Thursday, September 29, 2011

Suicide: A Death of One's Own

Was reading this long and lovely article today. I'll be honest, I have no idea who she is, this woman who put a bag over her head and peacefully left the world. There is just something about the article that struck me. Early on, it describes this strong and very feminist woman thus.
She took Woolf’s concept of a room of one’s own to heart. In fact, she had several. There was one at her sprawling Central Park West apartment, purchased for tens of thousands of dollars in the sixties, and another at her country house (she had a “bat house” nailed to that house’s barn; Heilbrun loved bats). Then, when she was 68 years old, despite having three grown children, two grandchildren, and what by all accounts was a loving marriage, Heilbrun bought another house, all for herself. She wanted a house, she said, away from the “family togetherness” of the other house—“small, modern, full of machinery that worked, and above all habitable in winter, so that I might sit in front of a fire and contemplate, meditate, conjure, and, if in need of distraction, read.”
Then it says:
Heilbrun’s suicide was an act of will, an idea brought to life. It was something she chose, by herself, for herself. ...
And Heilbrun was nothing if not sensible: She made what she considered informed decisions, and seldom second-guessed herself.
 So there is a picture they have taken pains to build here. And then they go and print this.

In the days since her mother’s death, Margaret has been up and down: She is not quite sure what to think. “It’s not that I’m angry as much as I’m mystified,” she says. “She had so many more friends than I did—friends and acquaintances, people who looked up to her, who saw her as a nurturer and role model. Was it that she herself had no one to turn to? Why did she feel so isolated? She must have had fears and other feelings I can’t begin to have known. I know for myself that if you’re scared enough of something, you won’t ever speak of it.” She twists one of her rings. “But,” she says, “it was her plot.”
I don't understand why, if the case they have been building in the article all this time is to have a death of one's own, why they needed this quote from the daughter. It's also interesting to think that this closest daughter of this unconventional woman, with a very strongly and clearly articulated stance on life, has such a conventional reaction/interpretation. (Ok I'm not being horrible she lost her mother she wants solace, she doesn't want to believe that her mother decided to leave her, I get it.) The fact that it's in the article sort of undermines the whole thing for me. The point is that this woman made all her choices and lives by her principles. To me, it doesn't seem like such a terrible thing if, like the witches and wizards of the Discworld, you could know or even choose when you leave the world. You lived the life you wanted to; you have achieved things you think are worthy; you're done. You leave.

Sorry this might seem random but it just really struck me in the context of this particular women, about whom I know nothing, in this particular article, that it turned something of strength and fire that she had built into something banal and trite. Why do it?

P.S. On a lighter note, here's an idea to adopt from her life! Her children, "In their teens, they were each suddenly required to cook dinner for the family once a week—it works out perfectly, Heilbrun told friends, as long as you’re willing to eat peanut butter and jelly from time to time."


  1. Loved the article. It's something I've always considered and one of the problems is how to do it without your loved ones feeling somehow guilty and responsible. I've realised that there's no way they would not. And that is what her daughter is expressing and I think they needed to put that bit in, because it is a part of the story. I'm surprised she didn't do more to prepare her family for what she had in mind but then again, maybe there is really no way to prepare people without it all getting mauldin.

  2. excellent wanted to see what you'd say and you WEREN'T ONLINE!