He seemed troubled, I thought. A year later, after they'd moved, I knew for sure.
The boy's photo appeared in the Star-Telegram obituary section one day. There was a brief story nearby -- the 13-year-old had shot himself.
Counselors had been brought in to talk to the kids at the neighborhood middle school he attended.
We were shocked, of course ... but not all that surprised.
I know some people whose deaths were by suicide. An orthopedic surgeon/team doctor -- a very good athlete when he was younger and even in his mid-30s; a couple of terrific coaches and friends, one cancer-stricken, the other with an Alzheimer's-stricken wife, both in their 60s when they died by their own hand; a sports-desk copy editor I worked alongside, smart and upbeat.
|My favorite Robin Williams appearance: The next-to-last|
Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, May 21, 1992.
Sure, I could give you the names. Many of my friends know them. But the names aren't important here; the cause of their death -- and how we feel about it -- is.
The news about Robin Williams and the subsequent stories about the circumstances of his death and of his mental and physical problems touched off a national conversation and renewed awareness of mental illness, long-term or short, or of someone not being able to cope with the circumstances.
How many athletes and movie/television stars, and other prominent folks have gone that way, some of them recently? How many people do you know who took their own lives? And how did you feel about it?
So here's my take on it; this is what we in Shreveport Journal sports in the mid-1980s used to call the "two cents factor" -- this is my two cents' worth.
I am taken back and, frankly, bothered by the Facebook posts I've seen which refer to suicide as "cowardly" and "taking the easy way out." I felt that way a long time ago, and then when my friends took their own lives, I changed my thinking.
I think it's too judgmental; we just can't read that person's mind; we can't walk in their shoes. Everyone has a choice about their own life, even the choice on how it ends.
What I believe we need here is not criticism, but sympathy, understanding. The overwhelming sense I have about suicide is sadness -- for the person, for their families. Sometimes, when people are old and sick and their quality of life is practically nonexistent, suicide is merciful. (Yes, that's the case for permitted euthenasia.)
And there is an exception: The cases when a person the world has judged to be criminal, end their own lives. That's merciful, too ... for the rest of us. That's my opinion.
You might not agree. I've talked to a couple of friends who don't. I understand the critical viewpoint; I understand some of it is religious-based or one's view on social issues. Some people don't think it's fair for the families left to grieve.
Here's what I can tell you: I've seen depression.
I've seen it in the home I grew up in. It was never clinically diagnosed, but it was there. Certainly there were good reasons for it. But when you are young, and one of the two people you most depend on is -- at times -- out of control and, let's be honest, out of their right mind, you are affected. It is unsettling.
And I've seen it in the mirror. When I was a much younger man, I felt it. I really didn't know where I was going, what was next in my life. Marriage and children supressed those feelings, but there were times when I made major mistakes in my life that I had those old thoughts of uncertainty and, yes, despair. Sometimes I was out of my right mind (why are my friends not surprised by this?).
My wife had a couple of those times, too -- before and after our marriage -- and I have a close friend who went through a tough time years ago.
So I think about my friends dealing with cancer or with Alzheimer's, or with other mental and physical problems, and I just empathize. Suffering is part of the human condition, and we all must judge how much suffering we can -- or must -- handle.
I think about those friends I listed above, and how much they gave us -- in medicine, or coaching, or newspapers -- before they chose to end their lives. I think about Robin Williams and I'm grateful, I think we all are, about all the wonderful movies and TV shows he gave us, all the laughs, the serious acting by this seemingly always-on personality.
How could you not be a Robin Williams fan? He was so quick, so smart, so wild, so crazy, so charitable, so funny. And, yes, so troubled -- but he owned up to that ... until this terrible ending.
I think about that teenage boy who lived next door; that maybe he never got the help/treatment he needed or if he got the help, it just did not make a difference.
Mostly, when I think about suicide, I think about what my mother always said about her father, my grandfather, a personable, self-educated man. If he had known, my mother insisted, what the Germans/Nazis were going to do to him and his family, he would have found a way to end his life and save the misery of what was to come.
But he didn't know. He didn't have to make that final call; it was made for him.
So I'm not going to judge anyone who deals with depression; it's their battle; I don't think they choose to be depressed. And if they decide suicide is the answer, it's their choice. It's not ours.
The bottom line, as I've said, it's just sad.