But when does pain reach a level that is beyond our endurance? When do we know?
My dear brother, Stephen Lyon Crohn, knew and now it is public. As reported in the The New York Times, he took his own life. "The Man Who Couldn't Catch AIDS" was still susceptible to a lot of everyday things that cause searing pain. Of course the story has gone viral and, not surprisingly, the 'haters' (as my son calls them) are leaving comments of questionable taste and accuracy. It is taking quite a bit of strength for me not to register and sign in to all these 'news' and other sites and leave comments of my own. But I won't take the bait.
How my brother died is vastly less important to me than how he lived. His sheer love of life during the 66 years he was here with us was the wonderfully contagious thing about him. You can see it in his art. You can read it in his words. You could feel it in his 'snuggle hugs' as one of his friends described them. This world is, indeed, a better, more beautiful place because he was here.
Living With Pain
But I want to know how we continue to fight to live with our tragedies and traumas and the hurts that accompany them? How do we choose life day after day? Simply put, there is no easy answer.
In a September 2011 article in Psychology Today, Shawn T. Smith, Psy.D. explains:
"There is a certain kind of thinking that fuels suicide, and for most of us it is a terribly difficult idea to sit with: suicide is problem-solving behavior. In the mind of someone considering suicide, the act may seem like an expeditious and effective way to eliminate pain."
My brother was an extremely logical thinker. He was that 'problem-solver.' And while his logic in the case of deciding to take his life, may have been flawed, it led him to a conclusion that felt right for him.
"The thought of suicide most often occurs when a person feels they have run out of solutions to problems that seem inescapable, intolerably painful, and never-ending."
We all have problems that seem insurmountable at times. My brother was no different. To respect his eternal privacy, I will not outline the WHYS and HOWS of his final act. Many are asking (rudely) and he left some answers; but they are not for me to reveal. It is my job to help my family and I heal.
There are a number of resources for people who are thinking of suicide: Hotlines, websites, support groups and each begin with CALL SOMEONE or 911. Of course, we ask why my brother did not make that one last phone call. Why didn't he reach out before... But we've learned he had his reasons. We have to accept his choice. Enough said.
Now, though, we find we are the sufferers. According to supportaftersuicide.org:
"Many people bereaved by suicide feel alone and isolated. The silence that surrounds the issue of suicide can complicate the experience. Because of the social stigma surrounding suicide, people feel the pain of the loss, yet may not believe they are allowed to express it."
Ayup. It's just awful. I visit his website daily - Crohn Studio - and I check his Facebook page for new messages that might make me breathe more easily, ease the lump in my throat and close the hole in my heart. My sister and I decided to create a Facebook memorial page soon. In the meantime, we field phone calls from reporters and friends, colleagues and admirers, family and old school chums from grade school. He certainly left an indelible mark.
I would be lying if I said it wasn't difficult for me to reconcile how I fought to live, died to live, and still take one step in front of the other every day with painful, frustrating remnants of cancer treatment, Lupus and chronic illness. My brother stopped stepping up the stairs. I have to remember that it was his choice; maybe not my choice, but a choice nonetheless.
Looking for quotes on living and treasuring life, I found some inspiration in words attributed to George Washington Carver, a former slave who became a celebrated inventor, botanist and chemist until a tragic fall down the stairs led to his death at age 78.
"How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these."
My brother was all of these. I guess the last person he could be tender with was himself. Or was he?
Part of Carver's epitaph could be my brother's own:
"HE COULD HAVE ADDED FORTUNE TO FAME BUT CARING FOR NEITHER, HE FOUND HAPPINESS AND HONOR IN BEING HELPFUL TO THE WORLD"
This is how I will remember him. This is how I will honor him. This is how I will choose to go on.
|Gravestone of George Washington Carver|