RIP, Sojourner

Some really sad news for you all. Longtime commenter and writer Sojourner, who participated here for several years, has died. She passed in August of last year at the all too young age of 34, dead from an apparent suicide. Her mother has been in contact with me, and she has asked that I pass this information along to all of you who knew her and were friends. It’s really just awful, and please keep her mother Denise in your thoughts. There are two facebook memorials for her, here and here.

So awful.

83 replies
  1. 1
    Tara the antisocial social worker says:

    There is nothing so awful as losing a loved one to suicide. Love and prayers to her family and friends.

  2. 2
    morzer says:

    It is desperately sad news, and I hope she rests in peace. Sorry to be pedantic, but she was 34, not 24. Still much too young.

  3. 3
    aimai says:

    How terrible. The internet–and comment threads–bring us so close to people, and yet we remain so far from them and their real lives, at the same time. I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach, just as I did recently when I found out that an old College friend, who I hadn’t seen or heard from in almost thirty years, had died ten years ago. I had always thought there would be time to look her up, and see her again. I am so sad for Sojourner and her real life family and friends. This is a terrible thing and she left us much too young.


  4. 4
    NobodySpecial says:

    Rest in peace, Sojourner. Sorrows for her family.

  5. 5
    John Cole says:

    @morzer: That was a typo. Thanks.

  6. 6
    Violet says:

    Heartfelt condolences to her family and friends. What a difficult loss for them. RIP Sojourner.

  7. 7
    Comrade Jake says:

    Just watched the video of her Mom reading her last letter. I’m a mess. So sad.

  8. 8
    Ash Can says:

    Good grief, that’s just terrible. So sorry to hear it. She, her family, and her friends will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  9. 9
    S. cerevisiae says:

    Oh God. Sorry. Heartfelt condolences to her family.

  10. 10
    Derelict says:

    Condolences to her family, and sorrow that she could not find or accept the helping hands available to her.

  11. 11
    Phoebe says:

    @morzer: 34 makes more sense in light of the facebook note on why she did it. That facebook page is worth a look. I’m not here enough to have formed a memory of what she was like here, but she is, of course, come to find, a terrific writer and really smart, and of course it makes it all the more baffling and sad. It brings home what I’ve thought more and more, that brains aren’t enough by a long shot, to pull you through the hard stuff, and might actually get in the way sometimes. Her reasons are all very logical. There’s really no arguing with them. I just still wish she hadn’t. I wish she would have wanted to stick it out, at least see what would happen and give the pain a chance to die a little first. It’s just nothing but sad.

  12. 12

    So sad. My deepest condolences to her family.

    This is a scourge that has hit my family more than it should. These losses stay with those who remain for a very long time. I wish the real-world community of and around Sojurner/Faith Jackson’s family all that they need through this.

  13. 13
    RedKitten says:

    Oh my god…I can’t even believe this. She was so bright and passionate and had so much to offer the world. I always loved her comments and her insight on here. I just feel absolutely sick, and absolutely angry that she gave up hope. Life could have still held many good surprises for her.

    My heart goes out to her RL friends and family — what a terrible, terrible loss.

  14. 14
    JPL says:

    John had a post a while back wondering about former posters to the site. People come and go but SJ’s departure is awful. To know her voice will never be heard again is just sad and my thoughts are with her family and friends. She always kept John under control.

  15. 15
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    That is so sad. Who knows what goes on inside a person to bring them to such an end?

    My deepest condolences to her family. Sigh.

  16. 16
    maye says:

    Her explanation on the FB page is crystal clear. She was a good writer. I’m struck with how hard it is to reach someone who is consumed with pain and can’t see how the future will be any different. It’s damn near impossible unless that person has the cognitive capability to see around the next corner combined with the endurance to weather the emotional pain. No one could tell me at 34 what my general outlook on life would be at 44. I can’t tell my teenage son that a situation will look very different in five years. Either that person has the will to carry on or they don’t. Thinking about her mother taking the time to post all those photos of her on that FB page makes me cry.

  17. 17
    GregB says:

    Very sad.

    I remember reading about the AIDS epidemic in the early days and someone stated that the most beautiful flowers were being picked early.

