By Louise Ure
I’ve been thinking a lot about suicide this week.
No, don’t worry. I’m not thinking of taking my own life.
But look at all the ways that suicide featured prominently in the news this week.
First, the stories that say, “I am willing to end my life to save another.”
How about the Suicide Team of elders in Japan who have offered to go clean up the nuclear power plants at Fukushima? More than 200 pensioners from the Skilled Veterans Corps have made that offer, stating that, as the cancers they might contract are slower growing in the elderly, they would prefer to do this service for their country, sparing the younger workers to live on.
Or all the stories about heroism coming out of tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri? Stories of convenience store managers who gave their lives in order to protect a ragtag band of employees and shoppers who had taken refuge in the store. Parents who fought to protect the life of their child or a stranger, only to sacrifice their own.
They may not be suicides in the way we normally think of them. We often call them heroes.
And it’s this kind of suicide that we crime fiction writers often focus on. The hero. The risk taker. The brave one. The Paladin. The Samurai.
We love the fact that he’s willing to risk his life for another, but we desperately don’t want him to have to deliver on that promise. (Otherwise, what on earth do we do in Book Two of the series?)
But there’s another kind of suicide in the news this week, and it’s the kind we don’t often deal with in our writing. The kind that says, “I am willing to help someone else die.”
Jack Kevorkian – aka Dr. Death – died of natural causes at the age of 83. He had more than a month of knowledge of his own imminent demise. Did he just wait too long and was then too weak to take his own advice about assisted suicide? Did he not have a doctor or relative who was willing to help?
Or did he just change his mind at the last minute and decide that today was not a good day to die?
And then there’s the third kind of suicide in my life right now, the kind that says, “I am willing to end my life.”
I’m in Seattle right now, taking care of my father-in-law during his last days. We are blessed by the fact that Washington State, like Oregon and Montana, is a Right to Die state, a place where death with dignity is possible. He has not asked me to help with a suicide — at least not yet — but he has been very proactive about making final plans, and wonderfully articulate about what he wants from me. No doctors, no hospitalization, no respiration aid or nutrition or hydration. It will kill me to watch him die and be able to offer nothing but comfort, but I will do it because he asked me to.
(if you have not yet done so, I hope you can watch HBO’s brilliant documentary “How to Die in Oregon.” You probably won’t be able to watch it all in one go — it is just that sad. But it’s also a truly compelling and important story that needs to be told.)
That final day is not here yet for Adolph. Yesterday he wanted fresh Dungeness crab and I made a salad to go along with it just the way his wife used to. Catalina dressing and all.
I am cherishing this time with him. And I think he is cherishing his final days.
But enough about sad thoughts and suicide. It has been 75 degrees and sunny here in Seattle for days … weather so beautiful that you might be tempted to believe that we all got Raptured after all, and this is the afterlife they’ve always talked about.
PS: I can’t help myself. One more random thought about suicide: Have you ever heard of a suicide note written in the third person? The closest thing I can come to it are the lyrics from “Miss Otis Regrets,” although that may not count, because she was hung by a mob rather than killing herself.
So what would a third person suicide note look like? Would it be written in the past tense? And what would it indicate? A massive ego? An assisted suicide? A murder?
Now go play.