Tragic celebrity sui­cides should be re­minder to lis­ten

The Signal - - OPINION - COM­MEN­TARY Copy­right 2018 Chris­tine Flow­ers. Flow­ers is an at­tor­ney and a colum­nist for the Philadel­phia Daily News, and can be reached at cflow­ers1961@gmail.com.

When I heard my brother Jonathan had taken his own life, my first thought, un­fil­tered through the sieve of rea­son, was: “Why the hell did he do this to me, to my mother, to us?”

When I learned that Kate Spade had taken her own life, my first thought was: “Why did she do that to them?” re­fer­ring to her hus­band and 13-year-old daugh­ter.

And when, al­most un­be­liev­ably, I learned that An­thony Bour­dain had com­mit­ted sui­cide in his ho­tel room in France, I thought “My God, he had ev­ery­thing to live for! Why?”

Twenty years have not blunted my in­stincts or re­flexes. But unlike the decades it took for me to grap­ple with my anger and be­wil­der­ment at my brother’s act, I quickly re­al­ized my gross mis­take in blam­ing Spade or Bour­dain for “hurt­ing” their loved ones or mak­ing it about “fault,” and felt ashamed.My friend helped me lis­ten to those bet­ter an­gels in a Face­book post where she ob­served, “To para­phrase Olympia Dukakis in Moon­struck, ‘What you don’t know about de­pres­sion is a lot.’ “

I’m not a psy­chol­o­gist, and my judg­ment of hu­man na­ture has been called ab­so­lutist, but even I un­der­stand that hu­mans can­not live with­out hope.Emily Dick­in­son took her Bac­carat crys­tal words and de­scribed it like this:

Hope is the thing with feath­ers/That perches in the soul/ And sings the tune with­out the words/And never stops at all

And sweet­est in the gale is heard/And sore must be the storm/That could abash the lit­tle Bird/That kept so many warm

In­deed, de­pres­sion is some­thing that oblit­er­ates the abil­ity to see light through the fog.I have never suf­fered from its heavy grav­ity, drag­ging its vic­tim down to a place where re­al­ity is seen through a dark veil, even when the rest of the world can only see why he or she should be filled with grat­i­tude for a won­der­ful life.

By all ac­counts, Kate Spade had that won­der­ful life.She was ex­tremely ta­lented, rich be­yond any met­ric I would un­der­stand, mar­ried to a man who loved her, blessed with a sweet child, and a cre­ative genius. Per­haps that last part is key, though. My sis­ter, who worked in mar­ket­ing for al­most a decade, told me that artis­tic peo­ple are of­ten the ones most sus­cep­ti­ble to sui­ci­dal thoughts.

That’s prob­a­bly why I shouldn’t have been shocked about Bour­dain’s death, either. The chef-turned-jour­nal­ist-turned trou­ba­dour of the road had lived a hard­edged life and had once noted that he was sur­prised to have made it to age 30. He was a manic, mag­nif­i­cent artist. But he was so full of life, that his death still came as a shock. It shouldn’t have.

But de­pres­sion doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate. It af­fects kings and com­mon­ers. It af­fected my gen­tle brother, who, as a child, was kind but de­tached and seemed to have nerve end­ings right be­low the sur­face of his translu­cent skin. Nor­mal things that went un­ob­served by the rest of our rowdy crew of five would be a source of angst for him.His em­pa­thy was ex­cep­tional for a child. He felt things deeply. He had an oth­er­worldly as­pect to him, which might ex­plain why his fa­vorite show was Star Trek. Even when he laughed, he seemed vaguely sad.

I don’t know if this was the be­gin­ning of his de­pres­sion, but the fact that th­ese things stand out in my me­mory lead me to be­lieve that his al­ba­tross fol­lowed him from child­hood. That’s not to say Jon was never happy. But it was never com­plete hap­pi­ness.

When we learned he had com­mit­ted sui­cide on the cusp of his 31st birth­day, I took com­fort in the im­age of Jonathan Liv­ingston Seag­ull ris­ing to the heav­ens, fi­nally free.

The idea that fam­ily wasn’t enough to save him only sank in af­ter years of anger. I for­gave him for aban­don­ing us, es­pe­cially my mother, when I re­al­ized that if love could keep some­one alive, he would still be with us. De­pres­sion is not caused by lack of love.Some of the most beloved peo­ple com­mit sui­cide. And I have no doubt Kate Spade was sur­rounded by fierce, in­tense, pro­found love. I know that Bour­dain was in love with Asia Ar­gento, his ap­par­ent soul mate.

Sui­cide is the last act of some­one in pain, and who has lost hope that the pain will end. Spade had all the out­ward signs of suc­cess and ev­ery rea­son to be happy, and yet it wasn’t enough. Nei­ther was the love for her child. Nei­ther was Bour­dain’s love of life. Nei­ther was my brother’s love for us, or ours for him.

I have no an­swer, only a sug­ges­tion: Lis­ten to the words not spo­ken when some­one says that noth­ing is wrong. Be vig­i­lant. Have com­pas­sion.

The idea that fam­ily wasn’t enough to save him only sank in af­ter years of anger.

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