
And once, while recovering from a knee injury, he raced me across the quad. Even on crutches he could still outrun me.
As we got older, we both got married, we both had two kids, we both had good jobs, and for awhile it seemed that everything was going his way.
But then it didn’t. Tom became confused. He made mistakes. His life took a darker turn. My love for him never wavered, but our relationship became terribly strained and for years we hardly saw one another.
But recently there was hope. Tom reached out to me, my brother, Doug, and our parents expressing regret and remorse. As a family reunited, we began planning a new beginning. Two weeks ago today, Tom, Doug and I spent a sunny spring day together after years apart.
Tom confessed to me that he realized his mistakes and that he was sorry for them and I truly believe he was sincere. I cried and told him how happy I was to have my brother back. Tom found the Hagarstown Recovery Mission and submitted an application which was accepted. He was about to start a new life, on the road to full recovery and redemption.
When last I saw Tom alive he was living alone in a small house with boxes piled to the ceiling. But good things were starting to happen.
I had hope. I thought Tom had hope.
One day Tom opened a door just in time and saved my life. Last Saturday I opened the door to his house just a bit too late to save his. There was an old rope tied to the doorknob. And when I opened the door I understood why: Tom had hung himself.
I will spend the rest of my life wondering why.
I dialed 911 and the next few hours were a blur as paramedics, then police came and went and people asked me questions and made me fill out forms. Finally, as a dark unmarked van pulled away I found myself alone in Tom’s front yard.
It was only then that I first noticed that his place backed to a public park. It was another bright beautiful spring day with a parking lot full of SUVs and young boys in team colors were playing lacrosse right behind Tom’s house.
They were young and intense and having fun and at a point in their lives where Tom once stood, where all that mattered was the stick in your hands and the ball and the net and the game and all your life lays out before you with all its promise and ripe possibilities.
And there’s always the danger that life can go horribly wrong when you least expect it. And you find yourself in front of an abandoned house. And a lonely cat needing a new home rubs against your ankles. And you’re left wondering why. Why?
I’m talking to you today about me and Tom because it’s the story I’ve lived. But my story isn’t really about me. Or even Tom. It’s about all of us, the people we love, and the urgency of time.
As life whizzes by it’s so easy to miss the preciousness of the fleeting moments of our lives. To forget how important we are to each other and that we have to love one another and love one another well and with all our hearts and not when it’s too late, but long before it’s too late.
Now. When it matters. When love, friendship and heartfelt concern can make a difference.
If you’ve ever listened to Podcasts from Mars Hill Bible Church (Rob Bell’s old place), you may recognize the shakey voice of Ed Dobson, who often filled the pulpit for Rob.
Ed has ALS and is nearing death. Below is one video that Mars Hill is producing that features Ed reflecting on his life as he faces his demise.
Here’s a brief bio of Ed’s story:
In the 1980s, Dobson rose to prominence as an executive at the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell’s evangelical political organization, which had influence with the Ronald Reagan White House. Dobson’s rise continued when he accepted the pastorate at Calvary Church in 1987. He cut a national profile, with Moody Bible Institute naming him “Pastor of the Year” in 1993.
After being diagnosed with ALS, Dobson suddenly felt unsure of himself. At times, he said, he didn’t want to get out of bed. After years of intense Bible study, Dobson said this is not how he thought he would react to news of his own mortality.
“I thought that if I knew I was going to die, I would really read the Bible and if I really was going to die, I would really pray,” Dobson said. “I found the opposite to be true. I could barely read the Bible and I had great difficulty praying. You get so overwhelmed with your circumstances, you lose perspective.”
And here’s one of the videos produced by Mars Hill:
Leanne Penny’s journey has taken some heartbreaking turns. Including her sister’s car-train accident, losing her father to heart disease and her mother to suicide. Through all this pain she has chosen to persevere. God has led her to share her story of hurting, healing and choosing joy as a writer and blogger at leannepenny.com. You can also follow her on twitter.
