'13 Reasons Why' That's Not What Suicide Looks Like To Me
So, full disclosure: this is the second pass I’m taking at this piece. The first one I think is still a pretty decent post, but was filled with links, statistics, and facts about the populations most affected by suicide. It made the overall point that most of the deaths by suicide don’t look like the suicide of Hannah Baker in 13 Reason Why, but in a very clinical way.
What I really meant was, Hannah Baker’s death by suicide doesn’t resemble the suicide that’s most important to me: my father’s.
I’ll spare you most of the details, but suffice to say his death was brutal and messy, and at the end of an equally brutal and messy life. He was thirty-four, had a mostly-undiagnosed, completely-untreated mood disorder, and had been a full-blown alcoholic basically my entire life. Like had-seizures-when-he-tried-to-stop-drinking-alcoholic. At the time of his death, he had fucked up nearly every relationship, totaled his career, intermittently abandoned his children, lost his apartment, and was, if not, completely homeless, well on his way to it. And, yes, that is me sparing you the details.
Which is why the somewhat neat and tidy suicide in 13 Reasons Why rubbed me in all of the wrong ways. That’s not to say that the events leading to Hannah’s death weren’t horrible, or that her suicide wasn’t a tragedy. And that’s especially not to say that actual events that are similar to Hannah’s death aren’t fucking awful. It’s only to say that the sanitized, vaguely romanticized way that most books and movies portray suicide has always struck me as such bullshit. The thirteen tapes detailing the pain and trauma in Hannah’s life were necessary for the narrative of the story, but also too clearly suggested possible fixes. The drama of the story, in fact, hinged on the idea that Hannah just needed someone to reach out to her to prevent her death. To prevent my father’s death, we just needed someone to fully diagnose his bipolar disorder, find the proper treatment for that, treat his rampant alcoholism (we might have tried rehab and AA for the fourth time, but they seemed fairly ineffective), find him a job and housing, and repair his broken relationships with all of his friends and family. No problem, right?
I should also dispel any accidental indications that I might be angry with my father about his fuck-up-edness. I left that a long time ago. In fact, as I’ve reached the age he was when he died, and passed it, what I’ve felt more than anything else is overwhelming sympathy. Things must have been so goddamn bad for him. As I watched Hannah’s reasons for wanting to kill herself pile up, I recognized that the showrunners were trying to get us to identify with her hopelessness and isolation. And I get it. Hannah, and real people who are in similar situations, have my absolute empathy and support. But I can’t ignore what felt like the worlds of difference between someone contemplating suicide in Hannah’s position, and someone contemplating suicide in my dad’s. Not worse, just indeterminably different.
And therein, for me at least, lies the problem. Theoretically, if someone had reached out to Hannah, she could have begun the process of healing. The tragedy is that she ended things before they could get better. For my dad, and a large percentage of people who kill themselves, the tragedy of his life was how thoroughly fucked it was, not how it ended. I don’t think suicide is ever the answer, but honestly, looking back over his life now, I can’t say I think things would have gotten better for him. And those aren’t the suicide stories we tell. We tell stories about missed opportunities, but not about squandered ones. We talk about lives that didn’t have fair chances, but not the wasted. We play the roles where we say, “Just hold on, you can get through this.” And we don’t ever just acknowledge, “I have no idea where to begin fixing this situation.” Because we’re afraid to seem like failures when the best we can say is “I’m sorry things are so hard for you.”
So I’m sorry things were so hard for you, Dad.