‘’You know if you fail this exam it would be a tragedy but the real tragedy would depend on your perception of that afterwards. That’s where the real tragedy could be.’’
Tragedy or a real tragedy
(By Terry Connolly)
We must come to acknowledge the fact that suicide is truly a tragedy. This is something most people have difficulty with in the early stages of shock and grief. Some people call this the denial stage which is not always the case but it was in mine. I just could not believe it happened. For weeks and months I even suspected I was just having a nightmare. I would wake up from sleep every day with that hope and prayer. And then I would fall back into a semi – sleep and sleep and semi – dreams and dreams, everyday going over every detail of a different outcome and imagining it did turn out differently through some intervention on my behalf and imagining my daughter Jacqui still alive and living and happy in this world and imagining her with us 1 year, 2 years, 10 years down the road. Then when reality struck at intervals I always felt an overwhelming guilt for not having done the right thing at the right moment when one flicker of an action could have made a difference. I really could not accept what happened. In many semi-conscious states I hoped in some way I could change time and get a second chance. And I convinced myself that if given that one more second chance, knowing how I felt from the experience, my efforts would have prevented the tragedy. This denial stage came strongly at the beginning and lasted and waned for about 20 months. It caused headaches I never experienced previously in my life, constant headaches more like a weight on my head, along with gum disease, cold shoulder, cysts and a host of other bodily symptoms. My mind and body were completely out of balance and to be honest I just did not care because the pain of the bereavement had become so excruciating. For some reason maybe thanks to my wife, family, friends, therapists, group support, mediums, internet postvention sites whatever I finally made some progress and one of the things I did was I faced the event and was eventually able to accept that this was a tragedy. That was helpful but a much more helpful and more difficult concept was to accept that it was not a real tragedy.
When I was a young student in university I once got some advice from a professor of French language who was a wonderful, kind and sympathetic person. I was repeating an examination for the fourth and final time. It was at this point in a young life when things just go wrong for all sorts of reasons and here I was in a situation that if I did not pass the exam I would have to leave the university and not finish my studies. I was a bit overwhelmed with this thought and fairly anxious to say the least. We were studying the Greek play Antigone from a French version. In this play Antigone has a dispute with the king over the burial of her dead brother. The king decreed that nobody was allowed to mourn publicly his death. Antigone went against his ruling and he ordered that she be buried alive and she was put into a cave to await her fate. In the meantime thanks to the intervention of the Gods and soothsayers the king changed his mind and went to the cave with his son who was in love with Antigone. To their dismay they found she had suicided from hanging. The reason I approached my French professor was to get some guidelines on how to answer a question I thought could come up in the examination. The question: Was Antigone’s death a tragedy or a real tragedy? The professor explained that it was merely a tragedy because Antigone used her free will to complete the suicide, she had free choice and used it and as a result it was not a real tragedy. The professor did her utmost to explain this to me and I was not really able to get it until she said: ‘’You know if you fail this exam it would be a tragedy but the real tragedy would depend on your perception of that afterwards. That’s where the real tragedy could be.’’
Thirty six years later, after my beloved 27 year old daughter died by suicide I really was faced with a tragedy and as I said was difficult to accept but it was more difficult to accept this as not a real tragedy. This was important in my recovery and coming to terms with the event. Shakespeare’s Macbeth was a tragedy. Macbeth had all the choices and it was with those choices he came to his doom. Yet his life was not tragic and the play was not a real tragedy. I was at last able to look back on my daughter’s life and despite some tribulations she had in growing up I realised her life was not tragic and neither was her death really tragic. She chose to die herself using her own free will and choice which can be perceived as a tragedy. However the real tragedy of suicide is not the event itself but perhaps how the ones left behind come to terms with it and shape their lives going forward. We have to become aware that as an individual we can act and think with freedom and choice. We define our own meaning to life and try to make decisions despite confronted with an irrational event such as suicide. There are no answers to the why, no second chance. We can only exercise our own free will in the moment of space and time we are in and with this free will comes our personal responsibility to ourselves, family, people we know, the world, the people who have passed away and to future generations. Acknowledging this responsibility can pave the way for our present and future actions in averting a tragedy from becoming a real tragedy.