Have you ever learned of a friend’s death via email? It isn’t fun. Of course, I don’t know which mode of communication would make the delivery of such news ‘fun’, so maybe I should cut email some slack.
Email told me that she died; the telephone told me that she killed herself. With a gun. Little room for error there.
I had only known her a couple of years, and truth be told, we were never initial cap Friends, but we were friends. I’ve learned that those initial cap Contacts knew that she’d suffered from severe clinical depression most of her adult life. For them, the idea that she’d commit suicide may not have come out of the clear blue as it did for me.
I met her just as I was deciding to launch this website. She was a by-chance NotMom and an enthusiastic cheerleader. I never thought of her as a high-energy person (and now I know why). So, maybe “enthusiastic” is a stretch. Better to say she was very supportive.
I’ve never known a victim of suicide before. And now that I have, I don’t know what to do with that information. What to do with my feelings about her hidden pain?
And, I wondered: Does motherhood play a factor when women waver between choosing Life or Death?
After dozens of online searches I concluded that statisticians note gender among suicides, but parenthood isn’t top-of mind. Hey, I took a shot, and frankly, I’m not surprised.
I did learn that more Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents. In 2010, the CDC reported 38,364 self-inflicted deaths vs. 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes. Wow. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
In May 2013, The NY Times reported a “surprising” surge in suicide rates among middle-aged women and men. The Baby Boomers may not be as content as some had thought. My friend certainly wasn’t. Even amidst that cohort, one constant has held true for decades: men choose to end their lives more than women. Does motherhood play a role in that discrepancy?
As far as the Boomers go, according to the CDC, the suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000. The rate for Boomer women was just 8.1. OK…is it simply that women have more balls than the people with balls?
And, among all the women who killed themselves in 2010, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent, to 7.0 per 100,000. How to factor in NotMomhood in those numbers? Impossible, yet I believe that it’s a factor sometimes. Leaving behind a husband is bad; leaving a little kid adrift, or even an adult child, must be harder.
One more fascinating factoid from the CDC: the majority of suicides in the U.S. are committed using firearms. That’s how my friend did it. Where she got a gun is a mystery. At this point, I don’t really care.
Let me confess that the only reason I suspected my friend had something to do with her death was the absence of a cause listed in her obituary. There’s always a cause of death listed, and when there isn’t, there’s usually a reason it’s omitted. I learned that during years of work with local HIV/AIDS organizations.
Few people want the world to know their loved one was infected with a stigmatized disease like AIDS, or so troubled that they just checked out. With enough influence, a family can keep the truth from the death certificate itself. Julie Phillips, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University who’s published research on rising suicide rates told the NY Times. “We know we’re not counting all suicides.”
I know it, too.