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‘Is it possible that he has nothing but cowardice and fear of death to make him live?’ So Sonia Marmeládova asked herself about the one she cared for dearly, the murderer Rodion Raskolnikov, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic Crime and Punishment.
Her great worry had been that the immense mental anguish he was suffering as a result of the crime he committed would lead him to suicide. In the end, it didn’t.
In God we trust
The thing is, Rodian was an atheist. Had he believed in a god, an afterlife, and was convinced his actions had been for the good of humankind, perhaps he would have been able to end his existence in this world with less of an internal conflict.
It certainly got me thinking: Is it easier for believers to accept death — be that natural or otherwise — than non-believers?
From a suicide perspective, there have been some recent studies in this regard. While there are a lot of factors at play and it’s difficult to get a true picture, there are indications that believers at least think about ending their own lives more so than atheists.
On one level, this makes sense. If you are of the conviction that this life is all we’ve got and all we’ll ever have, there is no second chance, no redemption beyond the here and now, then why would you want to end it prematurely? No matter how bad your situation may be, as long as you’re still breathing, there’s a chance you can turn things around.
‘It’s difficult to comprehend how utterly miserable somebody must feel to decide to end it all. Experiencing ups and downs on the rollercoaster of life is inevitable. The difficult balancing act is trying not to overly focus on either extreme.’
On the other hand, I can only imagine, for those who truly believe in an afterlife or reincarnation or whatever, when things reach a terrible low, opting to roll the die (there’s just one!), so to put it, might seem like a viable alternative than struggling on with the status quo. (Of course, against this, suicide is a sin in many religions. Yet so are lots of other things that followers let slide.)
Personally, as somebody indoctrinated into Catholicism at birth and who was an active, enthusiastic participant in it well into my mid-teens, I have often visualised my own death. This is not so much in a suicidal way. It is, somewhat narcissistic you could say, more about what my funeral would be like, especially if I were to die relatively young.
A lot of this is probably due to the send-offs we tend to give our dead in Ireland — or how we did pre-Covid in any case. The deceased takes centre stage for a couple of days, so I’m, um, looking forward — paradoxically considering I don’t really believe I’ll be able to experience it — to my moment in the spotlight.
To die for
As for taking my own life, well I’ve never given it any serious thought. (Some may argue that a number of my life choices have been akin to toying with death, but I just call this living within my means.)
A corollary question is, do I fear death? In fairness, it’s a concept rather difficult to envisage until one is actually confronted with it. What’s more, considering all the unknowns surrounding it, most of us probably want to go as swiftly as possible when our number’s up or when some illness like dementia takes over our minds. That way, we wouldn’t be a burden on either the active living or ourselves.
Outside of that, for one who otherwise would have years to run, it’s difficult to comprehend how utterly miserable he/she must feel to decide to end it all. Experiencing ups and downs on the rollercoaster of life is inevitable. The difficult balancing act is trying not to overly focus on either extreme.
Appreciate the mundane, the middle ground, the steady ship. The highs don’t last. Reflecting on them too much very often just heralds in the lows. Next thing you know, death comes a-calling, by whatever means.
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