A Time to Live and a Time to Die
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by Laramie Boyd
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Shock waves rippled through a Palm Desert, California retirement resort once again yesterday,
as another long time resident, a close friend of mine, took his own life. He smothered his head in a plastic bag. He had been ill
with emphysema for some time, and his wife had just recently been placed in an assisted living home and was mentally and physically
losing contact with her husband and the world around her. I spoke with my friend only three days ago, and he neither showed nor spoke
in any way that made me suspect the event that would come to pass. He was, of course, devastated about his wife's condition and was
totally discouraged about his own health problems.
Not long ago, an equally sad tragedy
took place in the same resort, when a resident shot his wife, and then turned the gun on himself. His wife had been sick for some
time and there was no hope for her recovery, and I was told he said he saw no reason to go on. And so he decided not to.
These two heart breaking incidents caused me to stop and wonder about the thoughts that must cross the minds of the elderly when their
life appears to them to be unbearable. Is there a high percentage of deaths of senior citizens by suicide? According to any notes
left behind, or any other indicators, are there any specific common reasons listed as to why they decide on that way to die? Are there
any organizations that try to prevent anyone from taking their own life, by counseling, or other techniques known to help prevent
carrying out that act? But shouldn't we first consider whether it is our right to decide for someone else what is the best way for
them to die, when the individual may have other thoughts on the matter? Or is that a decision that individuals should be able to determine
for themselves without undue legal restraint or influence? Once again, should the government be the decider, telling us how, when,
and where we can end our life, let alone how we live it? But, I'm guessing that if a poll were taken of family members of suicide
victims, there would be many who would have hoped that there had been some way, someone, that could have helped the person who couldn't
take it anymore, and also alleviate the anguish and maybe even some guilt felt by those left behind.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. In the over 65 age group, that translates to 14 suicides per 100,000 population,
and for the over 85 age, 47 for every 100,000. Contrary to some opinions, attempting suicide is seen as an expression of extreme distress,
not a harmless bid for attention. There is some evidence that brain chemical changes may be a contributor. Psychotherapy and medication
have helped ease distress in some cases, when caught in time. In California, someone who attempts suicide and fails is locked up for
2 or 3 days, or until it is felt they are no longer at risk of harming themselves or someone else. A hotline is available at 1-800-TALK(8255),
with hopes of averting this all too common path to who knows where.