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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: The Willful And The Chosen

Emily T. Phillips

I have often been asked and I have never failed to disappoint. No, I am not worried for my father’s soul. Those who eclipse themselves after decades of battling feelings of inadequacy and unbelonging have duly earned their eternal spots in the Sun, don’t you think? If indeed there is a life after death, they deserve to be granted their own visions of imperishable joy.I imagine that my father’s would include a vast and dynamic body of water in the Fall season, a cozy group of bon-vivant friends, his vinyl record ofSidney Bechet’s “Petite fleur,” and an infinite supply of Gauloises cigarettes. The families of the willfully departed deserve to know that this is what we want for these liberated souls.

Suicide is the only à la carte option on everyone’s exit menu, but who chooses to choose? Not the faint of heart. If falling on your sword is not for you, show respect and compassion, move along. Often times, suicide chooses. Who is chosen by suicide? Not the faint of heart. If you have not been chosen, show respect and compassion, move along. Let the families of the willful and the chosen concentrate on their grief. Let their bodies grapple with their individual, internal responses to the deceased’s pain. They are attempting an impossible goodbye. Pack up your shame, your guilt, and your eternal fire. There is no place for them here. There is a place for the surviving families and for you to say: “suicide.” There is a place for open conversations and shared memories. There is a place for the willful and the chosen at the dinner table, at the weddings. There is a place for them where everyone else’s dearly departed get to rest. On sacred ground and in peace. 

In Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, Jennifer Michael Hecht reviews the philosophical arguments – both religious and secular – formulated against suicide over the past 2500 years. She argues that we owe it to our future selves, our communities, and humankind to stay amongst the living. She concludes that spreading arguments against suicide is a vital endeavor as it may save lives. I too would prefer that everyone sticks to the human project and finds their freedom in embracing life no matter how absurd and unbearable it may be, as did French author Albert Camus. I wish that sticking around was simply a matter of will power, but I know this is not so. Besides, I would not want anyone to claim any right over my own death nor would I wish to label suicide as inherently wrong or necessarily taboo for the sake of the common good. 

Suicide has been the subject of study in numerous fields, including ethics, law, religion, sociology, medicine, and psychiatry. As Chloë Taylor informs us in her essay “Birth of the Suicidal Subject,” psychiatry has taken prevalence over the other fields by pathologizing suicide and positing that it is an individual’s problem stemming from an abnormality of the brain or a result of mental illness. Some thinkers, such as Michel Foucault, would argue that suicide is not so much the focus of psychiatry as its product. Regardless, I see psychiatry’s intense focus on the individual as preventing us from acknowledging our willful or chosen suicidal stance against the environment, our role within the Anthropocene. Aren’t we completing our own gradual collective suicide on a global scale? Oh, the irony of a self-serving, self-destructive species singling out their suicidal kin! Whose collective, defective brain are we to blame here? What groups are we collectively sacrificing?

Should we take stock in the fact that the ever-rising rate of suicides consistently far exceeds homicides in the US according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center? I sometimes wonder, was my father’s suicide delayed? I believe so, thanks to the words and actions of family members, friends, and health professionals. Do I think that I or anyone else could have prevented my father’s suicide? Sadly, I don’t. For this to have happened, we would have had to understand and treat inherited and collective traumas. Talk therapy was ill-adapted for someone like my father, a man of few words with a strong Protestant background. He was a French WWII baby, a laid-off foreman in his fifties at a time when the great majority of construction companies went under in France after the post-WWII reconstruction boom ran out of steam. The list of shared circumstances can go on and on. I know other daughters as well as family members, friends, and colleagues with their eyes on other shared circumstances who wonder, what can be done? Today, all I can offer are my current thoughts and conclusion on the subject. Suicide’s not wrong. Demonizing the willful and the chosen is. Not acknowledging and addressing the root causes of collective and inherited traumas is the real taboo. It is the real killer.


If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.


Music: “Petite Fleur” by Sidney Bechet and Claude Luter