I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.Yesterday I found out that my sister took her own life. It was a very sad shock and a huge tragedy. Personally, as an atheist, all the evidence supports the position that once electro-chemical processes stop in the brain, that's it. That person is no more, and no one will ever be able to interact with them in any way ever again. It is the final equalizer for us all. For most, death comes naturally after a life of many decades. To some it is cut short through no specific plan of an individual through disease or accident. And sadly, some suffer from a misunderstood disease of mental illness, and they lose perspective and irrationally end it for themselves.
The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
- Carl Sagan "In the Valley of the Shadow" PARADE magazine (10 March 1996)
I am of course very sad about this news. My sister was a very intelligent, funny, strong-willed, determined, and vivacious young woman. All those attributes are generally not ones you would think of for someone who would take their own life, yet she did. I find that I harbour no anger or resentment towards her for this final act. She was indeed ill, and she didn't get the help she needed. Maybe her self reliance and determination prevented her from admitting to herself her illness and actually seeking the help she needed. She had been in an opportunity to be evaluated for mental health help, however, as a nurse (and a smart one at that), I am sure she was able to provide the doctors with the answers to their questions that would allow her to leave the psychiatric evaluation facility with minimal follow up. If anything, I feel anger towards that institution more than anything else.
I am most concerned for her children though. Susan had a very tumultuous life, and her children were really the one stabilizing factor for her. They are wonderful kids, and this isn't the sort of thing that any child should have to deal with. In celebration of her life, I am setting up an educational fund for her kids. If you wish to donate, here are the details:
Send a check or money order to (these are 529 plans, so they may be tax deductible depending on your state):
If you have a U Promise account, you can link to these as well. You will need to specify the accounts you want the funds to go into (or ask them to equally disburse the funds):
If you have questions or concerns, please call the phone number above, or you may contact me and I'll see what I can do to help.
P.S. I have several blog entries already in the queue. I think I will let them auto-publish over the next few days. This is not out of insensitivity or anything. I just figure that since we only have this life, I should not go out of my way with grief, but instead draw on the support of friends and family, and manage to continue living my life as a testament to its value. I hope you can understand that.