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A Good and Bad Day

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July 1st was our 37th anniversary. On the same day Stephanie, one of my wife's nieces, downed a few pills, slit her wrists, and shuffled off this mortal coil lying on her bed. She was about 40, the oldest child of one of my brothers-in-law.

Her body was discovered by her sixteen-year-old son. He called his dad and asked if he could come live with him. He was pretty sure his mom was dead because there was blood and she wouldn't wake up. He is a disturbed and disturbing child, but that's another story.

My wife Jo and I went out to dinner that night. What else was there for us to do? We celebrated our relationship, which is ongoing and strong. We celebrated our love. We celebrated our kids. These observances allow us to pause and reflect on the ups and downs of our lives together over a good meal.

The obituary for Stephanie, the now departed niece, was perhaps the briefest such notice I've ever seen. It stated her name, her age, the date of her death, and that services were pending.

Short shrift.

I knew little of Stephanie. I had known her since before Jo and I married. But thinking back, I doubt that I had exchanged a hundred words with her in that time — mostly just "Hi. How are ya?" We rarely paused for the answer.

She and her husband had divorced a couple of years before. Her health had been bad, as I now have been informed. She nearly died owing to complications from the birth of her sixteen-year-old. She suffered from lupus. She had a number of bad vertebrae which caused her significant pain. She had suffered at least three strokes. She had recently been informed of a spot on a breast. Shortly after her divorce she took to drinking heavily. She had a continually stormy relationship with her father. She was, in a word, depressed. She was in a downward spiral into a black hole. Given all that, her opting out seems almost inevitable.

Some are angry with her for committing the deed in such a way that it was almost certain that her son would be the one to discover her. That was unfortunate. Perhaps the "hole" was so black and so deep that she couldn't see beyond it.

Fingers are now being pointed and recriminations tossed back and forth among her father, her mother (the two divorced several years ago), her ex, her siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. The bottom line is that everyone missed the signs, whatever they may have been. She tumbled away between the cracks.

What did her life count for? Consider the ongoing 24/7 coverage of Michael Jackson's death. Weigh the two. It's strange, isn't it, that two people, both born in Indiana, about a decade apart, could have such disparate lives. Jackson's life and death will continue to be scrutinized for weeks to come. Stephanie got a line in the obit section. I suppose one could note that millions of people have lived and died without even that.

Stephanie will receive the standard treatment: visitation Sunday evening at a well-appointed neighborhood funeral home, a Catholic mass, and burial amongst others in the family who have gone before. The family and her smattering of friends will take note of her loss. Prayers will be uttered. Some tears will be shed. That is in the end more than many will ever get.

My wife and I are now working on our 38th year together.

Stephanie lived. Now she is gone.

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About Baritone

  • Stephanie had a son, family and friends, enough to give her that obituary and a full funereal send-off including a Mass. (I’m a little surprised at that last considering the manner of her departure.) So her brief life did not count for nothing, nor did she achieve nothing, even if she thought so herself.

    I wouldn’t have been angry at her for designing her suicide so that it would be her son who found her. He may have been the only person she trusted.

  • Doc,

    Of course, you are correct in your assertions. Her life did count for something. I purposely did not answer that question. There obviously was a good deal that was sad about her existence. It is sad that her life became so unbearable that she chose to leave it.

    As to the Catholic mass: I may have misspoken. I believe it will be an “observance,” technically not a mass. I am not Catholic so my knowledge of such things is left wanting.

    Her son finding her was not a good thing. I make an allusion above in his regard. This experience has sent him into unchartered territory. He has been emotionally disturbed for a number of years. This may have sent him nearer to or perhaps over the edge.

    Just another odd bit: Her father has a large 4th of July picnic every year on his 7+ acre home site. Of course, initially with the news of Stephanie’s passing, the picnic was called off. As it happens, it rained virtually all day Saturday here in Indy, so the picnic would have likely been canceled in any case.

    The evening always ends with a fairly large fireworks display that rivals many such shows put on by small communities. The fireworks were paid for. They don’t mind the rain.

    Late Saturday afternoon calls went out and about 30 or 40 family members and friends made it to the site. I sat in full rain gear at 10PM last evening watching fireworks through glasses blurred by the rain. The gathering was quiet and the fireworks rather glorious.


  • Not fun to read Baritone. Obviously you and your bride have not had the most joyous holiday. But you have each other, 37 years of history between you, and hopefully another 38 years more between you.

    I daren’t comment on this – though my wife wonders how it is that Stephanie could not reach out to somebody for help, a lifeline – something. Having been depressed at times myself, I could see how she would not be able to reach out. I’ve been lucky. My wife did.

  • There comes a point in a person’s life, B-man, when life ain’t worth living. There’s got to be a reason. It’s pathetic that her family, acquaintances and friends are blaming the victim. If they were even halfway concerned when she was alive, they should have reached.

  • Ruvy,

    Thanks for the sentiment. Glad you had someone there for you.


    Of course, as with most families, it’s all rather complex. When it comes down to it, there is blame enough to go around. About everyone carries a piece of it – including Stephanie.

    I know this scenario is not unique. Similar tragedies happen daily somewhere in the world. People give up the fight. Other’s miss the signs and/or don’t want to involve themselves in another’s strife. Perhaps it takes a “perfect storm” of those and other factors, but, nevertheless, it happens all too often.

    It’s apparent that Stephanie had reached that breaking point. But, for the rest of us life goes on. It is afterall, all we have.


  • The bottom line is that everyone missed the signs, whatever they may have been. She tumbled away between the cracks.

    I hope the finger-pointing at least results in the boy not falling through the same cracks. My experience is that most people just seem to defend themselves against it instead of learning much about how to treat the living.

    I’m sorry for your loss B.

  • Although it will be brief and from a complete stranger, I took note of her loss as well by reading this.

  • Cindy,

    Thanks. Only time will tell.

    El Bicho,

    Thanks for the observation.