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Secondhand Suicide
March 24, 2004 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Secondhand Suicide: An entirely true story, as told by the Widow. A young woman blogs her experience dealing with the suicide of her husband.
posted by Quartermass (65 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Is there some external verification that this is a relation of actual life events? The "authenticity trope" has been a staple of literature since Don Quixote, at least.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:18 PM on March 24, 2004


Only on Metafilter would the first post question the validity of something as haunting as this.

Who cares if it's true? Were you not moved?
posted by botono9 at 8:50 PM on March 24, 2004


Who cares if you were moved? Is it true?
posted by dchase at 9:02 PM on March 24, 2004


I have good reason to believe that it is, but no "proof." Geez
posted by Quartermass at 9:05 PM on March 24, 2004


I remember sometimes that last time we rode together on your motorcycle, and how I didn't care any more if I lived or died and I didn't wear a helmet because I was almost hoping a motorcycle ride would count as suicide.

If this had happened to you instead of to me, everyone would have known I wasn't going to live very long anyway, considering all the times I had to wear long sleeves because the only way being with you didn't hurt me was when I hurt myself worse.

Well, let me nominate secondhandsuicide as the most disturbing thing I've ever seen on MetaFilter. Maybe outside of MetaFilter.

Just two days ago, I had a discussion with my wife in which she expressed extreme displeasure at the interview Spalding Gray's widow gave to Terry Gross. Her response was that Kathie Russo was "a lot more understanding and forgiving than I [my wife] would have been," and that it perpetuated the myth of suicide as a victimless crime -- victimless beyond the suicide himself, that is. I was dismayed that my wife showed such little compassion towards the people who suffered from a disease as crippling as depression. Well, I guess this is the other side of it -- the questioning, the guilt, the despair, the pain of the victim's family. Sure, I'm curious as to whether or not it's true, but it's certainly believable, and at least in that sense true -- unswerving in its exploration of an issue I hadn't really explored.

Anyone else find secondhandsuicide impossibly difficult to read? I'm at the brink of tears.
posted by quarantine at 9:09 PM on March 24, 2004




Yes. Ineffably sad and very hard to read, authentic or otherwise.
posted by bz at 9:14 PM on March 24, 2004


I just started reading and couldn't stop. I read every blog entry. I am amazed quality of the writing and staggered by the details. It's funny, it's shocking and I don't care whether it's fake or not.

Random things about an autopsy report:
Length is measured in inches, but weight is measured in grams. Fluids are measured in cc. The length measurements that would have interested anyone were not included, but if you asked me, I'd tell you, and he'd be proud. :wink:

posted by Alison at 9:36 PM on March 24, 2004


Sidhedevil: What, you want a body?

Great link.
posted by xmutex at 9:45 PM on March 24, 2004


Alison, I had the same response as you when I read this (hence the posting)

Ok. now I see why people would think it was fake (the Kaycee incident, which I was unaware of), but "The Widow" is a member of another community that I am on. There was a thread on that site on marital status, she said "widowed", I got curious. and I got to her blog via her user page. i.e. this wasn't found 'via ____" or from an email someone sent me. If I didn't think it was legit, I wouldn't have posted it.

I read it, re-read it, and then decided that it was one of the most heartbreaking stories I have read on-line in ... well ever. I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this.
posted by Quartermass at 9:52 PM on March 24, 2004


BTW, I typoed the date of the Rock Hill paper, it was from January 17, 2003.
posted by norm at 9:58 PM on March 24, 2004


Like Alison, I started reading and couldn't stop. It's rare that you read something written from the inside of a situation like this that's so honest. The part where she talks about checking out websites and forums for "suicide survivors" is particularly poignant, because she doesn't feel the way many of them do, and wonders who's "normal". I'd think that her ambivalence is far more normal in this kind of situation than many people would like to think (not least because it doesn't seem like theirs was a terribly happy marriage in the first place). I found myself thinking that I'd probably react much the same way if I were in her situation, and I think she's handling it in as healthy a way as possible - at very least she's self aware enough to know what will help her and what won't. The description of his family's awful behaviour at the funeral home was so very sad. And the result of norm's clever detective work, in which his wife is an "in addition to his parents" made me think that the widow's description of his family was probably pretty accurate. From what I've read, I think I'd like the widow.

Great post Quartermass, thank you.
posted by biscotti at 9:59 PM on March 24, 2004


Yes, yes it matters if it's true. With fiction, there's an art to crafting words to maximally evoke the feeling, often not articulating thoughts exactly as someone would in real life. If this is fiction, we're mislead into thinking that a contrived version of personal nuance, something very subtle and subconscious to percieve, is true. It changes the point of the story. Fiction would be a reflection on the topic in general, and nonfiction would be a documentary of the way things actually go.
posted by abcde at 10:03 PM on March 24, 2004


Anyone else find secondhandsuicide impossibly difficult to read? I'm at the brink of tears.

