Walking away is not an option... dialogue must prevail.

"A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with."
- Kenneth A. Wells

"I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace."
- Helen Keller

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

when television could make a difference - if only in one person

As I watched "House, M.D." this week, I was confronted with some feelings I thought I had buried deep, close to the earth's molten iron core.

My daughter and I both enjoy watching House. I love the dynamics between the characters of the show. The Chicklet likes the puzzles, and the process involved in solving them. We both appreciate his warped sense of humour.
Gregory House says outloud some of the things I refrain from saying myself. Believe me, I get in enough trouble as it is with being direct and blunt. But, as I was telling Hope this week, I don't pussy-foot around when I think people can do better and should be tough enough to suck it up and know that I bother to push only when I care. Mind you, there are some people I handle extremely gently because I know they have been through enough, and they are fragile - like a butterfly's wing.

So, back to the topic at hand... What shook me up?

ATTENTION - Here comes the spoiler, if you haven't watched and it's on your DVR... stop reading (but then you'll miss out on another very important detail about what makes me tick).


Lawrence Kutner, one of House's team members (for those of you that don't watch) and quite possibly the most entertaining, commits suicide.

Kutner was, to me, a most beloved character. The kid (yeah, 33 is younger than me, so The Kid) was brilliant and goofy and according to House, insane. He handled being House's whipping boy with grace and humour. Some coaches ride their charges hard, so do 1st Sgts... Many people run away or turn into whiny-piny-pissy-pants in that kind of situation. And this? Is a trait I have issues with (note, there is a difference with bitching and letting aggravation show and being a whiny-wuss) But not Kutner. He showed determination, and a certain willingness to go with the flow and ride out the waves.

Or so we all thought...

Sadly, something in his life latched onto his ankle like the Kraken, that dreaded giant squid and dragged him under the surface and didn't let go. Was it memories of his parents' death when he was a child, his experience in foster care, feelings of not fitting in? The internet is now filled with hypotheses. People need to know why. They didn't see it coming.
And I think that for many survivors of suicide, but I'll speak for myself here, not knowing why... wondering what was the monster that rendered a beloved family member, friend, colleague unable to make it back to the surface in time, can haunt us for a lifetime. And there's the guilt... wondering what signs we missed, what we could have done, what we didn't do...

As distraught as I was, or more precisely, can be over an imaginary character's death, it brought back feelings of helplessness and of being abandoned after the suicide of my uncle when I was a teenager.

I saw, in the characters that were left behind, the emotions that members of my family, including me, experienced when my uncle Paul took his own life.

My mother went through the angry phase of grief pretty strongly, and being Catholics, her denial was intense. She never did accept his suicide and denied he had killed himself to her dying day. We just don't damn our souls to purgatory and the eternal fires of hell like that, no siree... not in our family.

But you know what? Apparently, we do. At least, he did.

I don't remember how I learned of his death, much less that it was at his own hand in the same manner that Kutner died. I've completely blocked out the conversation. I don't even know who told me. And I don't want to get that moment back. I gladly surrender it to the black hole we all possess, the one that can take our most painful memories and eat them.

I remember that I felt anger and then, I felt betrayed. I thought he was a coward because he didn't fight. He had left me. It took a long time for me to give up the anger. I cursed him and convinced myself he wasn't worth my tears as I had apparently not been worth his sticking around. This is sometimes easier than letting the grief take over.

Watching the unfolding story, I was once again reminded of how much pain my beloved uncle must have been in that led him to this? Suicide is final. There are no do-overs. And it does affect the world when someone let's go.

His death now serves as a learning experience for me, and reminds me that no matter how bad things get... suicide is not a solution. In a way, he gave me one of the most important survival lessons I have learned.

But I still miss his smile and kind blue eyes. He's the one I talk to when I need help getting up off my rear when I've been thrown to the ground. I'd give anything to have him back.

I hope the powers that be on "House M.D." continue to explore the aftermath. Because the ripples that come from a suicide can travel far and wide... and affect the deceased person's loved ones for a very long time, as it has me.

My daughter watched with me, and was puzzled. She, like so many fans, wondered why? This is an opportunity for me to have one of those discussions that parents dread. The goal not being explaining why, but offering that there is an alternative. To create in her an awareness that there is such a thing as suicide but that there is an alternative. She shouldn't have to learn that lesson the way I did. Maybe someday she'll be able to help someone in trouble... and slay the giant squid.

I will say, to the whiny-piny-pissy-pants babies that complained about the news media having ruined their television viewing experience by not sitting on this story and publishing the plot line before they got a chance to watch it on Hulu (could you hear the whiny tone?): get over it! This is bigger than you.

