Filler: Sometimes suicide deserves respect

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Robin Williams stars as Henry Altmann in 2014's

Robin Williams stars as Henry Altmann in 2014's "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn." Photo Credit: Lionsgate / Jojo Whilden

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Lane Filler Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010

The first days after a startling suicide shouldn't be the time to publish pithy essays about suicide, mental illness, depression, substance abuse or the loved ones left behind. Robin Williams was a man and an artist, not an issue. He was a father and a husband, someone whose work made millions feel he was a part of their lives. In the wake of Williams' decision to shut down his journey, it felt unseemly to use this heartbreak as an excuse to debate social policy and bolster the memestream media.

But now is the right time to say a few things, and on the topic of suicide I am as two-faced as Mrs. Doubtfire.

I've felt that for most of us, there's nothing we can achieve by killing ourselves that we can't achieve by faking our deaths, assuming a new identities and fleeing. It's at least worth an attempt, right? Slink off and try being a short-order cook named Elysium in Arizona or a prostitute in Vegas who answers to Stud McRoughtumble. If you crave seediness and danger, attempt a career as a televangelist, or a carny geek who bites the heads off chickens for adoring crowds. Heck, you could do both at the same time if you can prove the chickens are from south of the border.

If you're addicted, try sobriety. If you're a teetotaler, try liquor, or crack. Get religion, or atheism. Experiment with anything before you make the final judgment that there's nothing worth hanging around for.

I've told my daughter that if she's ever considering suicide she has my permission to pursue any other option she can think of, including contacting anyone we know for help, if she can't come to me. She can steal my car and money, run off and never reach out to us again, live any way she sees fit, short of harming another person, if that will keep her alive.

Listen up, young people: You haven't really seen much of life. Until you've tried a lot more and experienced a lot more, you can't conclude you have no potential to be happy.

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But when adults take their own lives, I have a different reaction. Suicides happen when people, rightly or wrongly, decide their pain-to-pleasure quotient, now and in any future they can imagine, is tilted to pain -- and the best decision is to end the exercise. It amazes me that we never consider the fact that they might be right. For themselves. As the experts. We get so furious, because we are experiencing loss and heartbreak, that we can't accept that death may have been the only way for the departed to end their loss and heartbreak .

I mostly believe people are the best judge of how to live their lives. They're the best judges of what foods and liquors and drugs they ought to consume and whether to spend their money on clothing and shelter or riotous living. They're the best judges of how much income they ought to put toward health care, and how much soda they ought to have in their serving and how much clothing they ought to wear when they pose for those magazines I've heard about.

I know mental illness can be a big factor in the decision to take one's life, but that proves my point as much as it undermines it. Mental illness can also cause so much pain in a person's life that it makes that life no longer worth living.

Williams was depressed and had struggled with addiction, and his wife says he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He might have found peace with treatment, but it wasn't as if he hadn't tried treatment and sought peace before.

If we believe mature adults are the best judges of how they ought to live, aren't they also the experts on whether they ought to live? We could stop judging so harshly the act of suicide. We could listen to the cries of pain and, perhaps, even believe them.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

 

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