In Michigan the leaves are changing bold and beautiful hues and falling to the ground. Fall has always been my favorite season, but this particular fall day lacks beauty for me. You see, today marks the one year anniversary of my Mom’s death. One year ago today she took her life.
Last year on October 13th I was just getting into bed after staying up too late when I heard my cell phone ring. It was my brother, and after a glance at the clock I realized that time in Michigan was midnight thirty. My heart sank and I braced myself for a blow, because calls after midnight rarely bring good news. My husband took the call and after he hung up the phone he gently filled me in. Earlier that evening my mother had taken her life on the same train tracks that my sister had her accident years before. I didn’t burst into hysterics or tears, instead I sunk into shock. I couldn’t believe that all the hope I had been grasping so desperately had shattered on the tile floor of our bathroom. There was no coming back from her depression. It had finally defeated her spirit. She had been so mentally and emotionally unavailable for years, and now she had faded out of my life completely.
I wanted to write about what it feels like to spend one year processing and grieving suicide. I know a lot of people tell me that they can’t imagine what it would be like to have your mother take her life. Well I think that if I could sum it all up into one word it would be this: confusing. After 365 days of living with suicide I am still confused. I know that the body, mind and soul of a person are unbreakably connected. When the mind is very sick it has the power to take down the other two. When the body is sick it can take down mind and soul down as well. However, I have seen enough optimistic cancer patients to lead me to believe that the worst place to get seriously sick, is in the mind.
My mother struggled with depression for about 30 years, and it eventually took her life. Some days I view her death as a struggle with terminal depression, a disease of the mind. Other days I wonder what was inevitable because of her diagnosis and what she could have fought through. But every day I wonder who my Mom really was underneath that thick gray crust of pain and sadness. Toward the end of her life she was usually a warm body and a blank stare, existing in a world I couldn’t seem to reach. I listen to stories and glean pieces of the person God made her to be, she was bright and fun loving, a warm hearted and servant minded person. She felt other people’s pain like it was her own and she was the star of the school play. I miss her even though I hardly knew her at all. Mostly I am frustrated that I missed out on her. That my life was spent watching her blow away like dandelion fluff, piece by piece drifting somewhere unknown.
I can honestly say I was angry at her, for all her failures as my Mom, and for being locked behind a wall I couldn’t penetrate no matter what I did. I kept reaching for her just like my own baby son reaches up for my face. As much as you hate to admit it, You always need you mom, and she couldn’t be mine anymore, even though she was sitting right across from me. I won’t ever fully understand that, it’s utterly terrible grieving someone who is still alive.
I don’t know why some people die of physical illness, some people die of mental illness and some people die in sudden tragic accidents. I do know that one out of every one person on the earth will die and that even though my moments on earth seem endless, they are anything but.
I try to remember the good memories of my Mom, but most of them happened years ago. When she was alive, the idea of being like her terrified me, so I rejected everything in hopes of avoiding her fate. Well now I am confident that I can avoid her fate while at the same time being her daughter. I am now brave enough to talk about some parts of her that I carry on in this life.
1) When Noelle was born she came to visit and kissed her right on the lips. I thought that was weird, but now I smooch those little lips whenever I want to, because I am mom, and I can.
2) She always left her coffee cup in the bathroom because she finished her last mug while she was doing her makeup. I do that too.
3) My mom’s favorite season was fall, mine is too. She would drive us around town just to find beautiful trees to fuss over, as a kid I didn’t get it, but I have every intention of subjecting my kids to that as well.
4) She wore the diamonds my dad gave her when he proposed, I am now brave enough to wear them too. They are a symbol of all the beautiful intentions they had when they started our family, and that’s a part of all of this that I want to carry into the future.
Suicide is messy and inexplicable selfish, I doubt she had too much control over it, as far gone as she was. It is a terribly confusing thing and difficult legacy to leave your children. All that being said, I am my Mother’s daughter and I have every intention to fight like hell against metal illness. I will love autumn with reckless abandon. And every morning I will leave a mostly empty coffee cup on my bathroom counter before I get out there and live life to the very fullest with every intention to leave an amazing legacy in my wake.