The Daily Beast reports on a case this week where a six-year-old Oregon girl’s death was finally ruled a suicide. Apparently Mom sent the girl to her room as punishment, and the child then tied a belt to “an unused crib” and hanged herself.
The article rightfully questions whether children can form the intent to kill themselves. Do they even know what death means?
I have a vivid memory of being five years old in our kitchen in Cleveland holding a large butcher knife with the tip pointed at my stomach. I remember trying to decide whether to push the blade into my belly. Part of my reasoning was that it would end being criticized by my parents, and end the fear of being beaten again with my dad’s belt. And part was curiosity – what would happen?
Fear of pain, not fear of death saved my life. And fear that my mother would find me and get angry at me for having the knife in my hands.
Oddest of all is that I clearly remember that I felt no emotion. The decision was purely rational.
The Daily Beast article endorses the prevailing wisdom that suicide is always caused by depression. But, in my experience, this facile label ignores the complexity of real life.
Years later, I heard an expert on the old Tom Snyder “Tomorrow” talk show say that on any given night, the decision to commit suicide can come down to a 51 to 49 vote, one way or the other.
Though memory is notoriously unreliable, especially thoughts from so long ago, I would say that my call was not that close. Maybe 60/40. But I do know that I came close enough that the memory still makes me shiver.