I loved M*A*S*H, both the movie and the TV series. But I never understood the theme song. The film director’s 15-year-old son wrote the words because the director wanted it to be “the stupidest song ever written.” Here are the lyrics:
Through early morning fog, I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize, and I can see
That suicide is painless.
It brings on many changes.
And I can take or leave it if I please.
The game of life is hard to play
Gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
So this is all I have to say
That suicide is painless.
It brings on many changes.
And I can take or leave it if I please.
From my limited experience, death by suicide is far from painless, both for the victim and those left behind.
I cried when I heard the news of the recent death by suicide of Stephen “Twitch” Boss, the “So You Think You Can Dance” star and DJ for the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Twitch was only 40 years old and seemed to have everything to live for, with financial stability, a beautiful wife, and three darling children. So, what would make such a person want to end his life? Perhaps his friend, Justin Timberlake, summed it up best:
“It’s heartbreaking to hear that someone who brought so much joy to a room was hurting so much behind closed doors. I’ve known Twitch for over 20 years through the dance community — he always lit everything up. You just never know what someone is really going through. Take care of yourselves. LOVE that human in the mirror. Check on your people. Sending light to his beautiful family in this dark, confusing time. You will be missed, Sir. Rest Easy.”
The Los Angeles County Coroner released Twitch’s autopsy report just this week. It confirmed that he did not have drugs or alcohol in his system at his death. A police report filed with the autopsy concluded he “does not have any mental health problems, does not have any financial issues or marital problems.” His wife, pro dancer Allison Holker, told officers that “to her knowledge, [Boss] does not have a history of suicide attempts or suicidal ideation.” Holker added, “Stephen lit up every room he stepped into. He valued family, friends, and community above all else, and leading with love and light was everything to him. He was the backbone of our family, the best husband and father, and an inspiration to his fans.” We will never know the pain Twitch was going through to cause him to take his life.
According to the CDC, suicide was responsible for 48,183 American deaths in 2021, a 36 percent increase. That means someone dies by suicide every eleven minutes. We are lucky the numbers weren’t higher, as an estimated 12.3 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.7 million attempted it.
I have felt the pain of death by suicide and attempts of suicide by my friends and family, although I have never had suicide ideation. To better understand why someone would want to take their life, and in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I watched three movies dealing with suicide. And if you watch them (and I encourage you to do), watch them in the order I list them here.
The first was The Son,[i]and it was difficult to watch. It is the story of a 17-year-old who suffers from depression over his parents’ divorce and his father’s remarriage. The adults in the son’s life try to understand and help him, but nothing seems to help much. Here is a scene from the film:
The question “Why?” always haunts us when a death by suicide occurs.
One of the most challenging scenes from the movie is how the son, after a suicide attempt, works his parents to get released from a hospital’s behavioral unit before he is mentally ready. And the results are disastrous for all involved. I have experienced how those with mental illness learn the right things to say and how to act to demonstrate that they are no longer a danger to themselves and others. And it is easy to give them their way. For caregivers of those struggling with mental illness, we sometimes need to put aside our emotions and do what is best for them, even at the expense of damaging the relationship with someone we love. And what’s best is often placing them in a facility. But easier said than done.
In The Skeleton Twins,[ii] twins Maggie and Milo reunite after ten years apart due to each attempting suicide. Milo considers his attempt to be just another cliché of another death by suicide of a gay man. Maggie can’t figure out why she is so unhappy when her life appears to be going so well. In this scene, Milo and Maggie talk seriously for the first time after ten years of estrangement:
In my favorite scene from the film, Maggie and Milo have another deep discussion, this one focusing on Milo, that goes like this:
Maggie: What’s going on?
Milo: You wouldn’t understand.
Maggie: Try me. You might be surprised.
Milo: I get depressed about my life, and I do stupid things. That’s it.
Maggie: We all get sad about our lives, Milo. That doesn’t mean we go jumping off of rooftops.
Milo: I wasn’t going to jump.
Maggie: Oh, well, how do I know that?
Milo: Okay, I’m sorry.
Maggie: I can’t take this, Milo. I can’t right now. I can’t.
Milo: Hey, I’m sorry. Do you remember Justin Meyer? In eighth grade—jock, asshole, he used to f*** with me all the time? Dad, he told me guys like Justin, that high school is the best it’s ever going to get for them. You know, they’re going to peak in high school, and the rest of their life is just going to be a disappointment. And that a kid like me—that I would soar after high school. And in fact, I would fast-forward ten years into the future, and I would think about, you know, our high school reunion and seeing Justin, and he would just be this fat, balding guy who’s an assistant manager at some sporting goods store, and I would be a famous actor who lives in LA or New York and who has this beautiful boyfriend, and I’m happy. You know, I looked Justin up online, and you know what he’s doing now? He’s an electrician. And he has two beautiful daughters and a pretty wife, and he’s happy. And it turns out that—it just turns out that I’m the one who peaked in high school. You know, if that’s not depressing, then….
Maggie: So that’s it, sweetie? You’re not a famous actor? Because I’ve got news for you. No one’s a famous actor.
Milo: George Clooney’s a famous actor.
Maggie: Okay, George Clooney, I guess that’s one exception. But the rest of us are just walking around trying not to be disappointed with the way that our lives turned out. And either we find a way to deal or …. I need to know you’re not going to check out on me.
Milo: I’ll do my best.
Our lives never look that great when we compare them to others. And that is one of the dangers of social media, where everyone puts their best foot forward. And our lives rarely measure up to our dreams. But, as Maggie says, that doesn’t mean we should jump off buildings.
In A Man Called Otto,[iii] Otto is grieving over the death of his wife, whom he has cared for over many years. With her gone, he sees no purpose in his life and decides to join his wife through death by suicide. I never considered grief a mental illness, but the pain and trauma of losing a close loved one can cause us to lose our grip on reality. In this scene, Otto, a stickler for rules and on the edge of obsessive-compulsive disorder, goes to the hardware store to purchase a rope to be used as a noose:
But Otto’s several attempts at ending his life all fail. And when a new family moves into the neighborhood, things change. In this scene, Otto opens up about his grief to his new neighbor:
And therein lies a key to helping those considering death by suicide. We need to give them a reason to live for. At the end of The Skeleton Twins, Milo saves Maggie from her attempt, telling her he will always be there for her. Otto realizes he still has work to do, helping his neighbors. Regardless of how dull or disappointing our lives turn out, we can find something or someone to live for.
To repeat the words of Justin Timberlake, “You just never know what someone is really going through. Take care of yourselves. LOVE that human in the mirror. Check on your people.” The best way to prevent a death by suicide is to stay close to those we love. Talk to them. Learn what’s eating at them. Be vulnerable, and they will reciprocate.
And most important of all, if you have thoughts of self-harm, get the help you need—and deserve, as all life is precious, even your own.
[i] The Son:
- Production Companies: See-Saw Films, Ciné@, and Embankment Films
- Director: Florian Zeller
- Screenwriters: Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton
- Starring: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, and Vanessa Kirby
- Release date: January 20, 2023
[ii] The Skeleton Twins:
- Production Companies: Duplass Brothers Productions and Venture Forth
- Director: Craig Johnson
- Screenwriters: Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman
- Starring: Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, and Luke Wilson
- Release date: September 11, 2014
[iii] A Man Called Otto:
- Production Companies: 2DUX, Artistic Films, and Big Indie Pictures
- Director: Marc Forster
- Screenwriters: Fredrik Backman, Hannes Holm, and David Magee
- Starring: Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, and Rachel Keller
- Release date: January 13, 2023