    Another precious flower gone.

    Rest easy Sojourner.

  18. 18
    Loneoak says:

    There are times when you wish you hadn’t switched your Facebook language to English (Pirate).

  19. 19

    My deepest condolences to her family and friends. What a crying shame.

  20. 20

    I’m struck with how hard it is to reach someone who is consumed with pain and can’t see how the future will be any different. It’s damn near impossible unless that person has the cognitive capability to see around the next corner combined with the endurance to weather the emotional pain.

    This second point is very important. One of my mentors in graduate school suffered from severe intractable depression. It would come and go in waves, and when it was gone, he was an engaged, engaging, and vibrant person who loved life. Even though when it was there, he knew cognitively that it would pass, his endurance to weather the pain eventually ran out, and he killed himself.

  21. 21
    JPK says:

    So sorry to hear of this. I remember reading and enjoying her comments here. All the best to her family.

  22. 22
    jcricket says:

    I was kind of blown away by the specificity in both her note and her will (esp. about what to do with her social networking page). It really is tragic someone can be so clear-headed and yet also willing to take their own life.

    And now, as a parent, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have your kid kill themselves. Reading this, less than a week after some “writer at Balloon Juice” posted the details of the girl who was killed in AZ by the Minutemen folks is just too much.

  23. 23
    c u n d gulag says:

    This is awful news.
    34! 34?
    She had so much more to give.
    But, who knows what is in any persons mind.

    Rest in peace.

  24. 24
    Zifnab says:

    That’s absolutely terrible.
    It’s a real shitty reminder that you can go back and forth with people online for months at a time, and have no way to see this kind of thing coming much less do anything about it.

  25. 25
    Persia says:

    Thanks for passing this on. I remember her too. What a loss.

  26. 26
    PIGL says:

    I remember her well from here and elsewhere, as Sojourner. It’s sad and disorienting to learn of her death.

    I read her reasons. I’ve lived 15yr since having come to the same conclusions that led her to take her life. In the light of that experience, I can’t prove her wrong. But I can offer that maybe, having the courage of one’s convictions is not always the best thing.

    One suicide left an ocean of pain, and led to hers. Let’s hope it ends here.

  27. 27
    CaseyL says:

    I read Sojourner’s letter on FB: it is clear, lucid, self-aware and self-knowing. I don’t know if that helps the people she left behind.

    Sojourner lived her entire life wanting one thing above all others: someone to love and make a family with. She found that one thing, and then lost it; she doesn’t think she’ll ever find it again and doesn’t see the value in living without it.

    Actually, that’s what’s really stunning about her letter: she knows life has value even if it is lived without someone to love and make a family with, and she knows she could “get over” her grief and go forward in that knowledge… but she chooses not to.

    She does not want to live what she perceives to be a consolation prize life.

    I honestly can’t decide if that was a rational choice based on a rational analysis of what she wanted the shape of her life to be, or a decision made while she was in the depths of a depression caused by losing Myron. I think most people would say it was the latter – because suicide, when one is young and healthy, is always a non-rational choice.

    But if Myron was indeed the love of her life, her soulmate, the person who made everything else matter… the stuff of which lyric art is made and for which wars have been fought.. what if she was right that whatever else she did in life, nothing would ever be as fulfilling, as joyful, as complete, as her life with Myron?

    Is it possible to rationally, and correctly, decide “No. This isn’t good enough. Goodbye”?

    I mean: if love is worth creating great art for, worth starting and stopping wars for, worth changing the world for… isn’t it (or, rather, the loss of it) worth dying for?

    I should note that I’m a middle-aged single person, with no kids, and I have never in my life felt that having a partner or kids was essential to a rich, fulfilling life. I have a reluctant respect for someone who has her own ethos and would rather die than change it… and I do wonder what other people make of that.

  28. 28
    NobodySpecial says:

    @CaseyL: To be honest? As a 40 year old who’d like that same sort of relationship she had for a brief moment, it scares the hell out of me. If I was to believe that I only had one shot at it, and done at 34? No.

  29. 29
    Shadow's Mom says:

    I am sorry to learn of her death, and I hope that she rests easy. I also hope that her community can find solace and comfort in the online memorial that has been created by their efforts.

