Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thoughts from "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham

Earlier this year, I read Take the Dimness of My Soul Away: Healing After A Loved One's Suicide by William Ritter, in which a movie called The Hours was referenced (see blog post).   Since then, I have not only watched the movie but have also read and journaled through the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.   And while the story is about how three women's lives are interconnected, despite living in different time periods, one of the major threads that tie them together is suicide.

It is common knowledge (although unknown to me until Josh's death put "suicide" front and center in my mind), that Virginia Woolf died by drowning in 1941, after putting large rocks in her coat and walking into a river. She is the first woman we are introduced to in the prologue of The Hours.  In the note left for her husband, her personal despair is clear as well as her belief that she is a burden to him, especially since she does not think recovery from her growing madness is possible.
"Dearest,   I feel certain that I am going mad again: I feel we can't go through another of these terrible times....So I am doing what seems the best thing to do....I can't fight it any longer.  I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work...I can't go on spoiling your life any longer.  I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been."   V
The second woman introduced is Mrs. Laura Brown who is pregnant with her second child in the year 1949.  She is unhappy in the role of housewife and mother and being an avid reader, she finds escape through books.  It is while soaking in the beautiful prose of Woolf's book, Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, she thinks, "How, could someone who was able to write a sentence like that - come to kill herself?  What in the world is wrong with people?"

My journal note: Encircled question mark and "How could a bright, healthy, popular, athletic boy, with the whole world in front of him, kill himself?"  This is STILL the unanswerable question that remains in the back of my mind, firmly lodged.  Will it still be there five, ten, twenty years after his death?  Will I ever be able to let it go?  I don't know.

Back to The Hours.  The story moves back and forth in time, depending on the character.  While the prologue begins with Woolf's suicide, the novel places her back in time, 1923 to be exact, when she is actually writing Mrs. Dalloway.  It is difficult work as her mind does not always cooperate.  She often took to walking and used the time to think through the plot of her books.  On one such outing, she muses: "Clarissa Dalloway, will kill herself over something that seems, on the surface, like very little.  Her party will fail, or her husband will once again refuse to notice some effort she's made about her person or their home.  The trick will be to render intact the magnitude of Clarissa's miniature but very real desperation; to fully convince the reader that, for her, domestic defeats are every bit as devastating as are lost battles to a general."

My journal note:  Devastated and desperate, defeated soul = suicide

I will now quote a lengthy passage from the book - of Laura Brown's contemplation of suicide, of life and of what leaving her family might mean.
"It is possible to die, Laura thinks, suddenly, of how she - how anyone - can make a choice like that.  It is a reckless, vertiginous thought, slightly disembodied - it announces itself inside her head, faintly but distinctly, like a voice crackling from a distant radio station.  She could decide to die.  It is an abstract, shimmering notion, not particularly morbid.
It could, she thinks, be deeply comforting; it might feel so free: to simply go away.  To say to them all, I couldn't manage, you had no idea; I didn't want to try anymore."
 My journal note: "Did Josh feel this way?"  Continuing with the passage:
"She could leave them all this battered world....saying to one another,  We thought she was all right, we thought her sorrows were ordinary ones.  We had no idea.  
How could any of them recover from something like that?  Nothing she might do as a living wife and mother, no lapse, no fit of rage or depression, could possibly compare.  It would be, simply, evil.  It would punch a hole in the atmosphere, through which everything she's created - the orderly days, the lighted windows, the table laid for supper - would be sucked away."
My journal note:  Yes - the question to ask is how can anyone truly recover from the suicide of a loved one, be it mother, father, wife, husband, brother or sister?  Is it the absolute worse thing you can do to a loved one?  And yes, when Josh died, I felt like a hole was punched in the atmosphere of my "normal" life and sucked it away.  It is gone and irretrievable.  We must find a "new normal".

Scary quotes on suicide ideation (in Laura Brown's head)
"Still, she is glad to know (for somehow, suddenly, she knows) that it is possible to stop living.  There is comfort in facing the full range of options; in considering all your choices, fearlessly and without guile.  She imagines Virginia Woolf, virginal, unbalanced, defeated by the impossible demands of life and art; she imagines her stepping into a river with a stone in her pocket."
"She takes the bottle off the shelf, holds it up to the light.  There are at least thirty pills inside, maybe more.  She puts it back on the shelf.  It would be as simple as checking into a hotel room.  It would be a simple as that.  Think how wonderful it might be to no longer matter. Think how wonderful it might be to no longer worry, or struggle, or fail.  What if that moment at dinner - that equipoise, that small perfection - were enough?  What if you decided to want no more?"
My journal note:  suicide ideation and fixation.  Where death becomes "wonderful".  Escape.  A solution.  The right solution.  A permanent solution.  Very scary to think the mind, following a certain path, can end up here.  Is this what happened to Josh that fateful night?

(There is a third woman, Clarissa Vaughan living in New York City in 1998.  She is called Mrs. Dalloway by a close friend who is a former lover and poet, dying of AIDS.  I will bypass writing about her for fear of spoiling to plot.)

The movie came out in 2002 and was up for 9 Academy Awards.  I did not see it at the time, deeming it "too sad."  However now,  I was eager to read the book and watch the movie.  This makes me see, yet again, how Josh's death has changed me - in deep, fundamental, inexplicable ways.  My motives in reading or listening/watching any type of media are different. My tolerance level for certain subjects is higher.

I do not fear reading about tragedy and death with subsequent passages on sorrow, grief and pain.  I have felt it.  I am living it.

God Bless

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