“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” I don’t know with whom this quote originated. The first time I heard it was when Phil Donahue said it—perhaps during an introspective moment when he was trying to project more intellect than he actually possessed.
I realize that the above will not set well with the legions of Donahue fans, but I don’t care. And for the record, I don’t believe that Phil Donahue is generally lacking in the gray matter area; it’s just that some attempts at generalizing in the looming shadow of sheer complexity often make people seem… well, you know, stupid. And Donahue’s no exception.
It’s a catchy little ditty that seems to wallow in the ever-simplistic realm of “good ole” common sense-oozing down-home wisdom. And while it may well apply in some cases—relatively few of them—it amounts to pure rhetorical bunk most of the time.
Suicide need only make sense to those contemplating it. Not only does it make sense to them because they do NOT view their problems as anywhere near temporary; their problems are, indeed NOT temporary in any relative sense of the word.
A couple of days ago, I received a telephone call from a lifelong friend of mine who lives in Ohio. Her oldest daughter (a 34-year-old hospice cancer patient) had committed suicide.
Everyone who knows the family knew that she was dying. And even though she hadn’t become completely bedridden, that status was rapidly changing for the worse with each passing hour.
How she managed to do it is irrelevant to this piece. The fact is that she did it, and she left a loving note explaining her logic, her love for her family, and her desire to spare them of additional emotional pain.
This relatively young woman had a brilliant mind and was an accomplished CPA. There was nothing irrational about her act. In her mind—and rightfully so—cancer was going to win the war between life and death, but she was going to win the final battle of that war. There was nothing TEMPORARY about her problem!
Contrast the above circumstances to those involved with my first encounter (California, 1965) with a suicide involving a good friend’s 15-year-old son.
At 9 AM one Sunday morning, his father went down into their basement to check on some furnace noises. He was greeted with his young son dangling from the end of a noose that he had strung over the main sewage pipe.
I won’t describe the scene, but the boy did demonstrate the courtesy of leaving a suicide note pinned to the bottom of his tee-shirt. It read; “Are you happy now?”
His dad was not “happy;” he was devastated, and to this day—close to 50-years later—he still occasionally bolts upright in bed from the nightmares.
What did his dad do that was so horrible? He refused to permit him to go steady with a 13-year-old classmate. He didn’t do it in a rage. He, and the girl’s mother, sat both of them down and explained their reasoning.
The teen suicide rate is very high. The difficulty is that most teenagers lack sufficient life-experiences to view problems in both relative terms and absolute seriousness. The average adult is capable of viewing even the most perplexing situations as issues of temporal duration.
In short, most NON-SUICIDAL adults can accept the logic in viewing suicide as “a permanent solution to a temporary problem;” but many teens can’t, simply because they lack the perspective to do so.
In some cases they view things as hopeless and suicide as the only way out. And, in a small percentage of cases, they’ve reached a point of futility in expressing their feelings to others that they choose suicide as a way to get the point across.
And, at other times—perhaps more often than we may know—they do it as some misguided attempt at “leveling” the score.
Once again, suicide isn’t ALWAYS irrational, even for teens, especially when they’re facing terminal illnesses. Please understand that I’m not endorsing it, just trying to explain it.
And I know that I’m going to be swamped with replies from the God people over this. For many of them, suffering is apparently one of God’s paths to salvation. For those who actually believe this, have at it; I, PERSONALLY, don’t buy it, though.
And for those teenagers in the mold of the boy in California, it’s time for people with 3-digit IQs to begin acquainting them with the notion that they may not even be around to witness the sorrow they’ve wrought on those who loved them.
And while I’ll continue poo-pooing the notion that suicide is always “a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” I’m also willing to concede that sometimes it IS, not to mention that, under some circumstances, it’s absolutely STUPID!
And oh, here’s a final note concerning Phil Donahue. In MY opinion, he grabbed the brass ring (golden in my book) when he married Marlo Thomas. The lady—and I mean this in the most platonic of ways—is living proof that some fantastic styles of the human variety don’t have expiration dates.