Tonight my mom’s first cousin called me and told me she had to tell me something awful.  There was a long silence and then she barely croaked out that her son Shawn, my second cousin, had hung himself.  I was so shocked, I nearly dropped to the floor.  I hadn’t talked to Shawn for a few years.  Adult life caught up to both of us and, aside from Facebook, I rarely connected with Shawn at all anymore.  Apparently he had struggled with depression over the last year and had changed dramatically from the man I remember.

Growing up, our families lived three hours apart, so we rarely got together, but when I was attending university in my 20s, Shawn, his brothers and I grew closer.  I always had a lot of fun with him and he was one of those guys who liked to have a good time.  No matter what was going on, Shawn usually had a smile on his face.  This is the man I will remember.  This is the man I will miss.

My heart is absolutely aching for his mother, who is an incredible woman.  She told me tonight that the last thing she ever said to him, was the last thing she always said to him,

“I love you too, son, with all my heart.”

Shawn’s mom told me that said he just couldn’t stand the world anymore.  All he saw was the lying, cheating and stealing.  He was flooded with the negativity and blackness.  She begged him to get help, but he refused to take antidepressants because he said, “I don’t want to take medicine just to force me to accept the world the way it is.”  And so, instead, he took his own life.

And I’m left struggling with two different perspectives.

There’s the anger.  Certainly.  I wanted to jump through the phone and hold his mother in my arms.  I wanted to cry with her for hours.  I was so angry with him for the pain he had caused his family, the horror of his brother and cousin who had found him.  The selfishness of his act.  The agony he had precipitated.

But then his mom asked me, “Do you think he is okay now?  I mean do you think he is finally happy?”

And then it hit me…

Maybe Shawn had the right to die…..

I do believe in assisted suicide in special cases of terminally ill patients.  I will just put that out there.  When it is a person’s will not to continue to live in a state of irreparable disease, I believe that they should have the right to die with dignity and on their terms.

Does it not follow that Shawn also had that right?  To decide that he did not wish to continue to live in his state of disease?

The palpable difference is that I believe that Shawn could have gotten better.   I don’t believe that the world is the way that Shawn viewed it, because he saw it through an ailing lens.  But so it was.  Ailing it was.  And yet I must hold to the mainstay of my value set that he had the right to believe what he saw to be true.  And he had the right to determine that this was not a place in which he wished to continue to exist.  He had the right to decide not to get better and, instead, to exit this place that, for him, was a world of doom and sorrow.

So I will sit here staring at my screen and I will watch these words swim as the tears pool in my eyes and spill down my face…as I choose.

Shawn, I will choose to respect you and accept you for who you are, who you were and what you chose to do.  Most importantly, I will choose to forgive you for your choice not to remain here with us.  For your choice not to stay and be a part of the amazing beauty that we all see…instead of deciding to leave and become this enormous hole in all of our hearts.

Safe flight Shawn.  May you have at last found the peace you seek.

Click to listen to “Angel” by Canadian artist Sarah McLachlan

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