I had cheerier things I was going to blog about, but I’m haunted today by a story from the SF Bay Citizen via the NYTimes:
On Wednesday, May 25, at 8:05 p.m. Barbara Sue Beaver stood on the Golden Gate Bridge and used her cellphone to e-mail Denis Morella, her Oakland neighbor and best friend.
“Can you come and check on Jondi for me?” she wrote, referring to her affectionate pit bull.
Then, at 8:07 p.m., Ms. Beaver, 55, jumped off the bridge to her death.
“I’m just too lazy to navigate further,” said a letter found at her home, which had been left tidy and mostly emptied of belongings. Notes detailed how she had settled her affairs.
“She didn’t want her death to be a burden to anyone,” Mr. Morella said.
I nearly wept. Her picture showed an attractive, intelligent-looking woman. Ms. Beaver, who worked in the book industry until it began collapsing, had been unemployed for two years and was without insurance. I seriously doubt she was “lazy.” While the article didn’t mention any family, it described a circle of affectionate friends whom she called her “dollbuckets.” She wasn’t a recluse. While clearly depressed, she doesn’t sound mentally ill. She had just somehow reached her limit, or thought she had.
She’s the case study in a story about growing numbers of suicides reported at the Bridge and on the CalTrain transit system, a trend some experts blame on the economy:
“We have noticed many more people mentioning the economy,” said Eve Meyer, executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit group that operates the city’s suicide hot line.
“We constantly hear, ‘I’m going to be homeless; I would rather be dead than be homeless,’ ” Ms. Meyer said.
Studies have shown that suicide rates tend to increase about 18 months after an economic decline. “Benefits run out and the crises begin to multiply,” she said.
Apparently there is a plan in motion to put a multimillion dollar safety net along the Bridge to catch the growing number of jumpers. But the article contained a stat that depressed me even further: “Suicide rates in the United States tend to be highest among people age 65 and older.” We’ve had a few murder-suicides locally in the last year, all with a heartbreaking familiarity: One elderly spouse desperately ill, the other at the end of his or her abilities to care for them.
I understand despair, those dark nights of the soul when pain and loneliness magnify mistakes and failures so that they blot out any successes. I’ve lived through depression and anxiety. I’ve worried about disability and dependence. But I cannot imagine, in the midst of that darkness, methodically organizing your life and navigating yourself to a site with the full intent of never returning. She cleaned her apartment, gave away most of her possessions, wrote and left letters of explanation, and exited her home. What did she wear? Was it something red, her favorite color? Did she put on makeup and do her hair before she left? Did she enjoy a final meal, a glass of wine? Did she drive there, passing familiar landmarks and places she’d loved and enjoyed? Or did she take public transportation, sitting elbow to elbow and maybe even exchanging polite but meaningless pleasantries with other passengers who would never know they were among her last human contacts? Was she conscious that she was doing all these thing for the last time?
I see her walking out onto the bridge, passing the usual tourists and joggers, maybe even a police patrolman. Did she make eye contact with any of them, exchange a hello? Where did she stop along that long, windy span? Did she look out at that magnificent vista, and at the cold, rough water so far below? At some point, she stopped and called a friend to make one final bequest, a kindness for her dog who was witness to her despair and to her careful preparations and who was likely still at the door, waiting for her to come back. Did she crawl over the rail and stand on the exterior railing before stepping off, or did she leap from the top of the rail? Did she hesitate, even for a moment? Did anyone try to stop her?
And — once she was airborne, was she sorry? I watched an equally disturbing documentary on the Golden Gate Bridge last year that included a tantalizing little fact: Of the handful of people who jumped from the Bridge and who survived, ALL of them said that, once they let go, they were immediately overcome with a sense that their lives weren’t really so bad and that they could still fix them if they had the chance. Was she one with them? And did anyone find her body, or did she disappear completely, as she wished?
I have no answers.
Go with God, Barbara Sue Beaver. I’m so terribly sorry that our society had no safety net to catch you. I hope you have found peace.