My roommate committed sucide a few years ago, a few weeks before finals. He was scheduled to graduate that semester; his parents (and I) discovered his body the next morning when they came on a surprise visit to congratulate him. Staying with his parents and his body until the police showed up left an indelible impression on me on the expression of human grief: incoherently running through my apartment while knocking over furniture, wailing demands for an explanation, banging their heads against walls and floors, clawing at their eyes, etc. (I had to physically protect them from themselves; I didn't notice the bruises they left on my limbs until later.) The old adage goes that no parent should never have to bury their child, but the circumstances here were much worse.

I'm not entirely insensitive to grief, and I hope my preface will couch my criticism somewhat when I say that I found the writing across her entries to be uneven, reliant on repetitive tropes (such as her voyeuristic use of the second person), and gratuitously (and detrimentally) melodramatic on occasion--in other words, what one might expect from a teenager's diary, or a Lifetime channel movie. I have no opinion on the veracity of her entries, but my opinion of the emotional verisimilitude as conveyed by her narrative is not high (in the sense that it failed to broach the artificial "this is a someone writing about something" barrier to elicit the appropriate emotional response from me). This is strictly a critique of her writing--having suffered does not magically grant one talent with words nor reprieve from honest criticism. Having said that, I'm sure the sheer foreignness and pathos inherent in the situation she presents will have an immediate appeal to many readers.

If her account is indeed true, then I hope the act of writing has brought her closer to some form of closure, regardless of what anonymous Internet strangers think of how good or bad her skill at it is. As with other arts, good writing will last forever in theory, but grief lasts a lifetime, and who's to say which of the two is the longer measure.
posted by DaShiv at 10:16 PM on March 24, 2004


Suicide is pretty awful. Thankfully, though, it's never been a problem for my family. However, I do know a few people with families full of suicide and depression. It's amazing how that seems to work: members of a family are genetically predisposed to suffer more from depression, making suicide more likely, which fuels more depression in the survivors.
posted by crazy finger at 10:33 PM on March 24, 2004


It sounds disturbingly like a "what it's like to" story in Esquire. No really, it does.
posted by clevershark at 10:51 PM on March 24, 2004



wow. just wow. first of all, the graphics invoke a rock hudson/doris day hollywood double-entendre romp. sorry to say, i never read one word after encountering that. all i could think was if he shot himself more power to him. look at those colors!
posted by quonsar at 4:04 AM on March 25, 2004


Is this like reality TV, but for the web?
posted by Onanist at 4:25 AM on March 25, 2004


Whoa. Tough crowd.

I found it moving and fascinating, one of the most harrowing things I've read.

I can understand people questioning its authenticity as that is pretty much the knee-jerk reaction over any confrontational blog atm. I don't know if someone making it up would include the level of anger this woman feels, or her obsession with the forensic details. That is what makes it feel human to me.

quarantine: I completely agree with your wife.
posted by arha at 7:06 AM on March 25, 2004


I don't know, folks. I'm usually the first in line to critique some one's writing, but the odds are good she's not writing this for you.

This is strictly a critique of her writing--having suffered does not magically grant one talent with words nor reprieve from honest criticism.

DaShiv, you're obviously right, but she's not submitting this to you for critique. She didn't ask anybody to link her website on Metafilter and give her writing tips. She's not looking for a book deal. She's writing about the suicide of her husband because it helps, and probably putting it on the web helps, too.

Yes, putting something on the web means that you're exposing it to public criticism, but to come at her like an English professor just seems pointless here. Not because I feel sorry for her (although the story does make me sad) but mostly because you seem to be operating under the illusion that what you think about her writing style really matters.
posted by jennyb at 7:07 AM on March 25, 2004


DaShiv's entry about the parents of his roommate made me cry, but I couldn't get into The Widow, because it felt like a made-for-TV-movie. I think the 2nd person annoyed me, and stuff like "you hope. you hope." or "you want to cry. you try." Sometimes a simple retelling of events is more powerful than a stylized version. I don't mean to put the writer down or anything - this is how I commonly feel when I go back and read old diary entries of my own (I mean in my actual diary, not my website, although there is definitely some sentimental-y stuff up there too). It can be tough when you're reeling with emotion to find the right balance between detail and melodrama (since most descriptive words have dramatic resonances). It's a terrible story, but it still feels abstract to me because of the way it was told.

Anyway. Jennyb, obviously her writing style has nothing much to do with anything for her, but as a post on metafilter, I think it's relevant. We're not friends and family; we're online readers who were even debating whether the story was based on fact.
posted by mdn at 7:33 AM on March 25, 2004


Wow.

