Friday, August 14, 2009

He Said: Suicide

I read a very shocking piece in Time Magazine piece last week by Nancy Gibbs entitled Going Too Far with Assisted Suicide? Nancy Gibbs questioned a growing liberal practice in Switzerland where doctors will assist in the suicide of a person in death on demand saying that it is a person's right to decide the timing of their own death. Gibbs said a prominent British man who had no terminal condition wanted to join his wife who was suffering with cancer in to the next life because he loved her so much and couldn't live without her.

The story of Sir Edward's "death pact" was at first sight an irresistible love story. His wife Joan, 74, a former ballerina, had a diagnosis of terminal liver and pancreatic cancer; because assisted suicide is illegal in Britain, they traveled to a Zurich clinic, where, for a fee of about $7,000 per patient, the group Dignitas arranges for death by barbiturate. "They drank a small quantity of clear liquid and then lay down on the beds next to each other," their son Caractacus said. They fell asleep and died within minutes, he reported, calling it a "very civilized" final act.

Civilized, in this case, is a relative term...

The problem is that Sir Edward, while in failing health at age 85, was not dying. His eyesight was nearly gone, his hearing was weak, and he faced the prospect of life without his soulmate. But sorrow is not grounds for a doctor to assist in a suicide in most places that allow it. Nor is despair. The Netherlands permits euthanasia for those suffering intolerable pain; Oregon requires two doctors to confirm that the patient has less than six months to live.

Some euthanasia activists, including Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli, believe in death on demand. "If you accept the idea of personal autonomy," he argues, "you can't make conditions that only terminally ill people should have this right." Autonomy and dignity are precious values; the phrase sanctity of life can sound sterile and pious in the face of profound pain and suffering. But Minelli is arguing for much more: that autonomy is an overriding right. This view rejects the idea that society might ever value my life more than I do or derive a larger benefit from treating every life as precious, to the point of protecting me from myself.
I had heard of a few older people feeling that way and even more who gave up the will to live and die shortly after a spouse. But this is the first time in the last couple of decades I ever heard of any openly offing themselves because of the loss of a spouse through assisted suicide. There have probably been a few who secretly committed suicide similarly but it wasn't so openly dicussed as though it is the right of any person to just go and be assisted in drinking poison or other instrument of death.

I went to the Handbook of Instructions and thought that surely the LDS Church leaders must condemn suicide in any form since taking one's life would probably be viewed as murder. I was wrong I didn't find one single mention in the 2006 edition not even a discussion under baptisms for the dead about people who have killed themselves. I think the assisted suicide angle merits at least a mention.

This got me thinking so I went to LDS.Org and did a search on suicide in general. To my surprise this is what I discovered was the policy from the Answers to Questions topic suicide :

Although it is wrong to take one's own life, a person who commits suicide may not be responsible for his or her acts. Only God can judge such a matter. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said:

"Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth.

"When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth" ("Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not," Ensign, Oct. 1987, 8).
I don't think the leaders of the church are by any means supporting suicide they are just saying we shouldn't judge others who do because no one understands what lead to the suicide.

I remember many years ago I read Gary Bergera's Brigham Young University: A House of Faith which tells of the suicide of George Brimhall, who was president of BYU from 1904 until 1921. Brimhall was in a depressed state of mind for many years suffering from chest and adominal pains and finally killed himself with a hunting rifle.

Bergera writes:

A devout Mormon, Brimhall had two wives and fourteen children, although his second wife, Flora Robertson, a former student, lived in seclusion in Spanish Fork after their marriage. Brimhall was afflicted with intense chest and abdominal pain throughout his life, but only his closest associates were aware of the sometimes intense discomfort. Eleven years following his release as president, when the pain had become unbearable, he commited suicide with a hunting rifle. "He did it the hard way, but bless him--he was courageous," commented one colleague following Brimhall's death (Hansen).

I did some further research and read that he used his big toe to pull the trigger. At his funeral one of the general authorities said that we shouldn't judge George Brimhall because only the Lord knew his state of mind and that the Lord would consider Brimhall's life in totality at the judgment bar.

Recently I have been grappling with some serious back pain which rendered me unable to even sit for an extended period of time without having dozens of back spasms which were intense and occurred every time I even moved whether sitting, lying or standing.

I used to think that anyone that wanted to die including terminally ill people didn't have much strength of character and needed to endure to the end. I gained a more empathic feeling and better understanding of their pain when I was in extreme pain. There were a couple times during my ordeal when I couldn't stand the pain and thought who would want to live out their lives with such excruciating agony and maybe death wasn't such a bad option. Having been diagnosed with degenerative arthritis I realize that the quality of my life will diminish over the next twenty to thirty years as my vertebrates fuse together.

Luckily I was able through the use of electrical stimulation to get the muscles in my back to relax and now the pain is bearable although I have a couple of tender spots that will never go away. I told my doctor who is also LDS and a bishop about my recent lapse in feeling. I would never consider it because I saw my father die an agonizing death when they pulled the plug. I learned that we as humans will fight to the end for life.

