A few months ago, someone that I admire wrote a post about Brittany Maynard, the woman who had moved to a new state with her family so that she could die with compassion. She was terminally ill with brain cancer and her health was deteriorating and she wanted to live the end of her life with dignity and have control over a disease that had taken control of her life.
This person that I admire is openly religious and often posts about his faith. He wrote a post about this woman, asking "what if Brittany choosing to die was not in God's plan" and went on to wonder whether God had great things planned for this woman that she would miss out on because she was choosing to end her own life.
I read the post and realized that he and I shared a very different view on Brittany's decision, but then I made the mistake of reading the comments.
People were ripping the woman apart.
Some said she should burn in hell for choosing to end her own life. Harsh opinions of suicide ensued. Others criticized her immensely for her "selfish" decision. Comments on the Internet can be a really horrific thing, but I couldn't believe the lack of compassion that these people were showing this woman who had made such a tough decision and shared it publicly.
And while Brittany's situation is very different than anything I've experienced in my lifetime, with their criticism of her choice and suicide in general, I felt like they were also attacking my mom.
Since my mom's death in 1998, I've had some very difficult conversations / debates / arguments with people about suicide. It's a heated subject, and I've had my fair share of people express their opinions about it to me.
About how selfish it is.
How awful it is for the people who need to "clean it up".
Shouldn't I be angry at my mom?
And now reading the opinions of these people who believed that those who commit suicide should burn in hell.
In 17 years I've certainly wondered what had to be happening in my mom's head in order for her to end her life. She had 2 children, family and friends who loved her immensely and she left that behind. I've felt sad for the time I lost with her and all the things she'll never be a part of in my life. It hurts to think about the time we've missed out on together and the moments in my life that she will never experience. The important people in my life that she'll never get to meet. And while suicide is a selfish act, I recognize that those who commit suicide really see no other way to keep living. It's not a feeling that I have personally experienced, but I have felt the bleakness that comes with depression and can only imagine that suicide is a further extension of that. And in Brittany's case, it was a choice to die with dignity. Not an easy one, but a decision that she and her family decided was the right one for her.
I can't imagine condemning anyone to "burn in hell", especially not someone who was hurting immensely and going through their own version of hell; A person who was experiencing a lot of pain and sadness, who through their own actions would leave family and loved ones and a whole life behind. I'm not a religious person, but I understand that the bible says to "love thy neighbour", right?
And like I felt the day I read those comments, I feel the need to write this and defend my mom, because she isn't here to do it herself.
Because in my experience, when people get upset about suicide or the idea of suicide, they forget that there was a person attached to the concept. They dismiss the people that were left behind. They get caught up in being against the idea and view it as a concept that they are against. When really, there's so much more to it than that.
Each year I host this Life is Sweet series for people to share their stories and to remind others of the humanity behind the ideas of mental health, mental illness, suicide and loss. It's easy to get caught up in a concept, but let's remember that there are people behind them.
Seventeen years ago, my beautiful mother Debbie chose to end her life by committing suicide. I can't claim to understand exactly why, but I know that she dealt with a lot of pain and sadness in her lifetime.
I'm not angry at her.
I don't feel resentful of her "selfish" act.
I feel sad for all that we both missed out on.
And I miss her every day.