When I was a child, newspapers had a habit of telling the truth about one's cause of death. If someone committed suicide, the obituary would often state that the deceased took their own life. Over the years, I have noticed a shift in the way obituaries are written. We no longer state the truth. Telling the truth is no longer important to us. We are far more concerned with being "sensitive." We justify and rationalize that sensitivity for a grieving family outweighs any need for telling the truth. If Mark Madoff had been just anyone, I doubt the manner of his death would have ever been disclosed.
The sad truth is that many of the citizens of this country fear suicide to such a degree that we are forbidden by custom from even discussing it. Many believe that suicide is something to be ashamed of. We feel guilty when our loved ones take their own lives. We feel diminished or less than because we could not prevent it. If only we could have known, then certainly we would have intervened. We become enraged, frustrated, helpless and hopeless, and we cope until we reach some hallowed ground called acceptance.
I know those five stages of grieving well. I have experienced them more than I ever care to remember.
It's a sad fact that many of us are poorly prepared for any talk of death or suicide. That somehow if we just avoid talk of suicide or death, perhaps we can all just continue living our lives as though it doesn't exist. We believe we are better off somehow when we avoid those truths that we don't like.
Right after Mark Madoff's death was reported yesterday, I scrolled the comment section under the Yahoo news story. The anger and vitriolic comments were everywhere. I sensed while reading those comments, just how sick many of us have become. I also got a very real sense while reading those comments, the very real anger and hostility that must have been a daily fixture in Mark's life.
Mark Madoff was presumed guilty by association by many of those commenters. Are we to "assume" that Mark and his brother knew what their father was doing? People make judgments and assumptions all of the time, irrespective of the facts. They practice contempt prior to investigation. There was no presumption of innocence here. Nobody mentioned that in fact, Mark and his brother had cooperated with authorities. That on the eve of his arrest, Bernie told his sons what he had done and they cooperated with authorities. Nobody mentioned that the Madoff brothers had been reviled and vilified non stop, investigated and sued. If the authorities could have proven a charge they would have filed it. They could not. Maybe, just maybe, Bernie Madoff's sons simply didn't know the truth until the last minute. I feel pretty certain that if my own father, the same father that taught me honesty and integrity did something similar, that he might avoid the embarrassment and shame of telling me he was a thief. Why is that possibility so hard to fathom?
Because we CHOOSE not to believe it. We don't want to believe that. We want to practice our unconditional hatred of the wealthy. We want to lash out at those people that rub their material possessions in our noses. Those people with mansions, jets, and trophy wives. Those people who get away with crimes. We are pissed, we feel cheated, that somehow life has treated us unfairly. People enjoy wallowing in that self pity. They enjoy hurting others to make themselves feel better. There was no better evidence of that- than that cowardly comment section under Mark's story. Complete with anti-semitism rhetoric. Thousands of comments.
I am not claiming the high ground for myself here. I have made similar assumptions particularly when there is no possibility of retrieving the truth. But what I absolutely refuse to do, is to revel in and celebrate the death of a young man that was so isolated and depressed that suicide became his only solution. That is very sad, indeed. Those hate filled comments in that comment section don't say anything about what kind of man Mark Madoff was. Because they don't know. But they sure speak volumes about what kind of people many of us have become.
There's a part of me that wishes we could tell the truth again. To see the national epidemic of suicide that we are experiencing rather than hiding from it with the aid of glossed over obituaries. We don't learn anything when we run from something or pretend it doesn't exist. In that same vein, I've probably been associated with at least a 100 suicides in my life. Everyone of them is a horrific tragedy. Tragic lives and tragic endings. Death messages delivered and followed closely by sobs, shrieks, and wailing delivered at the top of one's lungs. Agony, anguish, and despair like you'll never want to see or hear again. Scenes that I desperately want to erase. When you have that kind of perspective, you see the other side. For those of you that haven't seen that side of life, I desperately wish that you could. I can't bear the thought of witnessing what I have seen and then celebrating someone's suicide. I am going to hope and pray that those experiences of mine would have the same effect on the people writing those comments yesterday.