Friday, April 22, 2022

Understanding a Suicide

If such is possible, the book’s mystery is not as mysterious as it sounds. Journalist Laura Trujillo has written a book about her mother’s suicide. She believes that by advertising the facts of the case, and by pointing some part of the blame at herself, she will be contributing to-- God knows what. Or else, she imagines that she can exonerate herself for behavior that seems both heartfelt and vindictive.

So, the issue, as addressed by Michael Greenberg in his New York Times review-- full disclosure, I have not read the book-- involves the daughter’s involvement in the mother’s suicide. In truth, the circumstances are rather clear. Yet, they do not just point to Trujillo herself. They also point to the intervention made by a hapless therapist. 

You might think that the therapist counseled her patient, Laura Trujillo, to do the right honorable thing and rip away scabs, or you may see the therapist as having triggered a sequences of events that led to a suicide.

On April 26, 2012, Laura Trujillo’s mother killed herself by jumping from the edge of the Grand Canyon. Mother and daughter were extremely close, and the circumstances surrounding the suicide make the web of Trujillo’s emotions a challenge to untangle.

Several months earlier, a visit to her stepfather at a rehab center where he was recovering from a stroke provoked vivid memories of his repeated intrusions into her bedroom to rape her from the time she was 15. The abuse continued throughout her adolescence, and to protect her mother, who seemed rejuvenated by her new marriage, Trujillo bore it in frozen silence. “She had her confidence now, joy, and I couldn’t ruin that, I told myself, no matter what he did to me.”

Dare we say that we hesitate about questioning the judgment of a fifteen year old. It is worth noting that, given her own resilience, Trujillo had undergone her own healing, and had made for herself an apparently good and full life. 

Anyway, Trujillo was distressed by her feelings toward her now paralyzed step father, so she told her therapist about it. The therapist responded thusly. When Trujillo followed the therapist's advice, this led directly to her mother's suicide:

Trujillo was a happily married mother of four, with a fulfilling job as managing editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer. Recollections of her stepfather’s abuse shook the foundation of her life, to say the least, so her therapist suggested that she tell her mother what happened. Shock and guilt followed the revelation and their rich relationship became fraught and strained. Hoping to repair the rift and unburden herself of her trauma, Trujillo sent a long email to her mother, expressing all that she had felt and experienced. One of the haunting questions is whether her mother knew what was happening with her stepfather. “I told her I didn’t forgive her, because I didn’t need to forgive her. It wasn’t her fault. It was his.”

Two days after receiving the email, her mother killed herself. “I was certain I was responsible,” writes Trujillo. To make matters worse, her maternal grandmother and her mother’s siblings blamed her for the tragedy. They ostracized her and her children at the funeral, embracing the abuser, now a hobbled, elderly man, seemingly incapable of the crimes he had committed decades ago.

Now, you might think that it is worth destroying an elderly woman in the interest of exposing the truth. You might think that the woman deserved to be punished, because, as Trujillo points out, it is impossible to imagine that she did not know what was going on under her own roof. The woman had pimped out her daughter, had engaged in a form of human sacrifice, in order to save her own marriage. We are not dealing with a moral paragon here.

You  might also consider that the therapist basically put a gun in her patient’s hand, and that Trujillo pulled the trigger. It is surely an interesting question to ask how much responsibility the therapist bears for having given advice that led directly to a suicide.

You might imagine that nothing could possibly be gained by reviving old crimes. And as for the moral teaching that Trujillo offered her mother, it rings hollow. One understands that her mother would have read the email and understood that her daughter could never forgive her for failing to stop the abuse.

Had she been willing to forgive her mother, her mother might still be alive. While her mother is obviously not a rapist, she ought to have known what was happening and she ought to have protected her daughter. Her suicide was what Durkheim would have called an altruistic act; she was ridding the world of someone who had no other way to atone for her deeds. Heaven knows what advantage Trujillo gains by sharing these details with the world and by saddling her family with such knowledge.


Anonymous said...

Is Self-Harm a Form of Addiction? Many factors can increase the risk for suicide or protect against it. Suicide is connected to other forms of injury and violence. For example, people who have experienced violence, including child abuse, bullying, or sexual violence have a higher suicide risk. Being connected to family and community support and having easy access to health care can decrease suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

We should underscore your last point- social connection is an excellent treatment for depression and for suicidal thoughts. Similarly, social disconnection has notably of late produced a spike in depression and suicidal thoughts.

markedup2 said...

There is no winning in this situation. I don't think the daughter was wrong to tell her mother. How _helpful_ such a thing might be is always unknown. In this case, it led to tragedy. But who is to say that keeping silent about it is "better" - especially as a general rule?