  30. 30
    Karen says:

    I honestly cannot look at the links because the only differences between her and me is that I’m 11 years older and the guilt about how it would hurt my family and friends is enough to stop me.

    I know how it feels to be so overwhelmed by life that you just want it to stop.

    But what keeps people going is the hope that all the pain and suffering you go through is leading to something, it serves a purpose. You serve a purpose.

    When you reach a point where that’s no longer the case and believe it will never change then the only choices you feel you have is either shutting down emotionally or physically.

    I didn’t know Sojourner but my grief is also for the family and friends she left behind. I’m heartbroken that life grew to be too much for her to endure.

  31. 31
    trollhattan says:

    Very sad indeed, and horrible for her family. I have nothing to add.

  32. 32
    Anya says:

    My heartfelt condolences to her mom and other loved ones. It so heartbreaking. Rest in peace Sojourner.

  33. 33
    suzanne says:

    This is awful. My heart hurts for her family and friends right now.

  34. 34
    JenJen says:

    Oh no!! Horrible, just horrible.
    Peace to her family.

  35. 35
    MTHS says:

    Horrible. Having lost someone very close to me to suicide in 1998 (he was 28 at the time) I can tell you that there is nothing on earth that you can do to your family, friends and anyone who loves you that is worse. Nothing. It will never leave them. They will always wonder what they could have done. If you are suicidal, this may not matter. But think about it, long and hard. Think about how many people you are going to devastate and change for the rest of their lives. Maybe you’ll realize how many people love you. Maybe you’ll be able to figure out a way to go on.

    I am 44 now. When I was 34, I too was devastated by a lost relationship. I too thought I would just never find anyone. And yes, even having lost someone to suicide earlier in life, I too have been suicidal.

    A week before my 36th birthday, I met the man who is now my husband. We’ve been together since 2002. It feels like no time has gone by at all.

    That’s the thing about life. You just never know. It’s just as likely to get better as it is to get worse.


  36. 36
    Comrade Mary says:

    I remember Sojourner. I had no idea she was that young, or that she was in such pain. I am so sorry for her and her family.

    I have heard that people who have come close to suicide but who have drawn back, or those who followed through but left detailed explanations, think that they are doing everyone around them a real favour by dying. Their thoughts have been so distorted by depression that they think the grief those who love them will feel isn’t as important as the pain the suicide will spare them by choosing to die.

  37. 37

    Oh my. This is so, so sad. All my best wishes for peace and healing to those who miss her now.

    Thanks for letting us know, John.

  38. 38
    srv says:

    RIP Sojourner. You had a great heart.

  39. 39
    canuckistani says:

    Very depressing news. Anyone else out there thinking of suicide, don’t do it. The world will not be better without you.

  40. 40
    Svensker says:

    So, so, sorry. I remember her well. My prayers for her family and friends.

  41. 41
    Ruckus says:

    @Comrade Mary:
    I’m sure that depression can look different to each one of us, but most that have talked about it know the terror that comes from believing that it will never end. As one gets deeper into depression that feeling gets even worse. It can be a deadly spiral.
    Very interesting. People do many things that many others can’t understand. I think most people can’t understand that someone might believe that living is an untenable idea. Living has potential, dying does not.

    I hope that Sojourner made the right choice for herself. If you read her note she was pretty clear she didn’t do this for or against anyone else.
    My condolences for those touched and those left by her life and passing.

  42. 42
    PurpleGirl says:

    I feel for her family and friends. I hope they can find peace and comfort.

    Any further comment would be TMI. I’m sad she felt that way.

    A book I would recommend is A. Alvarez, The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (Random House, 1970).

  43. 43
    Rheinhard says:

    I am so sad to hear this. I lost my own younger brother to suicide almost exactly 10 years ago, after he had just turned 30. He had managed to construct a world view totally unbeknownst to me (though I was living halfway across the country at the time) which led him to believe that a chain of events starting with a breakup with his office romance meant that his life was over and he’d never be able to get a decent job again. No amount of rational argument or discussion could persuade him otherwise, and apparently the depression treatment programs and therapy he became enrolled in didn’t do much for him either. A bright young man, whose circumstances weren’t really bad (he had a good job, place to live, no other real worries), yet his mind just drove him off a cliff.

