Episode 842 Taking One’s Own Life (Part 2)
This is a follow up on episode 836 entitled “Taking One’s Own Life”. I guess this would have the same title only with the addition of “Part 2”.
Dear Mr. Lowery,
I enjoy your podcast. At 65, I'm not yet retired but I find many episodes aspirational and informative.
The episode on taking one's own life is a notable exception. My mother took her own life at age 67, nearly 20 years ago. I won't go into that story now. I suspect that this podcast episode was not only triggering but also disturbing in many ways for other survivors of suicide.
Your anecdote of the teacher who died by hypothermia in Alaska was the most romanticized telling of a suicide story I've ever heard. This woman was probably lonely and depressed about dealing with an arthritic condition that was likely manageable and not causing intractable pain. You detailed the ways she put her affairs in order and tied up the loose ends of her life. That doesn't make this any less sad. I hope that older people are not as susceptible to copycat acts as younger ones are.
The story of your friend who used duct tape and plastic sheeting was simply horrifying. Suffocation is a terrible way to die. Surely something is wrong with a society where someone has to resort to such techniques. Yet there was implicit approval in your recounting of it. What an awful visual for your listeners, and what a shame that this person's family had to endure such a traumatizing experience (even though they were fully informed and accepting at the time). The takeaway message from that anecdote was that if you take extraordinary steps (i.e., videotaping the act) to ensure that your family is held legally blameless, this method is OK.
You said that your friend whose son died by suicide was severely depressed for two years. Those two years must have been interminable. Saying that it's understandable actually takes away from it. And you can be sure that the grief didn't end there. It never goes away. One doesn't move past it, one can only move forward with it.
I know that your intentions were good. But this is one situation where you can't understand the burden on the survivors if you haven't experienced it yourself--a burden I would wish on no one.
Even some of the terminology in this episode is offensive. "Committing suicide" is a legal term rooted in the criminalization of the act and its so-called "sinful" nature. This is a term that's avoided by those who are knowledgeable about the topic.
Maybe it's impossible to treat this topic in a balanced way in a short podcast. In any event, I hope you will consider taking this episode down so others don't stumble across it as I did. I wish I could "unhear" it and I'm sure I'm not the only one. It was a jarring departure from your customary topics. Your voice is almost invariably gentle, reassuring and wise.
Thank you for considering this.
I was grateful for the letter and the insight. I responded:
What a thoughtful letter. You awakened me to thoughts I had not considered when producing this podcast. You are right that I have never had a very close experience in this realm.
I did receive positive feedback concerning that podcast. I think the sadness of each episode was expressed, or at least I hope it was: not explicitly but implied. Perhaps not. I am sorry if that was not the case.
You make a very good case for revisiting the issue. Would you be agreeable to allowing me to read from your letter in a follow up podcast? You said very well what others might find invaluable. I know I did.
I received the following response:
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I appreciate your openness to this feedback.
You are welcome to read from my letter in a follow-up episode; thanks for asking. The only part I'm hesitant about is my comment characterizing the survivors' experience in that one case as traumatizing. I've no right to make that assumption; they may be at peace with it.
For me, the underlying issue is not whether one approves or disapproves of suicide or assisted dying, whether in specific cases or in general. It's how we talk about suicide. When you have a big platform, it's hard to strike the right balance because it's a fraught subject for many people. As the saying goes, everyone we meet is fighting a battle we know nothing about.
I would like to thank Karen for the letter and developing other insights into the issue. She is certainly correct in her phrase, “everyone we meet is fighting a battle we know nothing about.”
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