Best thing I've found on MF in quite some time. Great post.
posted by eas98 at 7:48 AM on March 25, 2004


I'll second mdn's comment about the roomies parents. Suicide sucks.
posted by dabitch at 7:52 AM on March 25, 2004


You used to think those teddybear-and-flower roadside memorials were the tackiest possible way to dishonor the dead. But now, you have a new winner. If anyone ever put up such a god-awful blog about your suicide you would no doubt come back to haunt them. Sure, what this woman went through was horrible, deep down you know that, but does a suicide deserve such silly graphics and a catch phrase? Give you a fucking break.
posted by bondcliff at 7:53 AM on March 25, 2004


At the request of the site's author, I removed an earlier comment that contained some personal identifying information. Rest assured that the story at the site is definitely real and can be backed up with a little googling, but the personal details needn't be posted here, for the sake of the family's anonymity.
posted by mathowie at 8:02 AM on March 25, 2004


mdn: I think the debate on the website's factuality was more relevant than her writing abilities, just because it would suck to read this believing it were true only to realize you had been emotionally manipulated. It seems reasonable to want to make sure you're not going to get ripped off before making an emotional investment.

I'm really not a fan of squishy, hand-wringing threads that come across as all teary with Touched-by-an-Angel-depth of emotion, but the critique of writing style on something that's not mean to be a literary masterpiece, not meant to be anything other than a diary or a dumping ground, just seems really petty.

I readily concede that it might be my own emotional investment getting in the way of honest criticism, however. I found myself identifying with some of the emotions (although not the exact circumstances, thankfully) to an extent. So part of my stalwart defense might easily be coming from a place of defending my own reactions to recent events in my personal life.

Also "the widow" and I both have the same crush on Nate Farley, which makes me like her.
posted by jennyb at 8:16 AM on March 25, 2004


jennyb, I was actually thinking of the fact that a number of people argued that it wouldn't matter whether it was based on actual experience or not because it was moving, and pointed toward something 'true' in the larger sense (in the sense that literature opens for us). My reaction to that was that literature is an art and not all of us are capable of expressing personal stories as artists. That absolutely does not diminish what she went through or my abstract sympathy for her, but it does diminish my actual emotional experience of sympathy for her, which I can drum up a bit on my own by really trying to imagine the situation, but which a) is not brought about by the writing itself and b) which I am less inclined to bother doing because something about the whole thing (calling yourself "The Widow"?) feels a bit tacky.

But, I too may be (aren't we all, always) coloring this with my own experiences, as in, my own discomfort or disappointment with myself for the kind of egotistical / cliched stuff I sometimes come up with when I'm depressed or feeling alone.

but the critique of writing style on something that's not mean to be a literary masterpiece, not meant to be anything other than a diary or a dumping ground, just seems really petty.

I agree it would be petty if we were her acquaintances. As it is, we're strangers looking at her website. We discuss elements of that website on these threads. These thoughts aren't for her - we're talking amongst ourselves about our reactions to one another's proposed "best of the web."

Perhaps it could be argued that since we know she could find this thread, then we shouldn't get into such matters, but I'd say that's a risk anyone takes when they put something online, and there's no reason for us to self-censor. And we're a more polite group than yr average websurfers...
posted by mdn at 8:58 AM on March 25, 2004


Gut-wrenching. The entire way through I couldn't decide whether I thought it was fiction or not, and my stomach just dropped when I read norm's entry proving (or at least strongly suggesting) that it was real. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Haunting.

Incredible post, Quartermass.
posted by widdershins at 9:08 AM on March 25, 2004


Great read, love the graphic.
posted by dong_resin at 9:21 AM on March 25, 2004


it's fake, and I know because it's my blog!
posted by mcsweetie at 9:25 AM on March 25, 2004


wow, that was powerful. this doesn't help reading it at work. thanks.
posted by poopy at 9:39 AM on March 25, 2004


I wasn't critiquing the writing by asking about whether or not it was a description of real-life events -- and notice that I didn't ask "is it true", because it clearly expresses emotional truth, whether or not it refers to specific details of events as they occurred.

Having said that, I think it's always a meaningful question to ask. Those of you who think I was "just being mean" are missing the point.

Since Matt has more information than I do, I'll take his assertion that the blog does refer to real-life events on faith.

And add that I am sorry for the author's loss, but a little unsettled by the way she has chosen to deal with it. The chirpy "Googie widow" graphic really creeps me out, in particular.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:49 AM on March 25, 2004


the odds are good she's not writing this for you

Wait -- what?

You're telling me she's writing this for herself yet publishing it on the Internet? Attracting attention might not be her first and foremost goal but...you know?

