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Wallowing in pre-Christmas grief

I admit, I laughed when I heard the crank call.

Of course, it is not funny that a woman was so upset she committed suicide but really how much longer can they drag this out as a news story? 

The radio station owners cancelled their Christmas Party; they have set up funds for the family. They are paying blood money left, right and centre. They are spinning like tops, crying and fronting up.

When people commit suicide there are an endless streams of "what if'"?  Usually asked by people living to make themselves feel better that they were not to blame in any way. 

The entire world appears to be to blame for this woman's death.  Miles of column inches and bandwidth have been dedicated to it, so what the heck? I shall add my own.

I heard Deborah Coddington on radio prior to the tragedy ask the obvious question - would you want this woman caring for your relative if she fell for this?  Coddington would have more tact to say that now and hindsight does not do her comment justice as at the time I agreed, but in terms of pre-Christmas grief, this one is having the world roll in grieving and looking inward on a ridiculous scale.

Jacintha Saldanha did not have a mental illness or depression by all accounts, she was a nurse and a normal person, she panicked

She panicked because of the shame attached and the media attention on her all for the wrong reasons. She was humiliated and no one helped her or she did not seek it, livign away from her family in Bristol in a nurses quarters.  She wrote a note to her family.

She did not turn off the television and ride it out for the two or three days it would have taken for us all to have moved on to the next gotcha story.

People are humiliated in the British press every day and they have prolonged the humiliation now to her family and the family have commented.  Jordan (Katie Price) and every boyfriend she has had, build an entire million dollar empire out of ritual humiliation.  Reality TV stars are paid to be humiliated. 

What they do not understand is we read stuff online, giggle, roll our eyes then forget it and move on. Many become depressed and unable to cope because they read every single thing written about them in the media and online and take it all seriously. 

Then turn around and blame the media for making them like that.  This woman didn't - it was a one-off.  She killed herself and decided very quickly to.

If anyone is to blame I think it is Jimmy Savil.  We might as well blame him. He was a creep.  And he is the perfect person to blame as he is long dead.

If Jimmy Savil did not lead to an entire sex abuse scandal at the BBC, Max Clifford would not have been arrested

If Max Clifford was on his game and not in a cell for 12 hours explaining why he is not a creep too, he would have grabbed Jacintha Saldanha by the hand, protected her and made her into a mega-star with exclusive interviews and hundreds of thousands of pounds attached for her five minutes of fame rather than humiliation. 

Money and Max would have made the shame go away. 

It is as valid theory as any other in terms of blame.

What if?  What if? What if?

The prank was mean, it was cheeky, and may even have been illegal. But like many readers, I have had people close to me commit suicide, quite a few actually.

I count 14.  

Lawyers seem to be a quite susceptible group, I have found, perhaps because we have to deal with everyone else's problems and accumulate our own. 

Some had outwardly perfect lives, loads of money, everything to live for and lovely supportive families. All were well-educated professionals earning good incomes.

Some were terminally ill, some were mentally fragile or drug dependent; some were completely unexpected and left everyone at the funeral blankly looking at each other asking "WTF". 

But at the end of the day, no one in the world knows what goes on inside someone's head at the best of times, let alone the worst. 

You bury them, remember them on the odd occasion and try to spot it in others to help. 

You never can. It does not work like that. 

People who are serious about killing themselves just disappear and do it. They never actually ask for help. 

Some ask for help. You patiently talk them through it and never hear from again as you are blanked out as someone from their deep dark past they do not want anyone in their new life to know about.

The most graphic I have experienced is a man slit his wrists in my bathroom after downing a zillion pills and when I returned from being out for the evening he was dead. 

You cannot remove that nasty image from your head, nor the thoughts you have as the last person to speak to them.  

You never forget the 111 call as it is in slow motion.

The blood takes an eternity to remove from the bath and cracks in the tiles, and the police forever to arrive to take away the body. 

You never forget the brief second they look at you in a police officer's way like you were the one who sliced him up. 

You never forget the support lady who comes in and helps you clean up the mess and stick the white bath towels in the washing machine as red runs through the plastic front loader. 

You don't know why you bothered washing them as you throw them out. 

You explain it to the family, who want someone other than themselves to blame and hope they do not turn on you through their tears. 

You think at the time this better be the worst thing that happens in your life.

You are offered a nice old lady to give you counseling and then realise the only thing that can help you is to forget it ever happened. 

You never talk about it with anyone else outside his other friends every couple of years as you drift apart. 

A problem shared is not a problem halved.

People who commit suicide never think of the person who will find them, least of all if it is a child finding their parent. It was bad enough as an adult a decade ago.

If the crank call was not made this woman most definitely would have been alive, but it does not mean it killed her. 

She killed herself, which is actually technically pretty hard to do. I have had one friend try and fortunately fail. I asked him when he regained consciousness what he thought about as he was trying.

He said he felt and thought nothing, not of himself or others. 

Another person present in the conversation could not get his head around being in that state of mind. 

Some people just cannot and they are most vocal in blaming others in situations like this. It is not that easy and never fully explained in a note. 

Many people commit suicide and it is not reported properly as such so the numbers are always on the light side.