    Since he was also in ROTC in college and was in the active reserves, I do sometimes wonder what might have happened had he lived longer: he missed the entire George W presidency, 9/11 and the excellent Iraq adventure entirely. Had he lived he certainly would have been sent over there to fight for the Little Emperor’s ego, and I don’t know how that would have affected him.

    Things like this always leave those left behind with little but questions.

  44. 44
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    She was clearly depressed. At its simplest, depression can be summarized as “hopeless”. Human beings can’t live without hope. It’s what allows us to endure the unendurable, bear the tedium, keep going.

  45. 45
    Denise says:

    Thank you everyone.

    In many ways we will never know what happened. Sometimes I could post a million words of blame and rage and other times I look at what is happening in the world and feel grateful she will not go through the next few years.

    Since our lives went in different directions for the past ten years that I have lived in Texas, I am used to her not being here, and so it feels the same, but then suddenly I will realize there will be no more phone visits, I won’t have to explain to her for the umpteenth time that I like Texas too much to return to the land of ice, and it hits me again that she is gone.

    I am Catholic but I made a choice when she was small to raise her outside the church (the Catholic Church having essentially committed a kind of suicide of its own in the 1970’s) and so she had a richly eclectic culture of her own, that was a natural mix of New England elements. Of course, there were some things that I did not recognize when I made that choice. Life is so important to Catholics that we have a very strong antipathy to the nihilistic death culture that has appeared in urban America since the 1990’s and I failed to prepare my daughter for people who can accept suicide as an option. I isolated myself from the insane nihilists and I did not know they were to become so prevalent. It was outside my imagination that this would become common. It was as foreign to me as this internet life is to my grandmother, who would be about 120 if she were alive today. I did not move in Sojourner’s circles up there and so I did not see the subtle changes in life-values in the same way she and her friends could see them.

    This internet life is increasing for all of us. I think it is important to start developing an ettiquette of saying goodbye on behalf of loved ones when they pass, no matter how different their social circles on and off-line might have been.

    And I do believe Sojourner is doing ok where she is, now. I had a visiting dream from her about two months after she left. The dream was unlike most dreams in that it was fully sensual, with ambient temperature and textures, not just sight and sound. I was in a kitchen that was cheerfully lit and was a kind of combination of our old kitchens and my present apartment. I heard her in the hall and she showed up, looking just as she does in the photos that were taken last Srping about two months before she left. In the dream she had a giggling friend with her, and it was one of her friends that I did not like, and who I partly blamed for creating divisions in our family. Sojourner came in and left her friend on the threshold, and we sat together and talked and lightly hugged. She said something, in that dream-way where we don’t remember the exact words, but she said something about having things to do, and hoping I would understand. She had exactly that offhand way that she used to have as a teenager, when she would present me with a fait-accompli and a “deal-with-it” except this time there was a gentler, sadder manner, but also a kind of exhileration, as if she is off to her next adventure. Suddenly she got up and went to the door, past her friend, and walked out into the sunshine.

    I went and sat on some porch steps that appeard at that moment and the friend joined me and offered me a joint. I said “no” and I saw that the friend was sad, rejected, because Sojourner left her with me. She was one of the ones I openly blamed, and still blame, for Sojourner making that choice. It felt very odd to see her appear in that dream. I know she is still very much alive. I think Sojourner brought her along for that visit and walked away because we are from two completely opposite cultures in this country that seem irreconcilable and the suicides are the ones who get caught in the middle. I don’t know , really, I am still trying to make sense of it, but the hatred that has overwhelmed this country is generally suicidal, leaving young women no room for families and we are blind and deaf to reality.

    That assasin who killed Gabby Gifford, BTW, was not a “minuteman”. Please, stop it. You’ve done enough damage to this country with that kind of crap. Anyone could see from his own materials that he was some kind of nihilist, not bright enough to choose a political stream, and also that he was exactly the age at which clinical schizophrenia-types of illnesses emerge.