I agree with JennyB that I'd probably be more relaxed if I knew whether "Entirely True" is on the up-and-up, though part of me thinks that good art should make you react. Whether real or made up, its good that way and it is manipulative, no matter which way it goes.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 9:52 AM on March 25, 2004


MetaFilter: Backed by googling and backed up by Google.
posted by DBAPaul at 9:52 AM on March 25, 2004


I think the 2nd person annoyed me, and stuff like "you hope. you hope."

I have written about the death of my first child, and found myself slipping into the second person narrative. I think it happens naturally as a way to distance yourself from the events.

Just as when I talk about or think about being raped as a four-year-old, the events always happen to "her," that four -year-old, not me.

Perhaps critiquing the article is a way for you to distance yourself. By focusing on her style, you don't have to imagine her pain.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:04 AM on March 25, 2004


You're telling me she's writing this for herself yet publishing it on the Internet? Attracting attention might not be her first and foremost goal but...you know?

It could happen, especially if you're in the habit of writing and publishing on the web. There is no doubt a cartharsis in writing, and I think for some (myself included) there is a catharsis in letting people read what you wrote. That doesn't mean that it was written with those people in mind, but just for the cathartic effect.

I'm not suggesting that excuses the writing from critique (and mdn and others make good points about this), just that publishing something on the web that is not for the enjoyment of others is not a totally ungraspable concept.
posted by jennyb at 10:13 AM on March 25, 2004


This is one of the best discussions of writing on the web I think I've seen. Thanks mdn, jennyb and dashiv.

I think it's great she's documenting everything and shows that suicide is not victimless and her somewhat detachment from guilt that's showing itself in some Freudian-like dreams.


I agree with the above comments on that she's trying too hard to stylize her writing. She should look towards Strip Mining For Whimsy for good autobiographical writing. I don't know if that site has been posted here before but at times it can be brilliant. I haven't kept up with it lately but followed around the time he really talked about his early years and coping with the fact he was living with a gay, AIDs infected, junkie father. I mean something with that premise could pracitally write itself and he manages to do a good job. He mains a consistent non-chalant tone that probably comes from both despair and disillusionment. Somehow he manages to keeps the writing sincere and believable with a sarcastic humor about absurd situations.

And that is what I see is missing from Secondhand Suicide, voice. I have no doubt it's true but instead of creating a unique prespective, she goes for the emotional appeal and using literary cliches that others have mentioned. I still read it and enjoyed it, but it lacks the literary greatness it appears to try so hard to achieve.
posted by geoff. at 10:17 AM on March 25, 2004


This is one of the best discussions of writing on the web I think I've seen.

Don't get out much, do you?

Boy, from the we-hate-"Jane Doe"-cause-she's-whiny thread to the we-hate-Dana-cause-she-didn't-watch-her-purse-constantly thread to the we-hate-the-Widow-cause-her-prose-style-sucks thread... gee, they're all women, you think that's relevant? naw, couldn't be... It looks like MetaFilter collectively has zero patience or empathy for anyone who isn't cool, collected, snide, and never makes mistakes—unlike, it goes without saying, everyone here. Remember, if someone posts something on the web where anyone can read it, it means they deserve to get shat on and they will get shat on!

Jesus.
posted by languagehat at 10:34 AM on March 25, 2004


Rest assured, the widow knows about this thread. I e-mailed her about the fact that someone had posted her name, the name of her husband etc. I think that a "I have verified this information" without names and city would have been a better way to handle the seemingly important verification (BTW: how often does verification come up in MeFi threads anyway? I think that it is telling when it comes up in a posting like this and not something "technological" or "rational").

Again, I posted this because it touched a nerve. I know I can't control the discourse after it is posted, but I am disappointed that some have turned this into a critique of the widow's writing style, namely because it so misses the entire point.

With a tragedy like this, first of all, the honesty is refreshing. "Here it is, and it ain't pretty." Dealing with something as fucked up as this isn't pretty.

Haven't you ever had emotions that you can't express with proper syntax, grammar and spelling? Or something you can't express without relying on cliche or device? Haven't you ever been so sad all you can do is punch a hole in the wall and scream at the top of your lungs? (Transfer that to the web and all you can write is cap-locked curse words) Haven't you ever been so happy with something so inexplicably stupid that it makes you tear up? (Transfer that to the web and all you get it s :) or a stupid smiley icon - wearing sunglasses of course!)

That is what this is. It isn't Hemingway - but neither is this comment or any of the other comments in this thread. It's not meant to be; it is a reaction to something that is difficult to react to. I know I, for one, am ill equip to deal with grief; it fucks me up big time. How many of you can say otherwise?

Sometimes, emotions don't follow the rules of discourse.
posted by Quartermass at 10:34 AM on March 25, 2004


on preview (or after posting!): What languagehat said.
posted by Quartermass at 10:35 AM on March 25, 2004


I have been reading snippets of this all morning, in the midst of working. In terms of my time, and more largely, in terms of my handling it emotionally, snippets are all I can do.