People who commit suicide are not selfish, they are making a decision to end their life as they think at the time the future is not worth living.

It is not and never can be rational. It may not be reasonable to others still living, but short of not communicating at all with each other, people often upset others.

Choosing to live over killing yourself is probably the only decision ultimately that you alone have complete responsibility for.

Blaming others is neither helpful or fair.

Cathy Odgers is a Hong Kong lawyer. She blogs as Cactus Kate.

More by Cathy Odgers

Comments and questions

Excellent article. Well written and a good focus on what we should be doing - bringing suicide out into the open.
Well done!

Very good, thoughtful and practical article.

Most sensible article I have read in years - well done

Very true. I always remember a comment in Conrad's Lord Jim when the captain of the ship kills himself because of humiliation and blame - "Neither you nor I ever thought so well of himself". I do believe for some people, suicide is chosen because they cannot bear to be ordinary humans who make mistakes and are sometimes blamed by others, rightly or wrongly. By the way Jimmy Saville was the creep's name. People like him never commit suicide. They go on making other people's lives hell until death takes them, usually at a ripe old age.

Good article. Some relevant points.
1. The nurse was Asian. Having worked for Asian people, they have a different view than us whiteys when it comes to losing face, humility, etc.
2. The DJs were a couple of Gen X selfish "all about me, look at me, ain't I the greatest thing since sliced bread?"
3. They and those involved didn't think about the consquences that we live in a anti-bullying PC environment. That's a fact of life that even the most un-PC person like myself understands.
4. Aussies DJs are generally morons with small brains and little empathy towards others.
5. The DJs, the managers and the directors of the company deserve all they get. They brought it on themselves.
6. It appears they broke their own rules and breached the law both in Oz and UK and now must pay the price.
6. Let this be a lesson to the next lot of moronic DJs.

Great article!
It is odd how often suicide is not reported and so is not discussed openly, and despite every other part of our lives being discussed in minute detail online and in the media, suicide is all just a bit too awkward.
So often suicides are reported in the press using obscure euphemisms. Maybe the fact that suicide is still a taboo issue may also be the reason people find the whole issue of euthanasia hard to debate. You sum it up nicely; "Choosing to live over killing yourself is probably the only decision ultimately that you alone have complete responsibility for"

"No suspicious circumstances" in that piece. Good read.

Well Kate, of course you are right. There is no blame with a suicide. But as some comments point out, you also have some learning to do. The culture of helping people, without expectation or desire for something in return. If your friend has shut you out, just be pleased they are alive.

It's sad when bright individuals such as yourself become so shaped by the competitive capitalist environment that you lose empathy. While nobody can take blame for a suicide they can always try to treat others better. Just because it's a good thing to do.

And before you make assumptions. I'm your age, with substantially more money than you, made with all the benefits of capitalism.

Excellent article. The situation has generated a lot of discussion and a lot of questions. Good point about how quickly most people move on from a difficult situation in the media, today's story is tomorrow's fish and chips wrapper. Have to wonder about the support network for this person. Hopefully, the hospital has reviewed and learned from this situation.

With New Zealand being one of the suicide capitals of the world, it needs to continue to be discussed. A lot of people around the world are under major stress at this time of year and many will need help they will not ask for. Give away lots of hugs and smiles this Christmas, just because you can. Sometimes the smallest thing can make a difference to someone.

Fine and rare common sense, tested in application to several baffling experiences this year.

Horrible article.

What if the person who died was a white blonde female? Would you write the same way?

I wonder what part the UK press and TV had to play in this? Did they hound the poor woman about her momentary slip-up in connecting a call at 5.30am when there was no receptionist to answer it? Likely they did far, far more damage than the Australian radio station did playing the recorded call.

As you have not one shred of evidence for this we can safely assume you are either a mischief maker or an apologist for the radio station.

"The radio station owners cancelled their Christmas Party."
You mean forgoing the annual corporate exercise in getting drunk to honour the founder of the Christian faith? I'm sure He would be touched.

"They have set up funds for the family."
What price will your family accept for your demise? Or would they prefer to have you alive and well, rather than dead and lost to them?

"They are paying blood money left, right and centre."
If you have a couple of teenage children, how much "blood money" would they accept to lose their mother? Or would they prefer not to lose their mother at all? Do you have any children to begin with? Or even an iota of the maternal instinct?

"They are spinning like tops, crying and fronting up."
Has anyone heard any of 'them' say that this was a mistake, that they will learn from it, and that they will refrain from making 'prank' calls in the future? No. 'They' are in damage-control mode because their advertisers have ditched 'them' and 'their' actions have provoked outrage the world over. [Note that "they" includes all concerned staff at the radio station, not just the DJs]

As for "crying", their tears can only help in their catharsis, if their remorse is genuine; those tears and the fund cannot bring Jacintha back to life. And as for "fronting up", how exactly does this remedy the situation?

Jacintha is dead, and "they" are alive. What are "they" going to do with the rest of "their" lives to make up for this terrible mistake? Cancel the 2013 Christmas party?

Putting aside your narrow, simplistic, base, overly-wrought, wretched, emotively reductive, skewed take on the radio station's culpability-- you sound quite measured and fair.

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