Tidy answers seldom true to life when it comes to suicide

A still from "A Star is Born" shows how the theme of suicide is foreshadowed. Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

If you’ve lost someone to suicide, I know you’ve been asked multiple times, “Do you know why?”

I’ve settled on, “I don’t think we’ll ever know,” or “He’s the only one who knows and if we could talk with him, I’m not even sure he’d be able to tell us.”

What I want to scream at the no doubt well-intentioned person is: “Don’t you think that if I knew I would have done everything humanly possible to prevent it?”

Please understand that anyone impacted by suicide has already pummeled themselves over and over with this question. Continuously rewound past interactions in their heads. Tried to find elusive answers. Stop asking.

If a suicide note was left, it may create more questions than answers since it likely was written in a state of crisis.

So when the latest version of “A Star Is Born” makes it seem as if we all know the reason Jackson Maine — played by Bradley Cooper — took his own life, that portion of the movie became inauthentic to me.

In real life, I don’t believe that all the puzzle pieces fit nicely together and provide an Oprah Winfrey “Aha! moment” that makes everything clear. There’s no, “That was it—that thing on May 5th. That explains it all.”

I do believe, as the movie demonstrates, that other issues contribute. In this case, alcoholism, drug abuse, fame past its peak, ringing in the ears, a troubled childhood and upbringing, sibling conflict and more — intertwining mental health issues. Unshared feelings that when finally shared don’t get the hoped for or needed response.

Mental health issues are complex. Just like heart surgery. Suicide is complex. Addiction is complex. For Maine it’s a tragic ongoing struggle with the typical cycle of substance abuse and periods of sobriety. Happily, Ally — played by Lady Gaga — does tell Maine that his alcoholism is a disease. I applaud that line.

The movie guides us down a path of clues, a pattern of behavior, long-time issues Maine struggled with through most of his life that ideally would have been addressed at an early age.

I felt a lot of authenticity and realism. Ally and others are hurt by Maine’s behavior. There are consequences beyond him. Cooper and Lady Gaga perform their roles well, and the music is great. The film is a complete package.

But I worry that the movie will rev the “Why?” machines of the real world. Script writers get to dictate the why. The real world oftentimes will not provide them, and we must make peace with that and move beyond it.

I interpret part of Maine’s reason for taking his life to be his belief that it’s the only way in the current situation to get out of Ally’s way and not be a roadblock or detriment to her career — as suggested to Maine by Ally’s manager.

He loved her so much, the movie seems to tell us, that taking his life was the best way to help her. No! Taking your own life is not the way to show someone you love them. N0! It’s not the way to get out of someone’s way. No! It’s not the way to resolve relationship challenges.

While Maine may have felt hopeless and that suicide was his only option, that was not the case. While he may have felt embarrassed and guilty for how his behavior while intoxicated impacted Ally, and while he may have felt as if others were better off without him around, that was not the case. It is never the case.

And as others who have written on this topic have asked, I also ask whether the suicide was necessary.

What if Maine and Ally could have talked through the thoughts and emotions whipping through his head that he was hurting her ascension to fame? What if they’d worked together with friends and family to build the support Maine needed to work through the alternatives available to him and Ally?

Not a change to the entire movie but a change to the ending.

Could the movie have ended on a trajectory of hope? He was just out of rehab — he’d written a beautiful song for Ally — they were still in love. What if Hollywood could have shown millions of us someone struggling to overcome addition and mental health issues and — as many have done — triumphing over those real and difficult struggles and moving into a positive chapter of their lives?

It’s doable. It happens every day. And maybe the power of film and celebrity could have nudged the trajectory of hope further along.


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