It is harrowing, and one of my reactions is that no way would I ever commit suicide now, if this is anywhere near what people I left behind would go through.

If the Widow is reading this thread, I salute her and admire the courage (although she would not look at this blog as courageous I suspect). I wish her as much healing as she can have.
posted by Danf at 10:54 AM on March 25, 2004


I have lots of personal feelings. However, I don't deal with my grief and pain by designing a snappy cartoon graphic, creating a website, and posting accounts of my grief and pain on the Internet.

Going to that much trouble moves this from "personal account of tragedy" to "creative work based on personal tragedy". If this woman had written these accounts in a LiveJournal or a Blogspot blog, they would probably not be subjected to literary critique.

But creating a "Secondhand Suicide" domain, designing a "cool Googie widow" logo, and blogrolling for yourself all speak to other impulses than wanting catharsis for one's grief--they demonstrate that the author is working to make art out of her grief.

I admire that impulse. It's what brought us [i]Death Be Not Proud[/i] and [i]Leftover Life to Kill[/i] and hundreds of other works of literature.

However, once one makes art from one's grief, that art is subject to critique. Critiquing the art does not mean critiquing the grief, and the grief is no defense for shortcomings in the art.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:23 AM on March 25, 2004


Sorry about the bad tags above. To continue my thoughts on this:

Long Day's Journey Into Night is based on Eugene O'Neill's real-life tragic family situation. Does that mean we're not allowed to critique it as a play?

To be brutally frank, I didn't find the writing "haunting" or "moving" at all. I found it to be self-consciously ironic and mannered, in the particular school of Dave Eggers and company.

I think it's terrible that this woman's husband killed himself. I am very sorry for her loss. I think it's admirable that she's trying to channel her sorrow into art. However, she hasn't succeeded with this reader.

Other people apparently got a lot more out of her writing than I did. This is understandable--no writer can reach every reader.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:28 AM on March 25, 2004


Perhaps critiquing the article is a way for you to distance yourself. By focusing on her style, you don't have to imagine her pain.

I already said, Dashiv's first paragraph made me cry. I am not trying to get away from feeling a connection. And of course the story is heartbreaking, but somehow the way it was written felt a little fake (not that I don't believe it happened, but that it felt fakily written). That's one of the things about tragedy, that in a way it's always mundane, because the world is tragic, because pain and death are as much a part of life as joy is. But some writers are able to bring this out, as a documentation of a specific instance of something we all understand.

Dashiv's roommate's parents reacted in a way that makes sense to me - that's why it hit a nerve. This story was almost as horrifying as is possible - she witnessed the father of her child pull the trigger while her child was nearby - and yet the craziness of it hardly comes across for me. She screams into the phone, holds her child too tightly, and feels like she's in a dream - but we could all write that without having gone through it; that's already expected, commonly shared territory (if asked to write a movie of the week, who wouldn't include those things?). What makes something touch a nerve is when it tells you something you didn't know consciously but feel as if you must have known somewhere, that yes, that's how it would be, even though it also feels like a revelation (in the sense of, reveals details that you wouldn't necessarily have thought to put in your movie of the week script). THe parents knocking over furniture as they run through the apartment incoherently, or Dashiv discovering bruises on his arms the next day from trying to restrain them, struck me that way. It's not that cliches aren't true; it's just that they're already part of our conscious expectation.

gee, they're all women, you think that's relevant? naw, couldn't be...

well, I'm female too. Dunno if that's relevant to you, but I have no doubt I'd be reacting the same way to a man writing this way.

It looks like MetaFilter collectively has zero patience or empathy for anyone who isn't cool, collected, snide, and never makes mistakes—unlike, it goes without saying, everyone here.

I've already said that perhaps one of the reasons I notice the slide towards melodrama is that I see it in my own writing after some time has passed from the event I was writing about. I think all people feel while they're going through something that what they're feeling is so deep and unreal that only by stating that it's deep and unreal can they make that clear, but the thing is they're (we're) forgetting, or just not trusting, that people understand that, that you don't have to say it out loud, but can bring about the feeling by describing the details - classic of writing class, right? - "show don't tell."

Remember, if someone posts something on the web where anyone can read it, it means they deserve to get shat on and they will get shat on!

I don't think she's being shat upon. Everyone has expressed empathy for her situation, but that doesn't mean we can't also discuss how it was conveyed. A lot of people have also said they found the writing spot on. Anyway, I'm sorry if my responses seem cold or bitchy. They honestly are not meant to be. I just find the topic of saying (effing) the ineffable really interesting. Now that I'm getting really analytic about it I actually do feel kind of bad, but I also do find it interesting, so I am going to post this anyway, despite knowing (and understanding why) it will seem a little harsh to some people. I majored in writing, okay? I really like thinking about writing. I absolutely mean no disrespect to this woman and I can only imagine the horror she's dealt with.
posted by mdn at 11:31 AM on March 25, 2004


I don't get it (sadly, since I'm usually one who loves a good Internet drama).