The doctor said he has a few patients that feel the same way but suicide should never be an option. That is what he is there for to help them improve the quality of their lives and that there were many options short of killing yourself. I told him I personally I would never kill myself but I can now understand better why some would want to end their pain and lives when the quality of their lives was so miserable. It is a sobering thought to consider the ethical and moral implications of suicide and particularly assisted suicide.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

He Said: On Turning 50

BiV for the past ten years has been fighting a losing battle with age. I discovered a few years back that in her mind she thought she was still 18. Now as a decade has moved on she has moved up to 29. Twenty-nine is a good age since sex experts maintain that women are at their sexual prime from middle to late 20s. Ten years ago I would have been able to handle such perkiness but now that I have passed fifty my mind and body are pretty close to being the same in age so it has limited benefits.

I hate to kill idealism and so I haven't rained on her parade. If she wants to think she is twenty-nine then who am I to ruin her mental image of herself as Peter Pan at the height of their physical perfection. There are many benefits to thinking you are twenty-nine. Eighteen brought greater problems since not all eighteen years were very mature and until the last year BiV mirrored an eighteen year old in her development. She has been gradually increasing in maturity the last few years and is finally closer to acting like someone's parent. I definitely don't think she can cope with being someones grandmother.

BiV genetically looks younger and has the metabolism of a 25 year old. Her blood pressure is 118/70. She runs three miles a day and can do a mini-triathlon albeit slow. She will probably live to be ninety or a hundred in chronological age with little health problems. She will outlive me by decades. In fact she could remarry and be married longer possibly to the second man.

I have always had a mental picture of BiV as a fresh twenty-three old returned sister missionary. I married her because she was cute and spiritual. After her mission she became more feminist and liberal. They say that many returned missionaries have a crisis after their mission. Her change has lasted for twenty-seven years chronological years maybe her mental age will go up the next decade or two and she can come to a middle ground. Maybe when she is ninety she will act fifty which she is turning this fall.

I unfortunately have been less fortunate than BiV. I have serious health problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis. I look and feel my age which today on my birthday is 54. I on the other hand feel 80 and have the aches and pains to prove it.

All my life people have told me that I am an old spirit. Even Wiccans think of me as being thousands of years old. I briefly chatted with a few who told me I had a powerful spirit. I see myself as an old bent over wizard who has faced some serious psychological and physical challenges.

I lost my idealism several years ago. I enjoy living with BiV because you never know what she is capable of. It keeps me young to be around her plus I keep her out of trouble. Most of my adult life has been protecting her like Uther Pendragon in the last episode of Merlin when he slew the Dark Knight with Excalibur. I have to slay a lot of dragons for my eight children and my wife who are all about the same mental age. I hope to last ten or twenty more years, after that they will have to grow up and take care of themselves.

Monday, August 3, 2009

She Said: How to Stay 29 Forever

Most of you must know by now that I am close to having that BIG birthday. And you also know that I'm really fighting it. An upcoming event that exacerbates the problem is that my first grandchild will be born in that same month. It's not that I don't want a new baby in the family, it's just that--I don't have any desire to be a grandma. I'm not moving gracefully into that stage of life.

That there is a term for "mid-life crisis" shows that I am not alone in this. Like many my age, I'm doing everything I can to stave off old age. I have changed my diet, I exercise faithfully 5 times a week, I moisturize! Dylan Thomas' villanelle has become more and more meaningful to me:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In Jungian psychology the puer aeternus, or the Peter Pan figure, is an archetype, or a "primordial, structural element of the human psyche".
Luckily, like all archetypes the puer (or puella, for women) has both a positive and an negative aspect. The positive side of the puer is the Divine Child who symbolizes newness, potential for growth, hope for the future. He is open to new beginnings, is imaginative, inspirational, and a dreamer in the positive sense. He also foreshadows the hero that he sometimes becomes. The negative side is the child/adult who refuses to grow up and meet the challenges of life face on. On this side, certain life patterns keep on being repeated again and again without the achievement of any real inner or outer change.

I feel a certain empathy for those who relate to the Peter Pan myth. Michael Jackson is often cited as the most well-known recent example of this phenomenon:
In a 2003 interview, Jackson told interviewer Martin Bashir, "I am Peter Pan". Bashir said, "No, you're Michael Jackson". Jackson then stated, "I'm Peter Pan in my heart".

I am Peter Pan in my heart, too.

I assume that Dr. B., in responding to this post, will tell me to grow up. In overcoming the Peter Pan mentality, Rahima Spottiswood mentions "the themes of abandonment and danger" that one must face, "the trials and ordeals suffered by all child gods and youthful heroes of myth and legend which reflect back to us the human condition of which we are all a part." It is true, I am afraid of abandonment. I am fearful of going forward, of aging, of losing the magic and the faith and the simplicity of childhood.

Some psychologists have said that archetypes cannot be chosen or abandoned. It is not necessary that the archetype be overcome. It needs to be recognized as the gift it is and worked with. Once the psyche understands what kind of archetype it is carrying, the individual can find ways to work with it in order to release its projections and take back the energy. In this way, the archetype can become an ally to the individual.

This sounds intriguing to me. I wonder if this technique is simply an avoidance of real life, a very "Peter-pannish" response, or if it actually holds promise for helping me integrate that foolish soul inside and the maturing container that houses it. Is growing up essential to finding happiness?