By Camille Gasser
My family is small. So when a tragedy strikes one of us, its weight is magnified, sending rippling waves of trauma through our world.
On the first Saturday of Spring Break, I was lounging lethargically on the living room couch and pondering the mysteries of reality TV. I was relaxed, complacent, and relatively disinterested in everything but leisure, sleep, and food.
When my mom sat beside me on the couch, she told me to pause the television.
The air grew thick and heavy, choking off my serenity and consuming the house in somber, anxious apprehension. My mom looked at me with wide, troubled eyes.
“A few days ago, your dad’s cousin Larry killed himself.”
I blinked twice. I stared. I gazed into the TV, frozen at a picturesque frame of a model twirling in an haute couture dress. Incoherent questions swirled around me, as faded memories of my now-deceased relative fought to resurface. My lips hovered on the edge of a word—a condolence for my mom, who was now crying beside me.
And yet, all I could do was stare, clinging to a word I never thought I’d have to face: suicide.
Despite the awful finality of death, we are equipped by nature to deal with it; we know—on some intrinsic, unconscious level—how to mourn the accidental loss of a life. But there is no methodology for coping with a suicide.
Should we act as if taking one’s own life is equivalent to losing it? Should the action of killing oneself—a deliberate, and often rational decision—be treated as a mistake? A slip-up in self-control?
Or should we bear in mind the will of the deceased, seeking to understand that death was a conscious decision. Is it naïve to assume that suicide can serve as a gateway to a happier place?
I found myself at a loss. I couldn’t accept the recent event, because I couldn’t understand what it meant.
My mom responded with misery, consumed by the sadness of losing someone she cared about. She fought to extend sympathy for whatever pain Larry had been battling, and found herself plagued by thoughts of hopelessness and solitude. My mother felt sorry for him.
My dad surrendered to his anger. Larry had a daughter at home, a charming, teenage girl with an infectious personality and a talent for music; my dad couldn’t—wouldn’t—accept that any amount of pain justified suicide. Surely, he argued, Larry could have overcome his issues for the sake of his wife and his only child. My father was furious with him.
Me? I was lost. I shared fragments of my dad’s anger, yet I also believed that some types of emotional pain were impossible to overcome; suicide, sometimes, is the only option. But had it been the only option for my late relative?
I didn’t know. And that, perhaps, is the reason why nightmares of his death remain. I don’t know.
The only notable time I’ve spent with Larry was a weekend in Los Angeles several years ago. I can’t claim to have known him, to have appreciated his intelligence or his wit; furthermore, I can’t argue that I knew what he’d been going through. I can’t fully mourn him, be angry with him, or miss him.
I don’t know if Larry’s suicide was justified—how overwhelming his sadness was or how many nights he grappled with the idea of leaving his family.
The blunt truth is that there is only one person who can explain every side of the story: the man who took his own life.
Nevertheless, I will miss Larry, my father’s cousin; I’ll mourn the memories with him that I never had the chance to make.
I’ll send infinite prayers of comfort to Julianne, his daughter, and hope that her innate strength carries her through a storm of tragedy.
Goodbye Dr. Larry Glass. Rest in peace.
Understanding Family Tragedy
By Camille Gasser