Instinctively, I doubt anyone who claims their story to be "Entirely True!" -- since, in my experience, something that is true or authentic or made from scratch or otherwise of unequivocal provenance doesn't have to advertise. But, if Matt says it's true, that's good enough for me, and I hope the lady is getting some therapeutic benefit from the publishing and the attention.

But otherwise, what's the BFD? Maybe it's that I don't find the writing compelling. (I mean, I'm no great shakes as a writer myself... but that's why I don't read my own site, either)

In the author's defense: everyone is ripping on the slicker-than-"appropriate" design. Did she say somewhere that she did all the work herself? It looks to be the sort of work-up for which one could pay an aspiring designer a hundred bucks, as a turnkey affair. I can envision a situation where she said, "Here's some money. Make me a website that doesn't suck."
posted by pineapple at 11:58 AM on March 25, 2004


From the blog in question:

:: 3.25.2004 ::

meta-what the fuck!

I'm, like, the Mel Gibson of suicide weblogs!

It's great, it's terrible. It's powerful, it's tacky. It's true, it's fiction. The graphic is horrendous. The writing sucks.

Right on!

Most of all, I think it's hilarious that anyone cares enough to argue about just how much I suck.

I suck to the nth, man. You'll find no argument here.
posted by Danf at 12:18 PM on March 25, 2004


languagehat, the reason I like this discussion isn't the critiques of the article per se, but the dialogue about the implications of posting something to the web. We can all sit here and go "that's terrible" and continue on or we can make meaningful conversation about it. Should we just sit back and bite our tongues? Or does the fact she posted it to the web make her open for criticism? I don't have an absolute answer, which is why I'm watching the thread. I applaud her and encourage her to keep writing even if it is not Pultizer level. To anyone else but her the writing is really just Lifetime melodrama. While I found it interesting in a shocking way, nothing really made it differentiate from what I could have made up (like mdn says).

The implication seems to be that for very personal, traumatizing experiences we shouldn't discuss how the material is presented but what the material is. Then there is the fundamental question of what is left to discuss? Suicide is bad?

So far no one has resorted (that I've noticed) to non-supported argument noise (this sux, this is the sad) which is why I found this one of the better discussions in mefi as of late.

On preview: I'm glad she's (apparently) taking it lightly and not personally.
posted by geoff. at 12:29 PM on March 25, 2004


The old adage goes that no parent should never have to bury their child, but the circumstances here were much worse.

Uh, nope, in fact the old adage uses the word ever instead of never, but criticizing the numerous mechanical and stylistic errors in the construction of your own story (like you felt you had to do to hers) is really needlessly cold, and entirely misses a much larger point.

(C'mon, folks....what's next? Fumbling through Strunk and White and heckling eulogizers with catcalls of "Melodrama! Melodrama!" at funerals?)

I appreciate the great courage it took The Widow to write about this, and frankly, I think literary criticism in this instance is utterly asinine (as well as faulty, but let's not tread that silly path any more than it has already been misguidedly done).

In a thread like this, perhaps we might actually talk about the pain and difficulties faced by those who are left behind after a suicide, and how others might help (I am quoting rather extensively from what appears to be an excellent source, Survivors of Suicide):

Historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote, "There are always two parties to a death; the person who dies and the survivors who are bereaved." Unfortunately, many survivors of suicide suffer alone and in silence. The silence that surrounds them often complicates the healing that comes from being encouraged to mourn.

Because of the social stigma surrounding suicide, survivors feel the pain of the loss, yet may not know how, or where, or if, they should express it. Yet, the only way to heal is to mourn. Just like other bereaved persons grieving the loss of someone loved, suicide survivors need to talk, to cry, sometimes to scream, in order to heal.

As a result of fear and misunderstanding, survivors of suicide deaths are often left with a feeling of abandonment at a time when they desperately need unconditional support and understanding. Without a doubt, suicide survivors suffer in a variety of ways: one, because they need to mourn the loss of someone who has died; two, because they have experienced a sudden, typically unexpected traumatic death; and three, because they are often shunned by a society unwilling to enter into the pain of their grief.

How Can You Help?
A friend or family member has experienced the death of someone loved from suicide. You want to help, but you are not sure how to go about it. This page will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into positive action.

Accept The Intensity Of The Grief
Grief following a suicide is always complex. Survivors don't "get over it." Instead, with support and understanding they can come to reconcile themselves to its reality. Don't be surprised by the intensity of their feelings. Sometimes, when they least suspect it, they may be overwhelmed by feelings of grief. Accept that survivors may be struggling with explosive emotions, guilt, fear and shame, well beyond the limits experienced in other types of deaths. Be patient, compassionate and understanding.

