Wednesday, 6 February 2019

The Shame of No Shame...

Last night my partner and I watched an episode of 'Trevor McDonald on Death Row'. One of the inmates Trevor interviewed was unhappy about being moved from Death Row after nearly twenty years to a normal prison after his sentence was reduced to three life sentences. His crime? He had murdered his wife and two young children after his wife had told him she wanted a divorce.

He had tried to kill himself shortly after the murders by jumping off a bridge but had been saved and resuscitated from the icy river water and made to stand trial.

Trevor asked him why he was so unhappy and the convict told him he had wanted to die 18 years ago and he wanted to die now.

To be in heaven with his family was his only wish and being in prison for the rest of his natural life was a punishment he could not cope with.

I was gobsmacked by this. Supposing there is such a place, what on earth made him think that he deserved to go to heaven rather than hell after murdering his innocent wife and children? Why did he imagine his slaughtered family would wish to spend all eternity with their murderer in the hereafter? What could be more appropriate than a hell-on-earth for the rest of his natural life?

While mental incapacity had been argued in his defence in the endless appeals conducted in his name, there are normally only two reasons for an individual to commit familicide. The ultimate act of control and the ultimate act of revenge, sometimes both combined. Such a crime requires intent. It is not impulsively committed, but premeditated. The convict admitted he was 100% guilty of the crime and had even had teardrops tattooed on his face to remind him to cry every day for what he had done.

The case made me think about how common familicide now seems to be. Seldom a week goes by without reading about another case in the newspaper (copycats?) and the online comments are illuminating. If a man has slaughtered his family and then himself, he is roundly condemned. If a mother has, there are outpourings of sympathy for her mental state and her poor innocent babies and 'may they all rest in peace.' almost as if it were some terrible accident they were offering condolences for rather than murder-suicide.  I cannot join in with this. Murder is murder and the vast majority of people know what murder is, no matter how mentally ill, challenged or depressed they might be.

Now that children have become possessions rather than gifts, there seems to be a disturbing trend of  'I brought them into the world - I can take them out.' Which is no better than the wronged partner or spouse who murders their partner with the justification; 'If I can't have you, no one else can!' Except that children are total innocents in the process and did not choose their warped parents.

What arrogance too to assume that no one else can raise your kids if you've chosen to check out of this world! You, who were offering them brutal murder as your idea of parenting. And in the knowledge that almost ANY other parents would do a much better job than a broken down one who is bent on taking their own life, and potentially their childrens' too.

Not so long ago suicide was deemed as 'selfish' and it remains against the law. Now the push for assisted suicide, ahem, assisted dying, appears to be making suicide increasingly socially acceptable, and not just for the terminally ill. However in the 'bad old days' of social stigma and condemnation, and even refusal to bury suicides in consecrated ground, I could swear there was a lot less suicide around. And religious belief and caring what the neighbours thought also came in handy as a preventative.

God knows we live in a world that feels increasingly designed to drive us all mad, but I assert it is our job to fight for our mental health, not give in. And at least not have children (or pets) if we have grave doubts about our ability to stay the course and be loving and responsible parents.

Doubtless I will be accused of 'suicide-shaming'. But in my view it is a subject which is not discussed and thought about enough (and considering it is estimated we have all had suicidal thoughts at various times in our lives), and a shame comeback might not go amiss in terms of reducing its attractiveness as an option. I have been on three suicide-prevention training modules indeed (lest I ever come across a desperate student in my work) and the course leaders have all urged that it is indeed a subject which needs to come out of the closet and have the root causes examined.

As for 'selfish', suicide remains a selfish act insofar as those attempted suicides who lived to tell the tale have admitted that they were thinking ONLY of themselves and their own pain when they tried to kill themselves and not of others or the pain their premature departure would have caused to their loved ones.

The late film star Robin Williams famously joked; 'Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.'  Which could be ironic if you happen to believe that he actually did commit suicide. But he left us a very true statement whatever the truth of his murky demise.

Writer Dorothy Parker also left an apt poem on the subject.


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

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