I probably ponder my own mortality exponentially more than the average human. I impulsively think about death and dying several times a day. Sometimes it’s a fleeting thought, sometimes it’s an in-depth calculation of how long humanity has until the Earth can no longer inhabit us. This preoccupation has been with me since I was a very young child. I would go to funerals and insist to my mother that I needed to see the body- I had to try and see for myself that thing which my body contained, and the body in the casket did not, because that thing separated us into the realms of the living and of the unknown. Despite my initial efforts to fight it, I have come to accept that Death confronts me often.
When you are confronted with something often, you can either continue to fear it (and thus let it control you), or you can familiarize yourself with it. I have chosen to familiarize myself with Death, and I although it has yet to fully reveal itself to me, I have learned a lot about it in 26 years of living. I have learned that Death is an entity in itself (which is why I always write it as a proper noun). I only consider Death to be the taking of the thing which I have been looking for since childhood which allows a physical body to exist on and interact with Earth and its inhabitants. Some people call this thing a “soul” or even a “life force.” I have not seen this thing, and since I can’t observe it, I don’t feel qualified to name it. Death is not what happens after this “thing” is removed from the physical body. What happens to the “thing” or where it goes is a completely separate process or state. Some people call it “heaven” or “hell” or simply “the afterlife.” Once again, I don’t know, so I won’t speak to it. Once I came to know what Death was, and what it was not, I decided that I was not afraid of it, and I don’t think most people are either. I think what most people fear is the process by which the “thing” is removed from their bodies aka “cause of Death”, whether it be murder, drowning, car accident, or even just old age- people fear the prospect of the event during which Death will come to them because it might be physically painful or render their families unable to pay bills. Fear of the process of dying is reasonable and one of the most “natural” human impulses. Still, Death and the process are not the same things.
With these things in mind (or at least in my mind)- the process of dying, Death itself, and what happens after Death- the phenomenon of ceasing to exist as you have always known yourself may appear a bit different. I regard each of the aforementioned entities very differently, and I hope that by discussing my personal outlook I can shed some light on a rather unpopular opinion about a very taboo subject: suicide. The taking of one’s own life has been a taboo subject across time and cultures since the existence of time and cultures. I believe that the stigma attached to taking one’s own life stems largely from the fear belonging to those who remain alive of the process of dying and of the post-Death state. Many religious doctrines state that those who take their own lives are refused a positive experience in the afterlife or in their re-birth. This belief has resulted in a number of collective emotions toward the one who has committed suicide, ranging from anger that the person has “sinned” against their self to sadness that the person will not be able to join their loved ones in a good afterlife experience. More recently, a different collective mindset about suicide has developed partly in reaction to the religious reactions. This new mindset holds pity for those who have committed suicide with the rationale that the one who has taken their own life must have been “suffering” from a mental illness, or secretly grappling with issues which they could not resolve, and so they “escaped” by inducing themselves to cease to exist. This stance relies heavily on the assumption that the lived human experience is so inherently good that one would have to be literally ill to have a desire to escape it, and thus these people must be “saved” or “helped” to prevent them from committing suicide. Numerous hotlines and agencies exist which operate under this mindset and are dedicated to aiding those who are afflicted with diseases which cause suicidal thoughts.
There is no doubt that there are many people who commit suicide after long battles against mental illness, and the organizations which exist to assist these people do valuable and necessary work. Still, there is a sizable percentage of the human population who also desire to take their own lives, and are suffering from neither mental illness nor traumatic life circumstances. I am one such person, and I believe that committing suicide is the greatest expression of autonomy and free-will that exists. The separation of the “thing” which allows me to exist on this Earth from my physical body is literally a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I would love to have the ability to decide when this event will occur. There are millions of people who agree with this statement, and the movement which pushes for acceptance of this mindset is often labelled as “right-to-die” or “end-of-life choice.” There are many organizations which exist under this mindset; some focus on euthanasia for the terminally ill, while others advocate for assisted suicide for anyone who wants it. The main thing that these organizations have in common is that their leaders maintain that continued existence should be a choice, and no one has the right to force or coerce another into doing so. Maintaining that I must be “ill” in the head or struggling in life, and in need of saving because I no longer have a desire to exist is an unfair and condescending patronization of my lived experience. Just as I do not owe you my body on a sexual level, I do not owe you the experience of having my body exist in the same time/space construct as yours. My greatest hope is that I will be able to spend several years achieving great things with an able body and a sound mind to benefit the world I was born into. Once I have achieved these things and I can look around and see the positive impact of my labors, and I know that I am no longer capable of accomplishing more or am simply tired, I will initiate the process of separating the “thing” from my body, greeting Death, and allowing it to show me the realms that lie beyond what my physical body could perceive. I am excited about that prospect. I think that these are sane desires, and I cannot be convinced that they are not.
I am writing this essay in light of the recent apparent suicides of two celebrities. One of these people was a hero of mine, and upon hearing that they died via suicide, I felt a number of ways. I am certainly sad that this person no longer exists esp. to allow me to reap the fruits of their existence: arguably (but not arguably) the best food docu-series ever made. I am left hoping that their suicide was not made as a reaction to a battle with mental illness or a feeling of lack of purpose (I refuse to automatically assume that it must have been so since I did not know this person and one arguably can never truly know anyone but the self) . Most importantly though, I am simply left feeling grateful for the fact that they did exist and that they achieved great things on this Earth while they were here. Essentially, I am treating the Death of this person the same way I would treat any: thankful for their time on this side, and wishing them the best during their time on the other.
*Featured art: DeviantArt user JoaRosa response to “Music Challenge 3: The Art of Suicide”