Today is the anniversary of the death of one of my literary heroes, Virginia Woolf. What is particularly tragic is the manner of her death. After leaving a note for her husband, she filled her pockets with stones and walked into a river, drowning herself. Despite the weight of the stones, it took a commitment not to walk back out of the river.
I think about her suicide every time I hear or read her name, encounter a quote from one of her many exceptional literary works, or read the works themselves. I think about the deep depression that precipitated her making such a horrific choice. It wasn't the first time she suffered through such a bout of depression. However, this time she felt she wouldn't recover. She felt the burden her illness placed on her husband. Possibly, she felt relieved at her choice. I read somewhere that when people make the irrevocable choice to kill themselves, they feel some lessening of their burdens.
I wonder if that's what my nephew felt before he pulled the trigger, ending his young life.
Help for depression wasn't as prolific in Woolf's time, as in my nephew's. Would she have made the same choice if it were? Yet my nephew didn't get the help I suggested a year earlier when I first became aware he was thinking about suicide. Negative attitudes about seeming weak, and the stigma attached to mental illness if one sought help for depression, kept him from seriously considering the choice to get help. I would like to believe that suicides like my nephew's, and Woolf's, would prompt our society to grant mental illnesses the same understanding and consideration we give physical illnesses. I would like to believe that some good could come from their lives and their deaths. Especially my nephew's short life. I want to believe that it was not entirely wasted by that one committed act. That, like Woolf, he left behind something edifying and enduring.
So many "happy birthday Virginia" quotes are going around social media today. I suspect many have no awareness of the manner of her death. Or perhaps they say it with irony, as I have after reading so many posts.
May the memory of her death bring an end to the stigma of mental illness, and may others seek the help they need rather than the deep pool of forgetfulness.