Brand building through storytelling

Choosing death at 37

It’s been a good many years since I was 37 and had just figured out that not only did the state known as happiness actually exist outside sappy greeting cards and over-orchestrated love songs, I had as much right to it as anyone else. My second life—the one that followed my treatment for chronic depression—was in its first astonishing months when I felt as green and tender as a newly unfurled leaf.

I remember a kind of reverence for an ordinary Sunday brunch at our favourite table in a neighbourhood cafe that no longer exists—my husband and I still in our workout clothes; The New York Times strewn across the table, lightly spattered with eggs and homemade salsa; the cheerful din of the usual crowd, who ranged from young lovers fresh out of rumpled beds to people with the weathered, watchful air of aging writers. Back home on my computer with its green screen and first-generation word processor, my latest magazine piece awaited the next paragraph on the future of corporate women or the latest skirmish in the battle of the sexes. In those days, the mid-80s, magazines set great store by think pieces on social issues, and I’d been tapped as just the sort of writer they needed.

At 37 I could picture nothing better than a lot of other Sundays just like that Sunday. I felt no need to imagine a future for myself; it seemed plenty good enough to believe that I had one. Not so long before, when a lifelong melancholic streak gave way to full-blown despair, I had asked myself every day if the time had come to end my life. I could still compose a self to meet the world–hair just so, scarf complementing my silk shirt–but I felt like nothing at all, as if my clothes were a bottle filled with toxic why-botherness. If you had told me then what lay ahead in my 40s and 50s, I’d have thought you were having me on. Editing a major magazine? Telling my story in a memoir that would resonate with other women? Two adored grandchildren and mind-stretching travels on three continents? No, not for me. Other people have all the luck.

And so, when I hear of someone young and gifted and beloved who has chosen death over life and all its rich, ragged possibilities, I’m stopped short by the echo of my ancient, enveloping, seemingly unshakeable gloom yet at the same time not entirely surprised. If you’ve ever known such a state, it’s not that hard to understand why some people don’t get out alive.

People like Sam Roweis, a Canadian computer scientist with a wife, twin babies and a reportedly brilliant future on the frontiers of research, who on January 12 jumped to his death from the window of his New York apartment. He had a prestigious grant to study what he called “the inner workings of the world’s most mysterious computer—the brain,” when his own brain turned against him. He was 37.

Click here to read my post on the suicide of Sylvia Plath’s son, Nicholas, who was also gifted, beloved and much too young to die.


Posted by Rona

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