Joanne McNeill: The secret pit of despair

By Joanne McNeill


My heart breaks for the widow of barrister Greg King, 43, who died last week.

I know no more than has been reported - "no suspicious circumstances", "exhausted, disillusioned, unwell" - of his untimely death but, unfortunately, I do know workaday prose withers at the enormity of the shock, and the endless waves of emptiness, sorrow and incomprehension at the suicide of a partner, which blights everything forever, in a blink of time.

The terror of the moment of knowing lodges permanently in the caverns of the heart, waiting for the next axe to fall.

The ice it takes to speak of the death never thaws.

In a way, the funeral palaver is a blessing - vases to find, people to hug, officials to negotiate, a corpse to dress, hold and stroke for a little while longer, mourners pleased to have something to do with their helplessness in the face of the terrible ... tea towels, food, hubbub - all gone in a blur of tears, efficiency, insomnia, headaches and black humour - only remembered slowly later, scene by awful scene, when the shock fades - grave-diggers, hearse, stories, the kindnesses of strangers, the fear that any minute you too must surely fall ...

Then the post mortem - more detail than anyone ever knew about the deceased's innards in life (when it might have been handier) - pored over in vain hope that a hidden disease would make sense of the unspeakable, but alas no, he was in far finer fettle than he dreaded.

If only he'd known?

Then the life relived in slow motion forevermore, with every sad if-only on continuous repeat.

Denial, outrageous hope, impotent rage misdirected at innocent moving targets: the grief grinds on year after year because the trouble with the dead is they stay dead.

No matter how we might like to believe wistful animism or fairy stories about reincarnation, they really don't come back.

The euphemism "Rest in Peace" - is a monstrous cruel hoax.

The dead are not resting.

They do not bounce back as large as life and twice as twinkly to waltz you around the kitchen when they've had a nice break and are feeling much better.

Last time I looked, New Zealand's annual suicide rate was higher than the road toll.

It's impossible to reconcile the two pictures; the happy one - where keen people strive for success, adopt health and fitness regimes to promote longevity or bravely fight terrible diseases to the death to stay alive - and the other one; the secret pit of despair with no visible escape beyond oblivion.

Most of the road toll is blamed on driver-error: with reason, since humans in control of lethal projectiles are clearly fallible. However, sometimes infrastructure is at fault.

Suicide is personal too, but arguably improving the infrastructure of society, community and family support so that everyone can meet basic needs - such as food, shelter and meaningful work - with dignity, and feels loved and honoured rather than defeated and excluded, might help alleviate the tragic suicide rate and the broken people it leaves behind.

Poets say it best.

"They died because words they had spoken returned always homeless to them." (Janet Frame, The Suicides)

- Northern Advocate

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