The Legacy of Suicide

June 10, 2018

It is tragic that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain both chose to end their lives. They were young, brilliant, and had so much yet to accomplish. If only they could have found a way to hang on.

What’s troubling is that these two gifted people, both of whom called New York their home, opted not to reach out for help despite living in a city that probably has more mental health professionals per capita than any city on earth. We know that Kate Spade had been treated for depression, and that Anthony Bourdain had conquered personal demons, including heroin addiction, without relapsing, and one imagines that counseling of some sort might have had something to do with his sobriety.

So, both were aware of and had access to mental health services, and since they had (likely) made use of them in the past, to some benefit, one assumes that stigma was not a factor in their decisions not to reach out for help. Certainly, the resources available to them given their financial comfort did not make care inaccessible.

Clearly, given these considerations, both must have been, quite literally, not in their right minds. I tell myself this over and over so I can understand how…how…you end your life knowing that a young daughter (Frances Spade, age 13, and Ariane Bourdain, age 8) will spend the rest of her life wondering why she wasn’t a good enough reason to hold on.

I don’t pretend to understand what was going on for Spade or Bourdain as they took the steps to end their lives, but amidst my sadness that they left us too soon, I cannot shake my anger at the inherent selfishness that robbed two children of their parents.

Children do not understand how painful and crushingly hard it can be to be an adult, and even though they may, someday, come to terms with their parents’ suicides, the memory and impact of this trauma, visited upon them so early in their lives, is something they will confront over and over as they get older…the thing they have to overcome, rise above, beat back day after day after day, in an effort not to let it consume them.

It did not have to be that way.

I have battled depression and anxiety for much of my life but wasn’t diagnosed until my 40’s. I’m a very functional, go go go kind of person, and it never occurred to me that the plunging depths of inexplicable sadness that overcame me from time to time was anything other than personal weakness. With the help of an excellent therapist and the right medication, I’ve gotten to a place of good mental health and tranquility. I was lucky to have had the support of my husband and dear friends, not to mention access to really good health care and health insurance that enabled me to get the help I needed. Again, I was lucky.

I don’t know how bad it was for Spade or Bourdain; pretty bad, I’m guessing. What I just cannot understand is how you take that step knowing (as Kate Spade clearly did, according to her suicide note), that such an act is the equivalent of throwing that same child into the middle of the ocean and hoping someone will rescue her before she drowns.

I’m trying hard not to be judgmental or to minimize what must have been a private hell no one understood, one so isolating and complete that the certain trauma that their suicide would inflict upon their daughters was acceptable collateral damage.

I have often said to myself, “I may be a crappy mother, but I’m the only one they have. They deserve to have a mother who is there, imperfect and wanting though she may be, and I will try to get healthy, if only because they need me to.”

When you choose to become a parent…and in our country, with birth control and abortion both legal and available, it is a choice…your life is no longer your own. It becomes about the welfare and well-being of another person. Don’t want that responsibility? Use birth control, abstain, abort, or give up for adoption. All are available to you. You have a choice.

But if you choose to parent, then guess what…whether you are 14 or 24 or 42, your life as you knew it is now over, and it becomes about what is best for the child YOU have chosen to bring into the world. If you can’t do that, DON’T. Because the person you brought into this world has nothing but YOU to count on. Not up to the task? Then DON’T.

I just think that Frances and Ariane, who didn’t ask to be born, and who relied upon the constancy of their parents, deserved better.

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