I’m somewhat familiar with the feeling, but I’ve never made the decision.
There was a period in my mid-twenties when I felt completely undone. I’d hit rock bottom all on my own, an embarrassing and overwhelming string of poor decisions resulting from, what was then, my complete lack of character, integrity, or long-term planning.
The domino effect left me not only broke and umemployed but confused and depressed. The days and events spiralled until I began to think the worst. I was alone. I had no hope. I could see no single reason to go on living.
This morning I read about a man who felt the same. It was apparently not the first time he’d entertained such thoughts, given his prepatory work. The short story: a year or so prior, a horrific prank went wrong that nearly killed his wife. Four young men were throwing rocks from an interstate overpass when one struck a car with this man’s family inside. In an instant, his wife turned into a dependent with “severe head injuries” including the loss of her eye.
One year later, this 55-year-old man decided he’d had enough. He made his preparations. He said what he needed to say. Then he took his own life.
I can’t imagine the cycle this man was in. Anger at the teens whose antics stole his life as he knew it. Frustration at this new set of daily challenges he confronted as a caregiver. The likely guilt he felt detesting his new role when his wife was the actual victim of the crime. In an instant, his identity had been stolen. Beyond the new set of demands, he was also dealt a slew of traumatic emotions and experiences to process and live with.
Try as I might, there’s no way I can understand the ongoing pain this man has endured, the ongoing hopelessness he must have felt. Another rehab appointment that only left her frustrated. Another med that didn’t quite work. A course of action or treatment that failed to yield the dividends hoped for. A realization that any mutual enjoyment of their four adult children and the assumed future grandchildren in their twilight years would now be a solitary venture.
He needed to talk.
Yesterday a friend came over to drop off some boxes. We’re knee-deep in the loathsome activity of moving, which means any and all boxes are appreciated. But it was clear that’s not why he really came over.
For the last few years, he has assumed the role of caretaker. Ever since the words “she has cancer” were said, his life was forever changed. His role as husband and father took on new dimensions: new stresses, new levels of responsibility, new emotions to process. Through it all, the entire family has provided witness for an unexplainable peace, a contagious joy, an inspirational courage, and a Godward focus.
We didn’t speak for long. I was sick that evening and had just woken from a short nap to find him at our house. We talked about his wife’s most recent treatments, the local school system, the pains of moving, the end of summer. Inconsequential? On the surface, maybe. But at the core, we all need to talk.
This morning, my eyes watered when I read of this husband/father who’d had enough. I thought of the hell he must have endured up to the point when he pulled the trigger, sitting alone in his car. I thought of the likely overwhelming sense of loneliness and anger at the life he should have had — the life he did have — versus the one he was living. I also thought of the lack of someone — anyone — to speak to in his life.
Would his kids yell at him if he even admitted that taking care of their mother was a chore? Would his family stop speaking to him if he floated the idea of seeking some outside care? Did he carry the weight of every unasked question since those rocks were heaved over the side of that overpass?
I don’t know that I’m so different. I don’t know that any of us are different. This morning, while reading the article, I realized that the only thing that separated my own story from this news headline is the community around me — friends who asked the hard questions, friends who didn’t care if it was awkward to bring it up. I also thought of my own attempts (that often feel so lame) to be that person for someone else scared to admit that they’re in over their head, that their circumstances are overwhelming them.
This afternoon I called a close friend who’s been there for me in some of my darkest moments. His life is now stressful on all fronts. Work. Home. There’s little respite from the incessant demands for his attention. Provide for this. Gear up for that. Keep your head up. Hold out hope. Rinse, repeat, despite the circumstances.
He is a champion in all respects to me. He’s a model of love and patience in the midst of trying times. He’s even reached out to me amidst his own crises, wondering how I was doing when he has every reason to focus solely on himself and his family.
Hey, what’s up?
Nothing much, man. I just figured you might need to talk.
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.