If you or a loved one needs help:

If their life is in immediate danger, call 911.

If you need to talk, either because you are contemplating suicide or have survived the loss of someone to suicide, there is help.

For information,  someone to listen, the Center for Suicide Prevention (in Canada) , the National Alliance on Mental Illness or Suicide.org are doorways to assistance.


Kate said...

Awesome post!

My grandmother took her own life when I was 12. She OD'd on valium and alcohol - mixture.

I think she felt like she was in a really bad rut with her life and had no other way out.

I tried as much as I was able, as a child, to help her. It saddens me that her own family (husband, adult children, etc) did nothing - and to this day are critical of her. They are totally blind and unfeeling of her pain.

Dana said...

Well ... I'm pretty sure you read my story - at 25, I found myself with the title of "widow" after my 24 year old husband shot himself in the head. As I was watching House, I had much of that anxiety, fear, confusion, anger and more come back. One can never stuff the emotional results of a suicide deep enough.

It's been almost 20 years, and I still remember the words of a social worker at the hospital:

"You'll drive yourself insane trying to come to a logical conclusion regarding such an illogical act."

I say them to myself every time I let those thoughts creep back in my head.

Anndi said...


I'm sorry about your grandmother. Sometimes it's hard for those left behind to accept suicide, and it can be easier to be angry than think maybe we could have made a difference. Not that we always can.


Yes, I remember your story. I thought of you as I wrote this, knowing you too are a suicide survivor.

Lu' said...

I enjoyed watching House, very good show. I have been watching other things so far this season and missed that episode. Suicide is nothing but bad. Sounds trite but it is the truth. Many thing rolling around in my head with this topic better left rolling around.

Ron said...


And thank you for sharing your feelings with us!

I've been through losing people through death, but never through suicide, so I can only imagine how it's rippling effects touch those around them. As you know, my mother died when I was very young, and I was not given the chance to say goodbye. And even though it wasn't suicide, not being about to understand WHY...left me with tremendous confusion. I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to process much of what I lost. And it brought me to a place of acceptance and forgiveness.

Thank you again for sharing this post, dear Twin!

You have reached out and helped many.


Akelamalu said...

I so agree with everything you have said Anndi. Someone very dear to me tried to commit suicide and it broke my heart that they felt so desperate and alone when I was just a phone call away. I told them that nothing, absolutely N.O.T.H.I.N.G. is worth giving up your life for, things will always look better in the morning. Thankfully they are now OK, though it doesn't stop me worrying. :(

Hope said...

My uncle, (more like a grandfather given the age my own father was born to my grandmother) upon learning he needed a heart lung transplant took an AK he smuggled in from the Virgin Islands via probably many other places his own son traveled; wrote a note, set the coffee pot to go off for my aunt, sat bewteen the bifold doors of his closet and blew himself into smithereens with a wood dowel and some clever proppings. We were there to clean up the mess. HE was warm, funny and I whiled away many summers at his house on the beach. A great deal of the peace I managed to experienced in adolescence was there on the deck looking over the water and sharing sips of his beer. I loved him very much.

Desert Songbird said...

I nearly became a widow at 23; had I not pried the gun out of my then-husband's hand, he would not have this two beautiful 16-year-old twin daughters today. He called me a few years ago to thank me for saving his life. We still chat occasionally over the years; he's a good man. He was in a bad way, obviously, as a 20-year-old, and me being me, refused to let him go. Not everyone is as fortunate.

I loved Kutner's character on House, and I mourn the element his character brought to the team. I knew that his suicide would impact House the most; it was inevitable. I, too, hope they continue to explore this story line more and show how it continues to stay with Greg House.

Meribah said...

I think they killed Kutner off because the actor who played him has a new job working at the White House or something.
But, nevertheless, it is still very important to be able to talk about suicide and its ramifications, cuz it affects everybody around the victim. It's one of the most selfish of acts, though not an unforgivable one. May your uncle, and all suicide victims, find the peace in death that they could not find in life. Hugs.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

When I pastored a congregation in southern Indiana, in one 4-month period I officiated the funerals of three people who had committed suicide. Those were the most difficult funerals I have ever officiated.

Starrlight said...

I was seriously seriously upset by this episode. But then I found out Kal Penn had a new job offer. From Obama. So I kinda understood. And House would not be the show it is if it didn't smack us around a little bit.

I get a kick out of it because according to my mother, Hugh Laurie is a ringer for my biological dad.