Listen With Your Heart
Assisting suicide survivors means you must break down the terribly costly silence. Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judgment are critical helping tools. Willingness to listen is the best way to offer help to someone who needs to talk.

Thoughts and feelings inside the survivor may be frightening and difficult to acknowledge. Don't worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on the words that are being shared with you.

Your friend may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen attentively each time. Realize this repetition is part of your friend's healing process. Simply listen and understand. And, remember, you don't have to have the answer.

Avoid Simplistic Explanations and Clichés
Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a suicide survivor. Clichés are trite comments often intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities. Comments like, "You are holding up so well," "Time will heal all wounds," "Think of what you still have to be thankful for" or "You have to be strong for others" are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make a friend's journey through grief more difficult.

Be certain to avoid passing judgment or providing simplistic explanations of the suicide. Don't make the mistake of saying the person who suicided was "out of his or her mind." Informing a survivor that someone they loved was "crazy or insane" typically only complicates the situation. Suicide survivors need help in coming to their own search for understanding of what has happened. In the end, their personal search for meaning and understanding of the death is what is really important.

Be Compassionate
Give your friend permission to express his or her feelings without fear of criticism. Learn from your friend. Don't instruct or set explanations about how he or she should respond. Never say "I know just how you feel." You don't. Think about your helping role as someone who "walks with," not "behind" or "in front of" the one who is bereaved.

Familiarize yourself with the wide spectrum of emotions that many survivors of suicide experience. Allow your friend to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he or she is feeling at the time. And recognize tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the loss.

Respect The Need To Grieve
Often ignored in their grief are the parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, spouses and children of persons who have suicided. Why? Because of the nature of the death, it is sometimes kept a secret. If the death cannot be talked about openly, the wounds of grief will go unhealed.

As a caring friend, you may be the only one willing to be with the survivors. Your physical presence and permissive listening create a foundation for the healing process. Allow the survivors to talk, but don't push them. Sometimes you may get a cue to back off and wait. If you get a signal that this is what is needed, let them know you are ready to listen if, and when, they want to share their thoughts and feelings.

Understand The Uniqueness Of Suicide Grief
Keep in mind that the grief of suicide survivors is unique. No one will respond to the death of someone loved in exactly the same way. While it may be possible to talk about similar phases shared by survivors, everyone is different and shaped by experiences in his or her life.

Because the grief experience is unique, be patient. The process of grief takes a long time, so allow your friend to process the grief at his or her own pace. Don't criticize what is inappropriate behavior. Remember the death of someone to suicide is a shattering experience. As a result of this death, your friend's life is under reconstruction.


Heartfelt thanks to The Widow for writing so well and so eloquently, for teaching, and for continuing to tread her hard path.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:35 PM on March 25, 2004


the pain and difficulties faced by those who are left behind after a suicide

Part of the pain and difficulties I feel are imposed upon those who feel that subject matter makes critique taboo on a website that is well known for criticism both of subject matter as well as the appropriateness and interest level of subjects posted.

Since that subject is probably also taboo, let me dedicate this comment to our dearly departed Delia, a girl who everybody desperately loved but hung herself anyway.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:08 PM on March 25, 2004


PS -- Delia, you will be a rock star forever.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:10 PM on March 25, 2004


Delia, you will be a rock star forever.

What bathos.
posted by languagehat at 1:49 PM on March 25, 2004


I'm surprised at the comments saying they found nothing new in this blog that they might not have thought of saying themselves after having sat through a few movies about suicide. My normal associations with the victims of suicide is that they're plagued with guilt that they didn't manage to stop the dead person and anger at the dead person for doing it. And they're sorry that the dead person is dead and wish they didn't have to live with their unresolved feelings.

This woman seems like she's saying something different. She knows it wasn't her fault, even though a voice in her head was egging him on to do it when he did it. He had already hurt her alot before the suicide, and she didn't really want him to hurt her anymore. I think she's not sorry that he's out of her life, mostly, she just wants to stop thinking about him and the suicide itself.

Or maybe she's just taking a tough attitude about the whole thing and I'm not reading carefully enough.

In any case, I applaud her honesty. If I was writing something that the whole world could look at, I'm not sure I'd manage to be that honest.
posted by onlyconnect at 2:18 PM on March 25, 2004


I think she is using this weblog to express what she needs to to the world. Death is complicated, suicide makes it even more so, and the emotions don't come in nice neat little boxes. She is not trying to make an A in a writing course, she is not writing for the New York Times, she is writing for herself-and I think she is writing for others impacted by suicide. In my opinion it is not appropriate to critique her in the same way one might critique a newspaper feature article or published book.

