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.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"After a Funeral" by Diana Athill

I picked this book up in August 2011 at my local Border's closing sale.  The title caught my eye but the blurb on the back sealed the deal.
The story of how and why a talented writer came to kill himself - a classic memoir by one of our most esteemed authors.  When Diana Athill met the man she calls "Didi," she fell in love instantly and out of love just as quickly....With painful honesty, Athill explores the years she tried to help him, a period that culminated in Didi's suicide - in her apartment - an event he described in his journals as "the one authentic act of my life."
While I did not find myself drawn to the complicated relationship between Athill and Didi, a few quotes made it to my journal for further thought.

Didi was a diarist.  Like me, he wrote in his diary to survive.  Me from Josh's death, and he, from his own depression.
When I started writing I improved a lot, and then I discovered my salvation - a combination of salvation and writing.  My diaries.....I'd sit down and write - give vent to my feelings in writing, instead of in talking or behavior.  This would simmer me down, and I'd become normal again and often shake my head at the strangeness of it all.....In depression my diary becomes hopeless because it was writing it and reading it and seeing the way I sometimes am which often used to cause depression....This diary, then, this medicine, this dark and innermost secret womb of mine, is something I have created to save me (146-147).
Because I have no clues as to Josh's mental and emotional state which led to his fatal and irrevocable act, I want to read the suicidal ideation of others, whether from real people or fictional characters.  In fact, I have a little file box in which are recorded such quotes as below.  Morbid and a somewhat futile exercise, I know, because the only one who could tell me what he was thinking is gone, and who knows if he himself could articulate what dark thoughts were swirling in his mind, but still, I want to try and understand.

When I read such thoughts and copy the quotes in my journal or on notecards to file away, I wonder if Josh felt the same.  Then sadly, I wonder how many other young people or not-so-young people have similar thoughts.

Didi's feeling of self-repulsion were real and overwhelming.
Falling - falling - falling.  Perhaps I have been unable to touch my diary lately, except in short fits, because at times I am repulsive to myself, I don't want to touch me, to interest myself in me.  It is horrible to dislike your own self so much and there must be a vestige of genuine madness in all this....There is nothing I would welcome more than death at this moment, this very instant - here and now....I am left with what I am left with now: hopelessness, self-pity - and ugly and repulsive self-pity - and such despair, sadness loneliness and finally utter darkness....I have no affection or respect for myself at all.  I loathe and find intensely repulsive a man of my sort (53-55).
Because he was a faithful diarist, it stands to reason that he would record thoughts after ingesting a bottle of sleeping pills.
And the most dramatic moment of my life - the only authentic one - is a terrible let-down.  I have already swallowed my death.  I could vomit it out if I wanted to.  Honestly and sincerely, I really don't want to.  It is a pleasure.  I am doing this not in a sad, unhappy way; but on the contrary, happily and even (a state of being and a word I have always loved) SERENELY....serenely.
He did not die serenely at all.  Because he called a friend, (Athill thought he wanted a witness), he was taken to the hospital where his stomach was pumped.  But it was too late.  After ten days in which he "moaned endlessly," he passed away.

After reading the five volume diary he left for her, Athill's conclusion:
It was not intolerable that he had killed himself.  It was intolerable that he had been right to do so - that he had no alternative.  It was intolerable that a man should be so crippled by things done to him in his defenseless childhood that he had been made, literally and precisely, unendurable to himself....He was certain at too deep a level, in the very fibres of his being, that he was unworthy of love.  Being unworthy of love, he must be punished; and the only way he could secure this was by plunging out to the point where he was driven to punish himself.  To be murdered would be a fate much simpler, and less sad. 
Haunting words.

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