Tuesday, October 30, 2012

survivor's guilt and Tom Sawyer's funeral

On Sunday I had a wonderful day, a fabulous day of sneaking (pre-authorizedly, of course) away from my family for a day of fun, but I returned at night to discover, via Facebook, that someone I knew had killed himself the night before by throwing himself in front of a BART train.

After shock, my next reaction was being pissed off at the people who were piously mourning the deceased, most of whom I knew very well wouldn't have given the deceased the time of day if they'd run into him.  It seemed like they were being vultures, grabbing for attention and for emotional thrills.  But of course the suicide had worn through almost everyone's love and esteem.  He was an unmedicated sufferer of bipolar disorder, a grandiose and annoying person, and the worst part, I think, about mental illness is that it makes everyone stop loving you long before you die.

I myself had a complicated relationship with the deceased.  I got a job he wanted, back when he was stable and ambitious, and to add insult to injury, afterwards I wouldn't bring him on to work with me.  Of course I was right in that decision; back then, it wasn't common knowledge that he had bipolar disorder, but I did think he was too intense and unreliable to be a good attorney, and in retrospect, I was righter than right.  I know he held a grudge against me for years, and he was also right.  If it weren't for me, his life would have taken a different direction.  I didn't have any hard feelings against him; it wasn't personal from my point of view, but what could be more personal from his?

It wasn't until today that my feelings reared up and hit me.  I feel absolutely terrible that this man is dead, that he killed himself, that the BART operator and everyone who had to clean up after him had to deal with the horrors of it all.

On top of that, the situation makes me think of how carrion-feeding and attention-seeking most people are.  People (including me due to my writing here; believe me, there are no good feelings for me about myself in this) are mourning publicly, when we avoided the deceased in the last part of his life.  Lots of people less connected to the man are attention-seeking, name-checking the glamorous corpse.

As a lot of people know, the suicidal urge is strong with me.  And seeing someone who was my age roughly, who was in my profession, who was in my social group, who did give in to that dark urge, gives me an experience like Tom Sawyer had going to his own funeral.  And I don't like it.  It makes me think of how many of the friends who knew how rough a time I had last year in particular were more concerned about themselves than me, how they felt bad for themselves that they had a close friend who was on the edge.  The biggest example of that was someone who told me that if there was anything I needed, to please call, that it was so upsetting that I was in crisis and that if anything would help, I only had to say the word... and then when I did call and ask for a minor favor, the person said, "Sorry, that would involve moving my car, and it might take me up to forty minutes to find a parking space."   It was all I could do not to say, "You know, my funeral might have been today.  Would you have given up your parking space for THAT?"

It's a horrible, cruel, awful world we live in, a world with so little love and joy in it.  People will feel sorry for themselves and seek out all kinds of attention as the bereaved survivors if you die, but if you live, they don't want to spend forty minutes looking for a parking space.  And I'm not claiming any moral high ground here, either.  It's a bleak, bleak world.


Unknown said...

please have no guilt in having survived your darker moments. and call me anytime for anything at all ..believe me i will come running from all my comfort zones. bleak as it may be what i see surrounding you is blinding love lights exploding like fireworks everytime your husband and children gaze upon you. In some folks lifetime they will never know this feeling.

Oldsoul_NotQuite said...

There is nothing more aggravating than the death tourists/ fakers. For me it's actually a good dis-incentive towards suicidal tendencies. Like, I wouldn't do it as I wouldn't want my memory besmirched/ controlled/ exploited in such a way. And of course I wouldn't be able to guard against what happens.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Thank you, sweetheart, I appreciate it so much. Coincidentally last night I was trying to be positive and focus on the better things in life, and you & your art & your spirit were a blessing in my life I thought of. xxoo C

Claire M. Johnson said...

I think that, yes, there is often a rubber-necking that goes on with any death, but I also think that at this time many of use choose to think of that person's best side. It sounds like this person was difficult at times, but was also brilliant and maybe the point of all this is to not have survivor's guilt but survivor's acknowledgment. Yeah, he could be a real pain in the ass but he could also be amazing. Also, I do think that in these situations we ourselves would like to be the best person we can be. And we fall short we push comes to actual shove. It's easy to offer because that's how we would like to see ourselves. Sigh.

the Drunken Housewife said...

@OldSoul: you're right, tragedy tourists are so annoying and horrible. I remember years ago in Lola's playgroup, the conversation turned to a large disaster, in which someone I loved died, and before I shared that, someone in the group puffed up and did this obviously well-practiced thing of owning the tragedy, milking it for attention, because some people from her college NONE OF WHOM SHE HAD EVER MET IN HER LIFE, died in that tragedy.

Disgusting. And it reveals how freaking lucky these people have been, that there isn't real tragedy in their lives and they have to reach out to claim someone else's.

Carroll said...

Carole, this may be the most compelling piece of writing I have seen to-date on your often-compelling blog.

"...the worst part, I think, about mental illness is that it makes everyone stop loving you long before you die."

How sadly this is true.

I will never forget something you posted briefly here toward the end of your rough period last year. And from now on, whenever I am asked for a slightly inconvenient favor, I shall measure my response by your parking space query.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

After my car accident, I was desperate for help and received some similar responses. I wish I lived closer to you.

Dread Pirate Davi said...

This post dredges up a lot of emotions and memories for me, having attempted a suicide myself as a teen. Kinda hard to form a response to this, but I do want to say, I would move my car.

Unknown said...

the worst part, I think, about mental illness is that it makes everyone stop loving you long before you die.

Amazing. So honest and apt.