If it weren't so triggering, I'd publish a link to this to the bipolar forum I go to. We always need reminding why suicide is such a rotten idea.
posted by konolia at 2:21 PM on March 25, 2004


I think what people are missing when critiquing the look and feel of her site is that she is angry. She has every reason to be - her husband killed himself in front of her in one of the most gruesome ways possible and told her it was her fault right before he pulled the trigger. I can't think of a more fucked-up, hateful way to kill yourself.

I think that there is a healthy chunk of "well, fuck you too" in the way she designed her site. I think that's pretty healthy, given the circumstances. Whatever you may think of her writing style, she has an important story to tell and I'm glad she told it.
posted by echolalia67 at 2:23 PM on March 25, 2004


Okay, after reading this:

He asked me a question. He had already asked me that question. I hate it when people repeat themselves.

"Yes," I told him. Ha. So there.

His face exploded in rage. "YOU DID THIS!" he screamed as he grabbed the gun from the floor beside him.


... am I the only one wondering what was the question he asked her? I mean, I'm guessing it was a doozy, and I have some ideas of what it might be, but I couldn't see anywhere where she said what it was.

And from the autopsy report:

Notes that there are "external genitalia" but doesn't go into detail. This would have made him sad.

Um, oooookay. Is she implying that her dead husband had huge gonads and the writer of the report would have been sad due to envy or something? Why would us knowing this add to the story in any way?

I have quite a few other questions, but I'll leave it at that.
posted by beth at 2:59 PM on March 25, 2004


She explains the question on the page Quartermass linked -- she can't remember it:

You're still waiting. The last thing you say to him is "Yes," but you can never remember what that last thing was that he asked you.

The autopsy report comment is a joke -- it would have made her dead husband sad that the size of his johnson wasn't mentioned, because he was proud of it. It's a funny, deadpan aside amidst the clinical analysis.
posted by onlyconnect at 3:13 PM on March 25, 2004


However, once one makes art from one's grief, that art is subject to critique. Critiquing the art does not mean critiquing the grief, and the grief is no defense for shortcomings in the art.

well said. I think this is really what is dividing us on this thread - whether this was approached as art or personal grief.

It's ridiculous to suggest that people would react this way to funerals they were attending, F&M,, although one can imagine a friend saying to another friend after the service that the eulogy didn't really do justice to the person, or something like that. It's not as if the comments here were any more meant for The Widow than her blog was meant for us - arguably much less so.
posted by mdn at 3:16 PM on March 25, 2004


I think the question is at least somewhat explained in the short story she includes on March 3rd.
posted by biscotti at 3:44 PM on March 25, 2004


yeah, okay, I read the entry on 3/2 with more details about the death, and now it seems clear why the original story didn't move me - it wasn't meant to. She wasn't suffering. She was heated, full of adrenaline, hatred, disgust for this guy. Of course she suffered later, obviously it was a traumatic event no matter what, but she wasn't feeling grief or despair or the kind of brokenness I thought was missing from the writing. But it wasn't missing from the writing; it was missing from the experience itself.
posted by mdn at 5:16 PM on March 25, 2004


MDM -- In a well-told story, that would come next. Are we post catharsis? Mid-catharsis? Something seems missing but the awareness of it is interesting. "I do not feel anything, yet I -feel- like I should be feeling something," etc.

Some detail is missing. I would expect a true reveal of the pathology of the husband would reveal what would allow one to painlessly say "fuck it, go ahead" rather than "what the FUCK are you doing?"

In my admittedly limited experience, suicides don't seem to live the most tranquil of domestic lives. Before it all goes fatally "pop", there will be a few fireworks...

A piece in progress, a person in progress perhaps. Certainly should make for interesting reading assuming the pressure of Mefization doesn't run her underground or perhaps -a-ground.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 6:49 PM on March 25, 2004


I think she pretty much knows what she's feeling, and is okay with it, and doesn't really need us to validate her trauma or find her story interesting. (Note that there's no comment function on her site.)
posted by onlyconnect at 8:56 PM on March 25, 2004


I wrote her an email apologizing for posting her information here. I really screwed up by doing that, even though it was with good intentions and not without precedent. Lord I feel bad.
posted by norm at 9:24 AM on March 26, 2004


Don't. I have the feeling that after what she has been thru, metafilter is a pimple on the butt of a flea.
posted by konolia at 1:13 PM on March 26, 2004


Just FYI - the Widow has posted a response to this thread (seeing as how memberships are closed and all - here is a good reason for why membership should be somewhat re-opened on at least a case-by-case basis.)
posted by Quartermass at 11:00 PM on March 28, 2004


Thanks for posting that; I'm glad she's dealing with it as well as she is.
posted by languagehat at 8:08 AM on March 29, 2004


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