It was often noted in my teens and twenties in particular that I had quite the Irish temper. This seems to have greatly diminished over the years and now is an emotion I rarely indulge in. Much of the anger I have expressed over the years has really been not much more that self-indulgent bravado. Often the sort of flash in the pan display that passes quickly usually followed by regret and at times an appropriate apology.
There have however been at least two instances in my life where my anger was sustained and in one of those seems at times to persist to this day. Both of these involve the suicides of two people close to me, one professionally and the other a dear friend of many decades. Today I will address the suicide of a co-worker from over twenty years ago. The other death will be the focus of an upcoming piece.
Even this anger, at a tragic death, certainly seems to have a quality of indignant rage – ‘how could you do this to me’ which in some respects seems quite silly since they are the ones who are dead, but then so much of my life has always really been about me. This first suicide involved a psychiatric nurse who worked in the AIDS Clinic at Denver Health in the early 1990’s. She was a lesbian woman who on the surface seemed very strong and as put together as anyone I knew. Unbeknownst to me, but not to several others in her life, she purchased a handgun I believe in late 1992, saying she feared for her safety around the passage by referendum of Amendment Two by the voters of Colorado which read as follows:
Neither the State of Colorado, through any of its branches or departments, nor any of its agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities or school districts, shall enact, adopt or enforce any statute, regulation, ordinance or policy whereby homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships shall constitute or otherwise be the basis of or entitle any person or class of persons to have or claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination. This Section of the Constitution shall be in all respects self-executing.
I thought after the fact that if I had known about her gun purchase and the stated reason for it I would certainly have confronted it for the bullshit it turned out to be. Even back then I was sort of the resident out radical queer in an AIDS Clinic no less a place full of ACT Up members in 1992 and I would have said “oh honey all they are doing is finally being honest about how they hate us”. The statewide vote on the referendum was something like 53% in favor of literally codifying discrimination across the board based solely on sexual preference and 47% opposed. We were simply being put on notice to a fact that had always been the reality. This was of course challenged in court and overturned eventually by the United States Supreme Court in the case Evans vs. Romer in 1996.
I would in hindsight have been right to call her on this purchase since she used the gun along with some alcohol and prescribed medications as lubrication to drive up to St. Mary’s Glacier in early January of 1993 and blow her brains out. I would hope I would have insisted on a better reason, than homophobes run amok, for buying a lethal weapon by a person who was in many instances a very out and proud queer woman.
You must remember this was in 1993 and the peak of the AIDS nightmare. So many of our clients were valiantly struggling to often just stay alive for one more day and this crazy-ass women who I loved and admired, in excellent physical health as far as we knew, goes and kills herself. It was a great blow to many of my staff and her clinic patients to whom she provided psychotherapy. It was difficult for me to even speak her name for many months but we did finally put up a plaque in her memory when our own unbelievably raw feelings subsided and perhaps I personally better appreciated whatever the mental anguish she was suffering from. There were apparently major relationship issues in her life and perhaps these involved anger on her part or maybe it was simply an overwhelming depression made worse by well intentioned use of psychiatric medicines that unfortunately proved to be disinhibiting in the long run and maybe even direct facilitators in pulling the trigger. Suicides seem to often to be impulsively facilitated in our society by the criminally easy access to guns along with alcohol and certain psychotropic medications most often legally prescribed.
My feelings around suicides of people in my life are not however universal and do not always involve anger. In those days in particular end of life decisions to speed the dying process along by many suffering terribly from the ravages of AIDS were not uncommon. For those unfamiliar with this time and its nearly unbearable realities I would encourage you to see the current HBO movie version of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, visually at least it is much more riveting and intensely in your face than the play ever was.
The best suicides as I recall from those days were well thought out and often involved much support from lovers, family and friends. The act was rarely impulsive, rarely to my knowledge involved a gun and rarely if ever done in isolation. News of these passing when they would reach the clinic often invoked great sadness and sometimes a sense of relief but no anger.
If this is to be an act with integrity it seems to me it should never occur as a result of subterfuge and certainly not as an expression of anger toward others or one’s self. That itself seems to be a very angry last dance that certainly does not affect in any positive fashion others in your life, many of who may care deeply about you. It strikes me as not only very angry but selfish. I appreciate that deep depression can often set the stage but a common caveat about suicide is that it is mostly the choice when one is coming out of depression.
As mentioned above I will again explore suicide in a future piece, one by a dear friend of many decades and my own personal feelings about it. Most days I tend to take a Buddhist approach that suicide will only result in another reincarnation something to be avoided and continued samsara on the wheel of death and rebirth, which could go very wrong with one perhaps returning as a banana slug.