Death Foretold

By in

Of the last gasps of the dying: we wait for them to exhale.

Save for my grandmother, I’ve never seen anyone die.  I just check obituaries, or I hear the bad, sad news from a friend or an acquaintance that someone I know passed away.  Yet those are for sick and old relatives.  Over the years, I’ve grown used to the idea that my friends and acquaintances would probably die by suicide.  Many of them already have.

There’s a friend who hanged herself.  There’s a friend who overdosed on drugs.  I know someone who died from a vehicular accident because he was piss-drunk racing on the highways.  A couple of acquaintances shot themselves.  Someone sliced the flesh of her arm too deep, and died from hemorrhage.  One jumped off a bridge.  One by one, they died before they knew what it’s like – what it’s really like – to live.  I stopped counting at 20: either my memory fails me, or that the idea of counting every single dead friend and acquaintance is too much to bear.  I could have counted more, and I could probably count more as time passes by.

It’s particularly difficult to deal with it at funerals and wakes, where you’re supposed to remember the life and times of that friend in the coffin. Yet no round of tong-its or mystery of the Rosary will ever change the fact that this particular person’s last memory is that they died by their own hands.  Somehow, I can’t stand that thought.

I’ve always thought of suicide in terms of cowardice and epiphanies.  There’s the cowardice that comes with escaping life’s harshest challenges, but there’s the epiphany that life’s only direction is death.  My only misgiving is that their deaths didn’t give me the chance to know them more, much less have enough memories to carry them through except for a few good ones and suicide notes.

Most of those notes were excuses for death; apology letters that only made things even more vague and confusing.  That girl smiled a lot.  That boy was a very talented ballplayer.  Yet the blades and makeshift nooses and pillboxes kept coming, and one by one, their lives were taken away.  Why him?  Why her? We’ll never know, but the everlasting memory would be that he killed himself, she killed herself.  We, the living, bear that memory.

I didn’t go to all of their funerals, nor have I attended every one of their last Masses.  I paid a visit to their places, offered my condolences, and went my own way with a bit of guilt about living.  Guilt that I wasn’t able to stop them.  Guilt that I ddidn’t know them enough to make them appreciate life.  Guilt that I didn’t appreciate life enough for me to be an inspiration for them to continue to live.  Maybe it’s because I was suicidal as they were.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t contemplate taking that same turn at that same crossroad.  Yet the same kinds of cowardice and epiphanies take me off the edge of the bridge, the edge of the knife, and the edge of the road.  I cannot take away my own life for fear of the material and moral consequences that come with suicide: things that my folks, friends, and acquaintances cannot bear.  Yet if the only direction of life is death, then what’s in between birth and demise should only be made more meaningful.  Not that my friends were wrong to take their own lives – and certainly, they were not right, either – but suicide accommodates life’s greatest regrets.  “What could have been…”  “If only…”  “He/she would have been…”

So far, I’ve been the chronicler of over a dozen deaths.  There are the memorable ones that have really affected me, and then there are the ones that didn’t affect me as much but have saddened me.  I have, in my young life, witnessed in so many ways, so many friends who have died in so many ways.

I don’t know why they died.  What is there left to do but to live?

What I do know is that I’ll still be a witness and a chronicler to suicide, and I’m making that funny guess that a friend of mine will die by his or her own hand.  Not because of fear or ignorance or cowardice, but because that’s just the way life is.  Life, in more ways than one, is a journey to death.  And whether like it or not, how we die can lie on our hands.  That while suicide may be so unacceptable, but there’s no choice for the bereaved other than to accept it.

I wait for them – for each and every one of them – to inhale.  There’s just that impossible hope that those corpses, over the years, could take one final breath, and to tell us all – and tell me – why they had to die.

I write this entry with yet another name added to the list… though for the pain of it all, I have stopped counting.

8 comments on “Death Foretold”

    • benj
    • September 24, 2009

    Suicide, when done by someone with a lucid mind, is the ultimate act of self determination. I respect the choice of those who opt for it. It saddens me that they made the choice to end their life, but I can totally see the rationale behind it.

    • tina
    • September 24, 2009

    thanks for the restraint with which this was written. 🙂 somehow the undercurrent of emotion is just right – barely there, yet keenly felt.

    i feel like there’s more to be gotten from these thoughts. something like a story, exploring the lives of the people involved. i can’t imagine what those lives must be like, since i hardly know any people who committed suicide… although i *can* imagine the tax such a project would take on its writer. not to mention it sounds exceedingly existentialist… ^^;; just a thought. 🙂

  1. Reply

    Self-determination? Like that’s the point. OK, for argument’s sake our religion or our government allows suicide, allow us to freely choose our fates. The choice still boils down to right or wrong: is it right to kill yourself at a young age? Do you know enough of life to kill yourself? Are you even of a certain age and of a definite intellectual maturity to decide to take your own life?

    There’s an age factor in responsibility and decision making. Otherwise, why not let two year-olds vote or allow adolescents to decide his own fate (funded, of course, by his parents)? No government would allow that, though. Hm, why do you think?

    From your site, Benj, I take it your in the medical profession. Have you had psych 101? Did you know that most suicides are chemically imbalanced? Even, say, for argument’s sake it has to do with life’s experiences and the mind’s ability to judge itself and not a chemical factor… why, then, do most suicides fall in the lower age bracket. And why do they choose such painful remedies. Old people know how to die: they go to a death doctor.

    Marocharim, I don’t know who you hang out with but I have gone through life without anyone I know killing himself. The closest one was a schoolmate in elementary school. I barely know the kid. The most cliche of reasons, too: grades.

    • benj
    • September 24, 2009

    “Suicide, when done by someone with a lucid mind, is the ultimate act of self determination.”

    that was the disclaimer. I dunno where the rest of the straw man came from.

  2. Reply

    Your a medical student, right? Lucidity: sane, clarity of mind.

    I’m not arguing about the mentally ill, but in the context of maro’s post and obviously your “admiration” on some people who choose the styxian path, I assumed you were talking about any lucid, walking talking thinking individual.

    If you’re talking about a wholly different segment, then I’m sorry, but the post mentions young people specifically. A suicide done out of a long, rigorous logical soul-searching is probably very rare. That’s your reverse straw man.

    And I never heard of any such thing except in very old, ailing people, and I agree their reasoning is hard to counter. That’s your reverse straw man.

    • benj
    • September 24, 2009

    have it your way.

    if you think people can’t choose to die, they that’s you trying to tell them how they should live their lives. Young people have the right to self-determination – the same way that old and the sick do.

    You seem to be never wrong anyway. You know it all. Im sure everybody else in your immediate circle are simply inspired by your greatness.

  3. Reply


    You went through life without knowing anyone killing himself or herself? Good for you. I wouldn’t wish suicide – or the burden of it – on my worst enemy. I don’t know what drove my friends to death. Mixture of stuff: drugs, alcohol, friends, family problems, anomie, angst, lost interest in life, peer pressure, grades.

    I lost a lot of them – and a lot of their memories – to things I will never have a conclusive reason for. They were my friends, so far as I didn’t know the real reason why they died, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

    I’m giving remembrance to them. Do not sully their memory any further.

  4. Reply

    I admire you on writing a compelling article on such a delicate topic. As a member of the medical field, I have seen my own versions of death, specifically suicide. I’ve felt the deep state of bereavement those who are left behind and the torture people do unto themselves to leave this world of suffering.

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