Princess: Wrestling with the frustrations of suicide
I had a dream last night that I went to see the rabbi to talk to her about Stewart’s suicide. She was a cool rabbi, beautiful and soft-spoken. I’m pretty sure my mind conjured her up from an old episode of “Six Feet Under” when Nate meets this stunning female rabbi through one of his clients at the funeral home. He asks, “How do you know when you’ve found your soul mate?” and she replies, “Your soul mate is the person who makes you the most you you can possibly be.”
In my dream, I asked the rabbi what the Jewish religion said about suicide. I was choking back tears, could hardly get the words out.
But she didn’t answer my question. She said, “So, how are you doing with your weight gain?”
I know, I know. I guess I’ll save that one for my shrink.
The point is, Stewart’s death is upsetting, disturbing and confusing and has left so many of us scratching our heads. The outpouring of love for him has been so moving. It’s a reminder that despite the billionaire’s club that sometimes feels like it’s crushed whatever quaint and cozy is left in this town, we are still a very small and very tight-knit community.
Stewart and I were never that close. He always looked at me with a feigned detachment, like he was examining me, trying to decipher what kind of species I was. I think the whole Princess thing probably threw him off — so not his style. I like to think he could see there was more to me than that, but I imagine the idea that anyone would adapt such a ridiculous persona was off-putting enough.
The last time I saw him was at an Aspen Writers’ Foundation event at the Woody Creek Community Center. I said, “Every time I see you, your hair gets shorter.”
And he just kind of gave me a head nod, unsure of how or why to respond to that.
Ryan keeps telling me, “This has nothing to do with you.” It’s not that he’s being insensitive. It’s just that it upsets him when I’m upset and so distracted. He hates seeing me in my head like that.
But the fact of the matter is it has affected of all of us. I’m upset because I have close friends who adored him and are devastated, now carrying the burden of pain, powerlessness and guilt like they should have done something, as if there were something they could have done. I’m upset because he has a daughter who is at such a formative age, not that there’s ever a good time to lose your father. My first response was straight-up anger. A part of me felt that he’d committed a crime, and a serious one at that.
I think Su Lum put it best in her column on Tuesday: “When you kill yourself you abdicate your right to tell the story your way, so screw you, Stewy, for leaving us.”
I also find it haunting, this idea that between life and death is one single step. It was one of those sunny, cloudless Colorado days when the sun was shining and the sky was such a deep shade of blue that it almost didn’t look real. I think of the view from that bridge, with Pyramid Peak in the distance, a monolith rising up to the sky like a real-live deity with 3 feet of fresh snow on the ground. Aren’t those the days we all live for? While the rest of us were thinking about football and Buffalo wings and who’s going to bring the sour cream and chive dip, Stewart was out there, alone in his pain.
The night before, he was at the Wheeler, doing what he loves, surrounded by so many people who adored him, people who had no idea he was in trouble. How could he feel so hopeless? Why did he give up?
I sometimes wonder if the profound beauty that surrounds us every day can have the opposite effect, like a spotlight for angst, an affront to feeling anything but joyful, happy and carefree. Maybe that’s why the suicide rate in Pitkin County is twice as high as the rest of Colorado and three times as high as the national average.
After feeling frustrated by the questions and helpless to answer them, I decided the problem was the lack of mental-health resources in the valley. Yes, that was it. Instead of building $60 million art museums, we need more shrinks. We need more shrinks so everyone can find a therapist they love who can write them prescriptions for the right meds and we can all live happily ever after in a Prozac-softened world where “whatever” is our battle cry in the face of distress.
So I called my dad, who also happens to be a psychiatrist. He works for Mind Springs Health, a statewide mental-health network that does indeed have offices in Aspen, Basalt and Glenwood. I told him I was feeling pretty angry about Stewart’s suicide.
“Oh, no, honey — you have to be more empathetic than that,” he said. “Depression is a brain disease. It’s like cancer. Panic, anxiety and depression can become so severe that it takes over. The pain can become unbearable.” He said suicides aren’t necessarily always planned. He also said it’s not uncommon for the person suffering to hide their pain, to seem fine one day and then gone the next. And it’s also not unusual for someone with depression, especially men, to let it go untreated.
I guess the old adage “You can’t help someone unless they ask for it” is true. Stewart’s legacy can teach us one thing: This is a community that cares and has so much love to give. Embrace it. And if you need help — please, ask for it.
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On behalf of the Aspen Art Museum, I am writing to enthusiastically endorse measure Ballot Question 2A and urge Aspen voters to vote YES.