OP-ED: That last unthinkable act

By ALAN SMASON

We lost two very industrious, highly visible celebrities this past week; two souls who were successful in so many ways.

(Photo via Wikimedia)

Even I knew the value of a Kate Spade handbag. In the world of fashion, her name was one that had secured a place reserved for only the best. Yet, despite the outward appearance of a woman who had made it and who could rest on her laurels for decades, there was something gnawing at her. Family members must have known she was depressed, but no one suspected the depth of her feeling of hopelessness. No one knew she would seek relief from her tortured existence through that last unthinkable act.

And now she is gone.

As for Anthony Bourdain, a man who loved and embraced food and cuisine with a passion that took him to the far reaches of the globe and back, there is disbelief. How could a man with so much to live for, who gave so many others pleasure from the verve with which he approached the simple act of eating, cast it all aside? Bourdain’s job was almost too perfect. He was paid by CNN to travel to the backwater eddies of the planet as well as the most opulent of gustatory galleries to revel in dining and to share his experiences with a starving world of vicarious TV viewers

(Photo by Jessie Wightkin)

He was charming and endearing, but he was also demanding. He expected no less than the best that life had to offer and the matter of fact way he shared his experiences, eating his way across the globe established a place for him that few in his industry achieved. But, as he admitted in his book, “Kitchen Confidential,” he did have his inner demons, having successfully fought drug addiction and coming back stronger, emerging as an industry leader. He was a champion for the food scene in New Orleans and we loved him for that, too. Despite his success, he was still intensely troubled and filled with such despair that he, too, thought the unthinkable.

And now he is gone.

(Photo via Wikimedia)

When comedian Robin Williams committed suicide in 2014, he did so by hanging as did Spade and Bourdain. Perhaps the most creative comic mind of his generation, Williams brought mirth and laughter to audiences and to his peers for decades. He could bring joy to a small child or happiness to a nonagenarian with his over-the-top frenetic gyrations on stage and delighted millions with his on-screen performances. He created Mork and Mrs. Doubtfire and showed us what a grown-up Peter Pan might look like, imbuing all of his characters with a humanity that made us love him. Yet, despite an Academy Award and fame that brought him financial well-being, he, too, suffered from depression and could only reach for a rope to bring an end to his tortured existence.

And then he was gone.

But in the end, it was not just him.

(Photo by Alan Smason)

In the week that followed Robin Williams’ demise, suicide ideation shot up a whopping 75%. One of those who took his life was my friend, supporter and one of the most beloved of my high school classmates, Louis Lederman. Not many people were more animated than “Louie,” the son of Holocaust survivors. How could anyone whose family had endured the horrors of the Nazi era and had clung tenaciously to stay alive simply give up everything? It was as if the Nazis had won. A talented traditional jazz drummer, he organized the Bone Tone band that marched in Mardi Gras parades and was the onetime Boss of the Phunny Phorty Phellows. There were few like Louie.

And then he was gone.

Suicide rates have risen by 30% in the last two decades and health authorities are buckling down, expecting another wave of attempts in these next few days. It is important that we look to signs that might portend one of our loved ones is suffering from the same kind of misguided thinking. The world will not be better served through these cruel and cowardly acts. Cruel because their deaths hurt those they leave behind and cowardly because, rather than confront life, they give in to a solution that fixes nothing and oftentimes makes matters worse.

Please keep an eye out for your loved ones this week. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. Get help to those that need it.

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