One thing that pushes us this way is the desire to deny that people who kill themselves are being selfish or cowardly. It wasn't a choice, the pain made him do it, people say. But of course suicide is a choice. I think it's bizarre, at least in cases like Williams', to call it selfish or cowardly. How much unhappiness are people supposed to put up with? How much was he living with? More than he could take, obviously. But it's insulting to deny that he acted of his own free will. Why can't the decision to commit suicide be accepted and respected? I don't mean by people who really knew him--far be it from me to tell them what they can or should accept--but by strangers and long-distance fans.
Because it's so horrible, I suppose. And that's why it's considered selfish. You are supposed to keep the horribleness inside you, quarantining it until it can be disposed of by a doctor, or talk it out therapeutically. Not put it in the world. Don't bleed on the mat, as they used to say unsympathetically at the judo class my brother and sister went to. But that is selfish. If you have to bleed, bleed. People often say that we should not bottle up our emotions, that men should not be afraid to cry, and so on. This, I think, is partly right and partly based on a mistaken idea about the effects of expressing painful emotions, namely that once they are expressed they will be gone. But this is not true. They don't go away once let out of the bottle. It's partly also, though, a kind of hypocrisy. We don't actually want to see people's emotions, not the really bad ones. No doubt we do want to see some emotions, including painful ones, and quite possibly more than are often on display, but there is a reason why we don't wear our hearts on our sleeves.
It's hard to think well about suicide. Here's Chesterton:
Under the lengthening shadow of Ibsen, an argument arose whether it was not a very nice thing to murder one's self. Grave moderns told us that we must not even say "poor fellow," of a man who had blown his brains out, since he was an enviable person, and had only blown them out because of their exceptional excellence. Mr. William Archer even suggested that in the golden age there would be penny-in-the-slot machines, by which a man could kill himself for a penny. In all this I found myself utterly hostile to many who called themselves liberal and humane. Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life.I think he's right that there is something monstrous about suicide, and there is something really nightmarish about Archer's idea. But what I want to do is to say "poor fellow." Not to praise nor to blame. And not to regard suicides as anything other than fellows, with as much free will as the rest of us. And along with that sympathy to feel some relief that the person's suffering is over.