Saturday, December 4, 2010
Worth more dead? Saturday, December 4, 2010.
“[Suicide’s] against the law where I come from, too.” Clarence the angel, “It’s a Wonderful Life”
Last night I went to a sweet, funny, and heartwarming play about suicide.
Usually, when people think of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” they think of Christmas. But the story could take place any time of year. Ultimately, it’s a story about suicide and the intangible worth of a single human life.
We went to a stage adaptation of Frank Capra’s movie last night. Of course, I’ve seen the movie a million times, but it was the first time I’d seen the story since – like unfortunate George Bailey – I made the calculation that I was worth more dead than alive.
You see, unlike most people who are suicidal, George isn’t particularly depressed. Although he’d missed out on his dream of traveling the world, George was a happy husband, father, and business owner up until that fateful Christmas Eve. For George, principle had always mattered more than money – that’s why he turned down the evil Mr. Potter’s offer of $20,000 a year (about $150,000 in today’s money) to work for him.
But suddenly the unthinkable occurs. A sum of $8,000 vanishes – hidden inside a folded newspaper by an absent-minded employee – and George faces bankruptcy. Within a couple of hours and after a few drinks, George concludes that Mr. Potter is right – because he has a life insurance policy, he IS worth more dead than alive. Next thing you know, he’s standing on a bridge, preparing to jump into the river.
Most people think that life insurance policies don’t pay out for suicides. Actually, most do – provided you’ve had the insurance for more than two years. I know this because I checked my policy a few days before my attempt. I’d been obsessed with the threatened bankruptcy of our company, and with the shame of losing our home. Since I was a lousy wife and mother (according to me), I figured my family would be better off with the cash from my life insurance, which would pay toward the mortgage for a couple of years.
In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George has a guardian angel: Clarence Obody (Angel Second Class – he still needs to earn his wings). I don’t know where other suicidal people’s guardian angels are, but George can see and talk to his. I’d been praying nonstop for weeks for a break from my anxiety, and I continued to pray in that motel room. I would have liked to see a guardian angel – even an Angel Second Class – but maybe my angel worked undercover and kept my OD from being lethal and prevented too much blood loss from my veins. I don’t know.
At any rate, I feel an affinity to George. We both have wished we hadn’t been born (I reflected a few months ago about the way things might have been if I’d never existed). And we both thought our deaths would result in our families’ being taken care of financially. After my attempt, when I was home from the hospital, I still believed I’d made a logical decision. My husband, angry and hurt, shouted, “I’d rather live in a homeless shelter with you alive than in the house with you dead!”
But people that kill themselves to benefit their families financially are misguided. First, most peoples’ life insurance policies will only cover their families’ expenses for a few short years. Second, only about one of 20 suicide attempts are completed. The rest of the time, the attemptor wakes up alive, facing even more financial stress.
There’s the cost of an ambulance, if it’s not covered in your community or by your insurance. There are emergency room costs, well over $1,000 a day. If you’re admitted to the psych ward, you’re looking at maybe $1,500 for every day you spend there. If you’re lucky enough to have insurance, you probably still owe a deductible or co-pay. Then there is the time lost from work, as well as the stigma you’ll have to deal with if people find out: you can’t even put a price tag on that.
Suicide’s expensive. This is one favor your family can't afford.