    But you will spread the same ignorant hatred for conservative people that crippled Sojourner’s life, who was exposed to those kinds of lies about me all the time, just because I live in Texas. Think about what you are doing to your friends in Massachusetts, home of actual “Minutemen” and you know what? People down here don’t even know what a “Minuteman” represents. That is a purely narrowly New England term. That is how isolated and ignorant so many of you people in Massachusetts are. You are superstiously zenophobic to the same degree that some medieval villagers would be, ready to burn someone at the stake for sporting an unfamiliar tattoo. You don’t even know left from right wing, or what an actual political assasin looks like.

    Sojourner was trying to buy a car to come visit me but all the politically-correct people around her would not hear of it. The deal got scotched. They preferred to discuss a suicide letter, that was preferrable to a visit to a Texan mother in the brainwashed craziness of Massachusetts. Never mind that I sit on the campus of UT, surrounded by every form of communitarian new age freedom. Sojie was indeed heavily punished anytime anyone up there heard her speak positively of me or have any visible contact.

    We had to avoid letting certain people know about those phone visits. If people were watching her after Myron’s death, it was to prevent such contact as much as anything else. They never contacted anyone about that letter or made any attempt to help her. The hypocrisy in their memorial appalls me, but enough of those people were not involved with the core punishment that I am glad they can express their memories. You know, when you are inside a group where this kind of hatred is normal, you don’t actually see it. It becomes invisible. Down here in Texas, no one would suggest punishment for a family member who follows a different political ideology. Politics does not rule personal life in Texas. In fact, Texans would go out of their way to facilitate, not prevent, contact with even the most distant cousin at a time like that. And the more divergent the politics, the better. Texans see open discussion as a healthy thing.

    Motherhood is banned in Massachusetts. Public school teachers up there are most advanced in carrying out the classic Nazi programs of anti-family indoctrination. Although home-schooling for some years gave Sojourner her independent point of view, the instinct is ingrained in all products of the public schools that anyone with working-class values and an independently creative point of view will be isolated and driven to suicide. It is in the program, the teachers are trained to facilitate the process.

    Please do notice in her letter that she even says it was shared, yes, SHARED, with those people who surrounded her before she died. Who were telling her not to come to Texas. Who were telling her that her life was being wasted yet how many of them were doing half the human service she did in her short life? Those sons and daughters of “consumers” (what a terrible word!) whose parents bought them toys with the money they made flipping real estate while Sojourner grew up playing with the grandchildren of William Shirer and Lucien Aigner, riding horses, ski-ing, and learning yoga while her mother (gasp!) actually worked for a living.

    Children of working-class mothers are “at risk”, marked out and attacked by the greedy public-school teachers who have no grasp of history or of their own true place in human society. Yet I, this same mother, who enjoyed my various jobs had three solo shows for my art while being villified and boycotted during the Mapplethorpe controversy for supporting the Stockbridge Public Library, whose family knew Norman Rockwell well enough to ask his opinion if I was “worth” art lessons at age 7, I was raising my daughter in the thick of it with no clue as to how completely pervasive the death-culture, the fascist system, would take over.

    Massachusetts is a horrible place. I bear some of the blame for not asserting myself sooner and stronger, but the daily pain of the humiliation and villification that Sojourner bore in the school system there, and from the left wing, and from the horrible fascists of political correctnes, that is the pain she bore, that is what her letter is describing.

    Our family includes some prominent state officials, and you know what? She was “erased” by my brother, a state official, from the family records when my father died a few years ago. Her portion of the estate was liquidated and I was not able to fight it. She did not want to fight it. But the wound was deep and that branch of my family succeeded in killing my own branch of the same family.

    Why was she erased? Well, he is a prominent Democrat, a close colleague of Howard Dean. I had re-assured him, and most of the family, that I am happy with my anonymous life in Texas, but Sojourner kept hoping she could entice me back and she did not understand that certain members of our family are so imbued with political fear and hatred for independent spirits that they are extremely paranoid.

