Tuesday, August 12, 2014

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
--Edna St. Vincent Millay

This poem has floated through off and on in my mind since i was reacquainted with it last week. Funny what your brain forgets and then when it sees something again, it greets it like an old friend and wonders why it fell into that forgotten space.

This poem has knocked on my consciousness more often over the last 24 hours or so since hearing the news of Robin William's death. It saddened me that he most likely chose to end his life. [After initially posting this, i heard the suicide was confirmed.] Perhaps he simply grew tired of trying to outpace his demons or keep them at arm's length.

I didn't know him personally. Each time i saw him being interviewed or in any of the movies or tv shows i watched where he had a role, i always noticed his neverending energy and sometimes wondered if it would suddenly burn out, like a sparkler. I don't think i would have been as surprised had he died at a younger age as a lot of brillant people in the arts have. I suppose i was lulled into a place where he seemed to be managing all right, and i hoped he'd make it. That if he couldn't successfully harness all that energy, creativity, and ingenuity, he could at least hang on for the ride and not let go of the reins for a long, long time.

I am sorry that he was ready to let go.

It's made me reflect on the people who have come in and left my life, and on those dark times where i didn't know how i was going to hold on or for how much longer i could hold on. To date, each time i have, and am ultimately always glad i did so. I hope i am never in a place where suicide appears less painful than continuing on and getting through whatever darkness to the next place of light. I hope that when i let go of the reins, it's because it's time to let go.

And, for all i know, he knew it was time for him to let go, so he did.

I don't think every successful suicide is a cry for help that went beyond. I think that for some, they feel ready to do it and follow through. No histronics or threats, they just have a quiet moment and are ready.

When i worked as a waitress in a family restaurant, we had lots of regulars who'd stop in for a meal. One couple were a hoot, Jack and Lynn. They laughed a lot, and often made me laugh, even if i wasn't having a great day. Each was on their second marriage, and each had their first marriage go horribly wrong. Both were astounded that each was eager to try again and so happy not to be disappointed. Jack had some horrendous illness before i knew him, and Lyn said he nearly died. He was in the hospital for a long time and went in before Christmas. He told her he'd be out of that @#($( hospital at some point, so don't take the tree down. They had a cut tree that year, and Lynn kept the tree up. Jack was discharged in March. The tree barely had a needle left on it, but it scraggily stood all the same to welcome Jack home. Lynn said it might sound silly, but the tree gave her hope, and she wasn't going to take it down while Jack had a chance. That started a tradition for them where they kept up the tree an absurdly long time. By the time they were relating the story to me, they both laughed about it, although i still get a lump in my throat thinking about it.

Lynn said it's the weirdest thing how something so small or silly could change your life. She confided that she was ready to commit suicide. It was after her first marriage had been so horrible and ended. She hadn't yet met Jack, she felt her life was in the toilet, and she was going to off herself. She got all the paperwork squared away, cleaned the house well, and decided slashing her wrists was the way to go. She said there was an absolute certainty in her decision. It wasn't a cry for help, she simply decided that she was done with living. Period. Full stop. So, after tidying up the paperwork and living space, she was ready. Calmly, she went into the bathroom, turned on the water in the sink, looked at her face in the mirror before she took the razor blade to her wrists. She saw the determined look in her face and was ready.

She said she would have been successful, too, if it weren't for a friend who had a key to her place, knocked a short while later, knowing Lynn was home, and grew very concerned when she didn't answer. The friend found her, called emergency responders, and Lynn survived. Was angry as hell that her attempt had been unsuccessful. And then she met Jack, and was glad it had been unsuccessful. She wasn't angry with her friend any longer and would have done the same thing if the situation had been reversed.

"But," she emphasized to me, "When i had made my plan, i was ABSOLUTELY sure it was the right thing to do. I didn't tell anyone about it, because i knew they'd try to talk me out of it. I just calmly decided how and then picked a date."

She told me that on the other side of that attempt came the greatest joy she'd ever known, and she was sure in part, that she enjoyed it all the more because she very nearly didn't have chance to be present for it at all. Rather than make herself crazy with wondering about it, she accepted it as a gift.

And so i wonder, about those who are in that space where they feel ready to go. That this is the right thing. Is it? Or is it just around the corner from something wonderful, if only they could get through this patch?

It was a reminder to me that if i feel i'm in a dark place, i have options, even if it doesn't feel that way. And for my part, i need to be available to others in case they are struggling. A smile or kind word that costs me nothing to give might make a huge difference, like ripples from a small pebble tossed into a pond.


  1. Some people feel they don't have options. Life is too painful sometimes. Your post is very well written.


    1. I think many underestimate the centrifugal force darkness can have. And then there's the thought where you don't want to have to endure whatever it is for one more second or think you cannot. The burden of holding on is too great, the option of letting go looks far more attractive.

  2. I'm slightly surprised that she didn't see the end of her bad marriage as a new opportunity. I'm all for people, whose ends would otherwise be lengthy and painful, taking matters into their own hands (or being assisted). Very sad about Robin W, I shall always remember him in Mork and Mindy; such energy. Loved Mrs Doubtfire too.

    1. Cro, she didn't say it, but i'm thinking she was extremely broken-hearted after her first marriage ended and couldn't see her situation ever improving.

  3. Thank you for your support of Robin Williams. I think back to my last conversation with my brother about his mental state. From almost forty years ago I still hear the sentence "I"ll never be Mel again." It didn't change the grief and anguish for those he left, but I always understood why he did it.

    1. Joanne, sorry to hear about your brother. A friend of mine's brother killed himself and left no note. While his family and friends would still be aggrieved and perhaps angry, they wouldn't be left to wondering why he did it. They came up with a couple of theories and blamed themselves for not seeing the signs.