SUICIDE

I’m going to go out on another limb here and talk about suicide, because I believe it is another taboo that needs to be broken! One of the most frequent observations made about suicide is about how awful it is for those left behind. I have been guilty of using that phrase myself. If you are reading this essay, dealing with the suicide of a friend was obviously not as difficult for you as the problems that convinced the friend to end their life. At this point in my own understanding, I feel very uncomfortable making it about me. I believe it dishonors my friends who have chosen that path!

A recent study found that baby boomers have a higher rate of suicide than any other age group.

In the first decade of this century the suicide rate in the United States increased by 30%.

Many of the factors that influence people to commit suicide have become more prevalent among boomers in recent years, such as hopelessness and despair, inability to enjoy normal life pleasures, increased substance use or abuse, and loss.

Personally, I do not considered myself suicidal. In the depths of my worst nightmares and depressions though, I have come to a better understanding of why some people do end their lives. Like many of my boomer peers, I do find myself making a declaration I do not remember being made by seniors when I was younger. Perhaps they only kept it among themselves, but I personally think not. When contemplating a life threatening illness, I believe many of my treatment options would be influenced by whether I believe the future is even worth living for. I hear this often from many of my friends.

My own struggle for survival has given me a new perspective on life and death. My willingness to speak of this struggle in public has opened my eyes to the incredible compassionate side of many of my neighbors and friends. I feel lucky to be the recipient of that kind of empathy. But I also understand that not everyone feels as comfortable as I do, about opening up about personal feelings. There is a side of this struggle that many continue to face alone in their daily lives. I would like to share two of the experiences that shape my own view.

My first real encounter with suicide was my friend Carey. Carey was struggling with AIDS in the early 1990s. I imagine the emotional strain of the continuous juggling of drug therapies alongside the incredible physical manifestations of the diseases became too much for Carey. Unfortunately, Carey chose to leave this world by putting a gun to his head. It’s hard to imagine what that experience was like for those close to him, especially for his partner who found him.

My second experience with suicide was on April 8, 2013, when my dear friend Jonathan ended his life at the Golden Gate Bridge. Jonathan’s suicide had special significance when I struggled to keep my home in Oakmont. I am not the only friend who believes Jonathan’s situation was exacerbated by losing his home. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not despondent over my situation. I cannot help but imagine what Jonathan felt as he contemplated ending his life. I should at least be given the opportunity to say I believe I understand what he may have gone through!

Jonathan was one of our first friends when Rob and I moved to San Francisco. As our travel agent, Jonathan nurtured our wanderlust. I remember an exotic photo of Jonathan and his partner Peter in a rickshaw, that hung on the wall of Now Voyager in San Francisco’s Castro district. Rob and I both imagined ourselves in that photo.

In 1990, my friend Gary and I stayed in Jonathan’s seaside condo on Maui, while Gary recovered from the death of his partner Russell. In 1994, Rob and I were traveling around the world by continuing west until we arrived back at our point of origin. We were amazed when Jonathan showed up on our doorstep in Koh Samui, Thailand. A little more than one year later Jonathan held my hand and offered his shoulder as we arranged my ticket to London, where I would sit at Rob’s bedside until he left this world a few weeks later.

It was Jonathan who pushed me to keep traveling after Rob died. He arranged the tickets back to Crete, where I spread Rob’s ashes in the castle ruins where we had taught yoga together. Jonathan arranged the ticket to Illinois to see my mother before she died. Jonathan arranged the tickets back to Illinois a few months later when I returned home to care for my father in the last month of his life. He arranged my trip to Australia the following winter and my trip back to Crete with my sister Pat the following spring. Jonathan was my travel guru. He knew as much, or maybe more about my life than many other friends or family.

On the ninth anniversary of Jonathan’s death, I still miss him. Today I’m watching Now Voyager to celebrate his life.

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Robert Starkey

World traveler, writer, photographer, dog lover, cancer survivor