    As I said, Sojourner had a way of presenting people with “fait accompli” if she thought there might be opposition, and I heard from one relative who still speaks to me that, at one point, she had launched a plan to buy a duplex and give me part of it to live in. She did not speak to me about this, but she was busy pulling it together when the paranoid branch of the family heard of it and invited her to Thanksgiving. My relative was there, and was very upset and traumatized by what he saw happen. They staged a group assault on her, one of my Catholic relatives joining up with some of the others to call her Kripalu yoga work a “cult”, they engaged a couple of professional cult-busters.

    She did not speak to anyone in the family of having cancer at that time. I have heard of that only from her friends. She went into hiding. I believe the cancer must have gone into remission or she would not have begun to plan a family. She had a new lease on life.

    It is a co-incidence that alongside that she was receiving phone calls from two hateful political activists here in Texas whom I had kicked out of my house. (They assumed any Massachusetts woman artist who wasn’t promiscuous with men must be a lesbian, and they were lesbians trying to force a change in the old laws. They “adopted” me as a mascot until I learned enough about Texan body language and the closet-gay culture to realize what was going on. There is no “closet-gay” culture in Massachusetts in my experience, so I didn’t know what I was seeing. It would be a funny story if they had not retaliated by calling my daughter to frighten her with vicious slanders, telling her to speak out against me, the same way the PFLAG fascists in Massachusetts did to her in high school. I hope you can imagine yourself how you would feel if strangers called you with political hate and crap about your own mother: I tried so hard to convince Sojie that it was all a ridiculous joke, but I did not know the degree to which she was being surrounded up there with hate, terrible tribal-level vicious hate. I did not know about the cancer or the full story of my family’s assault on her at the same time. Down here, I was not surrounded by hate, I kicked it out of my house and laughed at it.)

    Well, this post spun out of control. But I will leave it as it is. Let the chips fall where they may. Deal with it: that is what Sojie would be saying if she were here.

  46. 46
    BethanyAnne says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this; I hope her family finds peace.

  47. 47
    drunken hausfrau says:

    Oh, no… so very, very sad. People drop on and off of comments all the time… and sometimes I wonder where they have gone… usually, they pop back up right about then… how very sad.

    That said, I wish to tell you all that I love and appreciate all your comments and posts — even if I don’t always agree, I feel like there is a truly excellent community here. People who I am proud to know. She was one of them. May her passion and energy join that of Steve Gilliard and others to light our way in the cosmos…

  48. 48
    SomeGuyWithSomeThing says:

    RIP, Sojourner.

    #45: please seek psychiatric help.

  49. 49
    phoebes-in-santa fe says:

    #45 was Sojorner’s mother. I can only begin to try to see what was going on with her. There are some heavy-duty odd thoughts expressed.

  50. 50
    Pixie says:

    I am so sorry for this young woman and her family. I saw her memorial page and it broke my heart. Rest in peace Sojourner…

  51. 51
    Jess says:

    This is truly sad. I remember having some really good exchanges with her, and I remember how excellent she was at defending the liberal position back when we were actually still debating things like the war in Iraq (back before John’s enlightenment). I wish I could have gotten to know her better. My sincere condolences to her mother–thank you for letting us know.

  52. 52
    pika says:

    Rest in peace, Sojourner.

  53. 53
    freelancer says:


    My heart breaks for you. I hope you find some measure of peace in knowing that the nyms and text here, there are actual people on the other side of the computer screen. These people feel for you and have you in their thoughts.

  54. 54
    bystander says:

    I remember her. With the help of Google, I was able to recover some of the Balloon Juice threads where she appeared, and now I recall her more clearly.

    How profoundly sad. I have missed her voice here, and now – of course – it is well, and truly gone. Such a tragedy for her and everyone who knew her. My condolences to all.

    sojourner: to reside temporarily

    As do we all, Sojourner. As do we all. Rest in peace, dear woman, rest in peace.

  55. 55
    Uraniabce says:

    RIP Soujourner and brightest blessings.

    Never, never take depression lightly. As a life long sufferer who just recently got a proper diagnosis, I can tell you the damage it can do is incalculable. While I have never been suicidal, depression has played a huge role in the way my life has turned out in ways I’m only beginning to discover. If you even suspect you have depression, seek out help as soon as possible. Believe me, if I’d known what I do now, my life would be a very different place right now.

