Monday, December 27, 2010

Preventable Death?

On the day of Christmas Eve, I was shaken to hear that my next door neighbor took his life. Earlier in the week, he drove far out into the country and shot himself.

I didn’t know him. I greeted him when he first moved in, but that was all.

I’m upset because I could see he had troubles—signs of depression and drinking. I’m pretty sure if I had taken some initiative I could have gotten involved, become his friend, and by doing so, changed enough of the dynamics to change the outcome. 

I’ve done it before.

But by the time I would see him in the evening as I was getting home there was nothing left in my emotional tank.  So all I did for him was wave as I went into the house.

But there was another issue.  The truth is that he was too close. I wanted to keep him at a distance.   I didn’t want him in my house. I didn’t want to risk exposing his desperation to my wife and children. He was a risk.

In previous years, I was willing to take risks for myself, and there were some doozies, but not now and not close to my home. 

So I didn’t reach out to him. I didn’t help him. And he’s dead.  

I recognize that guilt is a normal reaction when someone dies.  I didn’t cause him pain and I certainly didn’t cause his death. I can’t save everyone. I might not have been able to save him even if I had tried.  

I’d like to say that if I had it to do over again, I would have tried harder or done things differently.   

But I don’t know how I would. And that sucks.


  1. I would feel the same. In fact I just found the program for the funeral of a friend of mine who committed suicide in 2002. I think we all feel that we could have done something more.

  2. I'm sorry to hear that, CG. It's a horrible feeling - one of my friends died of a prescription drug overdose during my final year at uni, and the worst thing for me was that our last conversation had been an altercation. It is assumed that the overdose was accidental but I was one of the few who knew that he had been facing a nasty personal issue and the overdose happened as the repercussions were about to hit. Over 10 years later I still sometimes feel that just maybe if we hadn't fought and I'd been more supportive it wouldn't have happened.

  3. Mike, people often feel this way, especially when someone commits suicide.

    Bird, I know that feels awful. I also know that people harbor suicidal feelings sometimes for years--There may have been a trigger but the impulse had been for a while. One conversation didn't make it happen, and you couldn't have helped him unless he asked for it in some way.

  4. Your post reminds me a bit of "To Save a Life". Heard of this film? In some ways, I thought it was a fairly good presentation of what the church is trying to do in the world. And, it had what I thought was only the minimum necessary 'dogma' or usual 'churchy' trappings. An interesting film because of it.

    It's quite poignant that he was a neighbor and good of you to look at the risk of that closeness. First priority is almost always family though, for sure. The idea of risk has become fascinating to me recently. There can be a lot of danger in a life of faith. The lines get drawn a little differently because of just how present that risk can be.

  5. Andrew, I'll have to keep an eye out for that film.

    Regarding my family, I really appreciate that I can come home and be away from the chaos. I don't like for it to intrude onto my family more than necessary.