Thoughts — For a Friend.

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A friend reached out to me yesterday, because she was friends with the chef and writer Anthony Bourdain. She reached out because she wanted to share some thoughts with her friends who were (and are) grieving over Anthony’s recent suicide. This is what I shared in a middle-of-the-night email with her . . . When someone takes his life it is shocking to us. It’s especially shocking when that person — at least on the outside — seems successful, happy and creative. It’s a sobering reminder that we know people, but we don’t really know people. At least we don’t know the depth of a person’s anguish or pain or brokenness. Creative people are often tortured people. That’s not always the case, but it is true for many. (I’ve felt some of this torture myself.) Anthony was such a bright light of talent, but every now and then the adage is true — the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. He was carrying some dark shadows inside his soul. I often think that people take their own lives because they know and feel that there is something they want to change, but they don’t know how to change it. They can’t figure out a pathway forward, and so they make an irrevocable decision by taking their lives. I also believe that if a person reaches an anguished point of suicide, the only one who can ultimately show compassion is God. I know that not everyone believes in God, but my understanding is that God is infinite love / compassion / understanding. I know that Anthony Bourdain, regardless of what was happening inside the depths of his mind, whether it was depression, anxiety or some combination thereof, I really believe he was surrounded by the love of God. I also believe that sometimes people transcend a rational decision in the moment, and that they take their lives, not so much out of a reasoned choice, but out of a physiological impulse. They can hardly be held accountable for their actions, because their actions transcend rational functionality. This is why suicide leaves behind a trail of questions. We don’t know. Sometimes we will never know. There are terrible ideas associated with suicide, such as people who commit suicide are selfish. This is not true. Selfishness has nothing to do with it. That people who commit suicide are guilty of murdering themselves and will live forever in hell. Again, this is not true. If a person’s anguish is that intense, then surely God and God alone can offer love and understanding. I don’t know what was going on in Anthony’s life, but I refuse to allow the ending of his life to define the goodness and creativity he shared for over sixty years. He was a blazing comet of irreverent creativity. So talented. So interesting. So engaged with life. He was a father. He had a life partner. He had friends. I will remember him for his skillful writing and the way he brought food and people together. Sometimes those of us left behind wonder: “Could I have done something? Did I miss something?” The answer is no. People who have decided to take their lives will take their lives. People who take their lives impulsively can rarely be stopped. Of course, seeing a therapist and working through some of our psychological challenges is important. But in the end, even a good therapist cannot stop such a tragedy. I’m so sorry for this terrible loss with Anthony Bourdain. I hope some of these thoughts are helpful to you. Most of all, remember him with compassion and gratitude. Encourage your friends to live as fully and as deeply as possible. And as often as you can, help people remember that there is always help, always hope, and that reaching out is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. I send you and your friends so much love today. I will Take a Breath for Anthony Bourdain, and for you, and for the many people around the world who need our help.
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  1. Thank you Scott.
    As a mental health professional, I was involved with all too many suicide matters and worked a lot on education regarding both suicide prevention and educating about the how and why and grief and guilt. Your comments resonated so well and I shared them with a neighbor who thinks suicide is surely a selfish act made worse by leaving a child behind as both Bourdain and Kate spade did. We are having another discussion soon based on your thoughts. Thank you again,

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