Letter: Things to acknowledge
It is impossible to reconcile the suicides in paradise; I’ve seen quite a few. My son says Aspen is a hard place to be. That may be true.
A valid comparison made in this paper between the greed surrounding the Aspen Art Museum and the paltry sum allocated to mental-health services sums up some of the problem. This skewed and extreme unpleasantness contributes to imbalance. It is also hard to find a good therapist in this challenging bastion, where unbridled, incestuous gossip is the rule, which runs counter to trusting a therapist even when you can.
There has been such an outpouring of grief for Stewart Oksenhorn, whom I did not know. I’m certain many cared, but it seems few really knew what was going on in his life, and if they did, there was no one boldly inserting themselves (as far as I know) to try to get him to talk about the angst that led to despair. It isn’t an easy thing to do even when a good friend can deduce that a buddy is feeling low. Still, it requires real interest and concern, which isn’t in abundant supply.
Am I blaming the survivors who are riddled with remorse? No, not at all. But perhaps I’m blaming an emotionally inhospitable culture in which we live.
Most people are caught up in their own lives. They don’t make much of an effort to really get to know another person. There were so many in love with Stewart, yet he could not approach many to ventilate or at least express his pain. Or he wasn’t comfortable doing it.
Survivor’s guilt always emerges after the fact. What could I have done to prevent it? Probably not much given that relationships can be less meaningful than we believe.
This is not to say Stewart could have been saved. That may not have been possible. It is also not to say there weren’t people who genuinely cared for him and were friends. But life is complicated, and those we trust can turn on us in ways that can devastate. When individuals reach that tipping point, it is imperative to identify those at risk to help alter outcomes when we can.
Perhaps the saddest part was Stewart’s reasonably happy persona on display for all to believe. It was the shock of that deception that betrayed those who interacted with him at the end of his life. How could a guy so unhappy be that falsely beguiling? Is revealing unhappiness so difficult that we prefer to feign feelings we don’t have? Apparently so!
Suicide can occur spontaneously, but the underlying depression is there for some people; it lurks in the shadows and can be triggered by unanticipated trauma or painful betrayals that can and do occur in life. I’m certain there was something very unpleasant going on in his life that no one speaks to directly. Perhaps some discussion might be helpful for us all.
These underlying realities cannot be buried.
Remember, too, that another person may be contemplating the same thing. They may feel trapped in pain for the same reasons, too bottled up to express their profound despair with nowhere to go. The tragedy is that for many there is no outlet for expression. This crucial dynamic that creates this mental isolation is what we should be discussing.
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