I first knew the lingering feeling of this forces full impact one afternoon at my childhood friends house. I was washing my hands in the upstairs bathroom and couldn’t find any hand soap. There were pink rose shaped soaps in a decorative bottle next to the sink. My friend stopped me as I reached for them.
“We don’t use those soaps. They were a gift from my sister for my Mom. She died and now we leave them there. Mom won’t let anyone touch them.”
He went on to tell me how his sister had hung herself many years ago, the family never spoke of it. That simple jar of soaps told the story of thousands of days filled with the lack of a daughter, the lack of answers, and the grief of a family suddenly set adrift. I could picture his Mother studying the bottle of soaps, longing for comforting memories that might offer a second chance.
I learned then that suicide was quiet and horrible, never to be spoken of without using a whispered tone. I discovered an invisible space within this family where no sound could penetrate. The sudden bursting forth of this death had gouged a cavern in what was otherwise a vital home. Like a radiation poisoned landscape that part of their lives had lost its ability to sustain life.
She hung herself, I believe she was only 13. Hanging always seemed like the most final surrender to anti-life. You had to have no regard for your own comfort in dying, no regard for the living who would your gruesome, draped cadavor. You only wanted to make absolutely certain you would succeed.
In college I studied the history of Death & Dying in Western Culture. As part of one of my classes the local county coroner visited with a unique slideshow. It cataloged the varied ways we die in our community. He had split those who died from suicide into two categories: people who attempted suicide as a cry for help – only to accidentally succeed, and those who really wanted to kill themselves. He illustrated the second group by a photo of a suicide by hanging that illustrated the sense of determination with which the person had killed themselves. Not only had they driven far into the woods to a remote location where they wouldn’t be bothered, but they had tied perhaps a dozen redundant knots to make absolutely certain the rope would not give way.
The scene had the feeling of a bizarre tapestry: the new white rope tied from half a dozen branches, some strands tied together, and at the end of the rope a sagging corpse fading into the fall colors of the surrounding forest. It looked like the calling card of the anti-life force.
The feeling of finality was palpable. It must have permeated every cell of her body when she died. I imagined I knew the energies that surrounded her when she cast herself out into the middle of her bedroom, dangling from the light fixture. The presence of that force must have been overwhelming. I believe it to be at once an alien force to the living and also deeply familiar to the soft animal that lies at the core of all of us.
By then death, and in particular suicide had become a part of what life was to me. It could be found behind every door, hiding in the secret places all grownups keep for the parts of themselves that don’t belong in the every-day world. It was clearly part of who we all were.