  56. 56
  57. 57
    Fleas correct the era says:

    Just wanted to say how very, very sorry I am. My sympathy to her family and to all who knew her, as well as to those who knew her just through her writing.

  58. 58
    Denise says:

    @53 thank you

    Something I need to add: she was taking an antidepressant during that acute grief, and it is one that is known to cause suicide. I’m not naming it because the pharma-corps might object with lawyers and I don’t want trouble for your blog, but it is a commonly known prescription.

    A friend of mine who once used the same prescription told me how it works to promote suicide. She told me that normally depression, especially the acute depression that is often a normal and healthy, if painful, part of grief, immobilizes you so that even though you might have suicidal thoughts, you don’t act on them.

    But the antidepressant lifts the energy up just enough so that the suicidal thoughts remain while the immobilizing effect of acute depression is removed. That was my friend’s description of it, and it makes some sense.

    Unfortunately some of us live in a society in which grief is not considered normal, in which grief is considered an illness. Not all of us live in that society, though.

    Anyone who is considering suicide needs to first travel. Get at least a thousand miles away in any direction from wherever you are and then look back. You might either move on to a new life or return with a new understanding and a little less pain.

    I was listening to an Australian on the radio last night. There is so little we know about the world. He calmly described the problem faced by people who have made it to higher ground in the flood that now covers more land than whole countries: as humans clamber to a dry roof or small rise, so do thousands of snakes. And they have to wait, survive, in that situation. At the same time, it is essentially all of Australia’s crop-land that is now destroyed. Australia faces famine.

    There are young women with children and young men and old couples, all of them, sitting on roofs like that. Right now.

    I work with a church hospice group. Our “charism” (Catholic jargon for ministry or specialty) is that we do not close the door on anyone, period. The hospitals know that when someone is not accepted by a regular agency they can call us.

    One of our last guests won our hearts. He has been well known for years around here as someone who preferred survival outside but he was in the last stage of lung cancer and so the hospital asked us to help him. Living outdoors for years can result in claustrophobia. So we had the county put a hospital bed into our library so that he could face the garden through the French doors. He was asleep when they brought him.

    He woke up in the bed and exclaimed “Beautiful books!” and he was asked if he preferred one of the bedrooms but he said “No, I can see the outside, and I have all these books to keep me company! I can die among these books!”

    We have no idea where that came from. He was too weak and tired to read or even talk that much. We don’t know anything about him beyond the fact that he was a much-loved “regular” in the homeless crowd, a happy drunk in some manner of speaking. His family is in a distant city, just some cousins we could find, and his body now awaits the rotation for County services. He died about three days after making that exclamation. I was there, just arrived for my shift in the kitchen, and so I sat with the other house workers while we waited for a priest to come and he drifted in and out. He died just a few minutes before the priest arrived.

  59. 59
    hamletta says:

    Denise, all love to you and your family. You’re not supposed to bury your children.

    I’m sorry for your loss.

  60. 60
    debbie says:

    @ Denise:

    Denise, I am so very sorry for your loss. Back in the 1970s, I was an unsuccessful suicide who didn’t think much about what I’d done (aside from failing at even that) until last year when I read a blog post from a parent trying to cope with the suicide of his son who’d had reasons similar to mine. It wasn’t until reading that post that the full impact of what my death would have done to the people I loved — what I did to them by even just trying to take my life — finally hit me. If my parents were alive today, I’d be on my knees apologizing to them.

    Your daughter’s last paragraph really speaks to me. I think we need to find a way to get people to see just exactly what their loss would mean to others. I think when a person is only focusing on themselves that there really doesn’t seem to be a reason for going on. If a person could see their worth through the eyes of those around them, then there wouldn’t be the kind of hopelessness that swallows a person up.

  61. 61
    Asshole says:

    RIP, Sojourner.

    I’m very sorry for your loss, Denise.

  62. 62
    goatchowder says:

    It’s hard. If I weren’t a parent with a responsibility for a child, I’d probably have joined the ranks of the deceased years ago.

    Then again, I might also have just gone off-grid and had a happy life, or travelled the world being an artist or bohemian or something. So who knows.

