Saturday, June 2, 2018

suicide is painless

M*A*S*H, the television series, was based on the 1970 movie with the same title, which was based on the 1968 novel, titled MASH. The television series premiered on September 17, 1972, and the final 2.5 hour episode (titled “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen”) aired on February 28, 1983. The viewing audience was 125 million people, which broke the record for the highest percentage of homes with televisions for a television series. The show adopted its theme song, “suicide is painless” from M*A*S*H, the movie, which used the same theme song.

To be honest, I don’t think of the suicide issue very frequently, but it’s popped up on three separate occasions in recent weeks. My first real exposure to the issue happened in 2005, when one of my MetLife clients took his own life. At the appropriate time, I will tell you more about “Dan’s story”.

My first exposure in the recent past occurred just a few weeks ago, when I finished reading Jodi Picoult’s novel, “The Pact’. It’s a story about an intelligent 17 year old girl who decided to end her life, and she asked her long time boy friend (and neighbor) to assist her. Like virtually all Picoult’s novels, it was very thought provoking, but the subject matter made it a difficult book to work through.

The second reference to suicide was a recent column by a local columnist, named Linda Valdez, which you can read at the link posted below:

The title, “let old – not just terminally ill – folks decide when they die” will give you a good idea about some of her thoughts.

The third reference to suicide happened today, June 1, when Brittany Maynard’s husband, Daniel Diaz, was on Megyn Kelly’s show. The link below tells you more about her, but the short story is that she developed astrocytoma, a rare form of brain cancer, when she was 29 years old. At the time of her diagnosis, she had been married for roughly 14 months. Although she still had some good days after her diagnosis, she had many more days filled with pain and reduced communication skills. Since there is no cure for her disease, her choices were either a long and painful death, or a quick and pain free death. Since assisted suicide was illegal in California at the time, she moved to Oregon, and her life ended peacefully on November 2, 2014.

At the time of her death, only 3 states had death-with-dignity laws. As of today, that number has increased to 6, but will become 7 when Hawaii’s law becomes effective on January 1, 2019.

The average number of suicides each year in America is 44,965, or an average of 123 per day. 7 out of 10 suicides are middle aged white men, and the “method of choice” was firearms, which caused 51% of the deaths. Montana has the highest number of suicides, but is closely followed by Alaska. Not surprisingly, the states that have the toughest gun laws also have the lowest number of suicides

 I plan to live to be 100 years old, or darn close to it, so there is little chance that I am going to “off” myself at some point in the future. However, due to the wide variety of problems facing people who ultimately decide to “check out” a little early, I am not about to question their motives, since none of us will ever know what led them to make a very difficult decision.

I will admit, though, that Dan’s suicide made me mad, and here’s why: 


 Dan’s story 

The note in yesterday’s e-mail hit like a ton or bricks.

A guy named Bob, whom I have never met, sent me a note about Dan, who
was his neighbor and friend, as well as my client (at MetLife) and
friend. The note mentioned that Dan had passed away on Wednesday,
August 3, and the wake was today (August 5) in Oakbrook Terrace, a
western suburb of Chicago.

Dan and his wife Mary had purchased several products from me when I was
at MetLife, and Dan has been trying to buy a VW Passat from me for
months, but his wife is still a little nervous about spending the extra
money, even though they are well off financially. We’ve talked together
on the phone on a pretty regular basis, and I was a frequent recipient
of his email literature, some of which I passed on to some of MY
regular email correspondents.

Since Dan really was a hell of a guy, and I considered him a friend, I
decided to take a few hours off from work to attend his wake. Although
Chicago traffic on a Friday afternoon can really get brutal, my
three-hour round trip actually could have been a lot worse.

After I got to the wake, his younger daughter quickly advised me that
her dad had taken his own life, which brought a little misting to my
eyes, and an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Dan had
been plagued with a variety of medical problems for a number of years,
which had forced an early retirement several years ago. Had he lived to
be 80 or so, he would have won the "curmudgeon" award from whatever
nursing home he wound up in, but he still was an enjoyable guy in spite
of his characteristic bluntness.

Dan’s frustration with his medical problems certainly are
understandable, but the thoughts that kept coming back to me on the
drive back to Evanston are that neither one of his daughters (they are
roughly 18 and 20) will ever have the opportunity to walk them down the
aisle with their dad on their wedding day, or have him play the role of
grandpa to their children, or have him watch them enter the world as
new college graduates (the eldest daughter just finished her second
year at Northwestern, and will be attending a semester of college in
Dublin next fall).

I’ve offered to help his wife a little bit with the MetLife stuff after
the dust settles a little, but hopefully (and more importantly) I can
offer her a few kind words to ease her pain.

The lesson that all of us can learn from Dan is that even if our
troubles at times seem overwhelming , ALL of us have a vast network of
family and friends that can help us get through. I’ve had more than my
share of bad situations in recent years, but my Irish stubborness (and
a few trusted confidantes) has helped me to overcome some pretty
daunting challenges.

I’ll hoist a glass of Guinness in Dan’s honor as often as I can, but
I’ll always remember him as a friend who’s time came sooner than it
should have, and it may take me a while to work that anger out of my

My closing thought (and advice) is this:

If things look dark and dreary, NEVER give up the ship. Help can always
arrive when you least expect it, AND from unexpected sources.


In the final analysis, of course, suicide is NOT painless. Although it may finally bring permanent relief to the person committing the act, nearly all of those people leave behind friends and relatives, who will be forever tormented by the fact that maybe, just maybe, they could have done SOMETHING to help, but were unable to. As a society , we should also be troubled by the fact that an average of 20 veterans kill themselves every day, and spending $30 million spent on a military parade is money that could have been better used to provide preventive measures for them.

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