Suicide -- Tragedy and Shame

June 14, 2018

 

     I could see Bill on the grass through the open sliding glass door. He was on his belly, but hunched up like a discarded rag doll. He wore black pants and shirt -- pajamas maybe -- that left his ankles and feet bare. Toes down, his naked feet were an odd purplish yellow color, vulnerable and exposed. His left arm was bent, the hand open with palm and fingers facing the cloudless sky.  His head was hidden -- mercifully -- by the thick trunk of an old shade tree. A slight breeze wafted over his body, carrying a faint sickly sweet miasma from the changes taking place under the hot sun.

 

     There were four of us inside. I was there as emotional support for my friend, Betty, who had found Bill's body in the yard. Two Sheriff's officers took Betty's statement, taking notes in old fashioned spiral notepads. They were kind and gentle as they went through their questions, teasing out the "Who," "What, and "Why" of the story. They knew the "Where" was mere yards from us through the open door. The "How" was clear from the gun near Bill's body and the horrific exit wound on the back his head. The memory of that sight when she discovered the body had Betty almost in shock, shaking all over, her eyes skittering around the room to avoid glancing through the open door.

 

     The "Who" was Bill, our 68-year-old neighbor, and a close friend of Betty's for many years. The "What" was suicide by gunshot, an all too common event. The "Why" was more complex, Many people have spent years caring for an elderly parent until they passed away from cancer at almost 100-years-old. Many people often have a difficult time coping with trying to settle an estate -- even with careful preplanning -- when relatives turn greedy and acrimonious. Many elderly people suffering from terminal cancer while living alone somehow find the strength to get through day by day. Very few of them have to deal with all those problems at once. With Betty's help -- she came each day to take him to appointments, help him with meds, and with managing his paperwork -- he was able to function. Then his doctor cut Bill's daily pain medication from two pills per day to just 1/2 pill per day. The explanation was fear, the doctor was afraid he might get in trouble for prescribing the pain meds in the current hysterical climate regarding opioids and other powerful medications.

 

     Bill tried his best to cope with the reduction. A notebook next to his chair detailed the dates and times he'd called his doctor trying to get relief, calls that always turned into messages that were never returned. Overwhelmed, Bill was left with no choice. His escape from agony leaves pain for those who knew him. It should also leave shame for those medical professionals who failed him, and shame for a citizenry that permits this kind of system. No one should die alone in agony. We should all mourn Bill's death and the death of so many others like him. We should all do whatever we can to change the system so more people like Bill aren't faced with this tragic outcome.

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