“I guess they were all my sons.” – “All My Sons” (1947), by Arthur Miller
When you work in mental health, and you’re open about your own problems, the subject of suicide often comes up. It’s not giving away confidentiality to say I will do or say almost anything to try and prevent people from killing themselves.
As a mental health worker, I have a duty of care. As someone who attempted it, and is glad she didn’t die, I will do my damnedest to keep other people alive, too.
Recently, I noticed an overlap between my attitudes towards being childless, and suicide. Stay with me: there is a connection.
As a woman in her 50s, I know that certain doors are shut to me. Even if I wished to foster, no agency is likely to place a child with someone with no experience of raising kids, but pharmacy bags full of experience of mental health services.
This could make me feel quite wistful, but I’m long past that point. I do have some maternal feelings, as anyone who has ever visited my house and been fed by me has probably figured out. We even know several chaps – men in their 30s and 40s now – who we sometimes referred to as our “sons” due to the amount of time they used to spend at our house.
They seldom call, and never write. Our daughter (1) is much better at keeping in touch. Sons…*sigh*.
Unlike my sister, I’ve not proved to be especially good at the auntie biz. This is not due to a lack of role models.
I had lots of aunties, including several of the “spinster” kind. These included Matty, who was one of the Tennessee great-aunties, and had a reputation for being “difficult”. I suspect that if Matty had been born a generation or two later, she would have been a feared yet respected office manager, or business woman of some sort. Another Southern auntie, Elizabeth or “Ash” to use her family nickname, helped raise her younger sister’s children. She was also the one who, after she retired, would go and assist whichever family member happened to be poorly at the time: on one occasion, my grandmother, aka “Weedy” (2)
My eldest paternal auntie, Rebecca, was another such woman. An RN, she acted as family nurse to four generations. The fact that her name, “Tusa Becky” – “Tusa” is “aunt” in Romanian – was often shortened to “Tush” speaks volumes about her role. She was “The” auntie. Childless, she was to a greater or lesser extent mother to all her nieces, and nephews.
And what of the uncles? It is, I suspect, an even more challenging role. But it is an important one, whether undertaken as “responsible Uncle”, or indeed, the “eccentric Uncle” which some have suggested is the version of “Doctor Who” being portrayed by the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi. (3)
Where is the line drawn between past and present, present and future? Who can say what impact our actions may have, not just on our own family and friends, but their descendants, and indeed, those of comparative strangers?
If I smile and say hello to a fellow pedestrian, who is to say whether or not my smile and greeting is the only friendly gesture that person receives all day? If I, or you, dissuade someone from killing themselves, who’s to say what impact that may have: not just on that individual, but their friends and family, perhaps for generations to come?
Suicide runs in families.
So does life.
(1) She’s around two years younger than me.
(2) “Weedy” is a corruption of her real, middle name: a name which is even weirder than her nickname.
(3) Heh, you thought I wasn’t going to get a “Who” reference in this one, didn’t you?