    But when I really look at it hard, it’s obvious that I’ve got a dark view of humanity and myself, and being a parent has quite literally kept me alive and given me reason to stick around through hopelessness that I otherwise wouldn’t have survived.

  63. 63
    Ruckus says:

    Many of us look for reasons to stick around. I think most people don’t need a rational to so but there are those that do at one time or another. Most of us that are looking find something that works, some of us do not. I feel that it is almost impossible to understand not being able to find that whatever that makes us stick around looking for and enjoying a better day. Not without having been there. But it is easier than imaginable to make the decision if you can’t find a reason. That’s why I look every day for more reasons, so that I always have a huge supply on hand.

  64. 64
    Cermet says:

    So very sorry for the lost!
    Anyone out there think along such lines, please! talk to someone! Depression (and I have had it bad at times and lost a brother to it) can be treated and NO MATTER what you think, in time (maybe even ten years from now), YOU WILL BE HAPPY and realize life is well worth living! So, talk to anyone you know, call a help line or just give a call here, people do care and you have value – even if you don’t want to believe it. Don’t end your life or let drugs bury you – get help because things, in time, DO GET BETTER!

  65. 65
    gene108 says:

    @CaseyL: I think you are romanticizing suicide, like Shakespeare did in Romeo and Juliet.

    It’s not rational to commit suicide. You have to have hit a level of depression that you cease to function rationally, at some very basic level.


    Your daughter’s last paragraph really speaks to me. I think we need to find a way to get people to see just exactly what their loss would mean to others. I think when a person is only focusing on themselves that there really doesn’t seem to be a reason for going on. If a person could see their worth through the eyes of those around them, then there wouldn’t be the kind of hopelessness that swallows a person up.

    I don’t think people are only thinking about themselves, when they commit suicide. I think at some point you lose the ability to feel, as you become more and more depressed. Whatever emotional connection most people have with others, you no longer have and are not capable of having, until your depression is treated.

  66. 66
    ulee says:

    It seems that Sojourner made her decision with deliberation. It is very upsetting. I wish that she had argued it out some more but she made her choice. It is a terrible loss, a terrible loss to everyone…

  67. 67
  68. 68
    roshan says:

    There was a brilliant series about suicide in Scientific American just recently. It’s a very informative and I would encourage folks to read it to understand suicide. Following are a few excerpts from the articles.

    Is killing yourself adaptive? That depends: An evolutionary theory about suicide
    Saying that suicide is adaptive may also sound odd to you from an evolutionary perspective, because on the surface it seems to fly in the face of evolution’s first rule of thumb, which is to survive and reproduce. However, as William Hamilton’s famous principle of inclusive fitness elucidated so clearly, it is the proportion of one’s genetic material surviving in subsequent generations that matters; and so if the self’s survival comes at the expense of one’s genetic kin being able to pass on their genes, then sacrificing one’s life for a net genetic gain may have been adaptive ancestrally……
    ….People are most likely to commit suicide when their direct reproductive prospects are discouraging and, simultaneously, their continued existence is perceived, whether correctly or incorrectly, as reducing inclusive fitness by interfering with their genetic kin’s reproduction.


    Being Suicidal: What it feels like to want to kill yourself
    In considering people’s motivations for killing themselves, it is essential to recognize that most suicides are driven by a flash flood of strong emotions, not rational, philosophical thoughts in which the pros and cons are evaluated critically.
    According to Baumeister, there are six primary steps in the escape theory, culminating in a probable suicide when all criteria are met. I do hope that having knowledge about the what-it-feels-like phenomenology of ‘being’ suicidal helps people to recognize their own possible symptoms of suicidal ideation and—if indeed this is what’s happening—enables them to somehow derail themselves before it’s too late.
    Step 1: Falling Short of Standards
    Step 2: Attributions to Self
    Step 3: High Self-Awareness
    Step 4: Negative Affect
    Step 5: Cognitive Deconstruction
    Step 6: Disinhibition
    …And, as I mentioned at the start, always remember: You’re going to die soon enough anyway; even if it’s a hundred years from now, that’s still the blink of a cosmic eye. In the meantime, live like a scientist—even a controversial one with only an ally or two in all the world—and treat life as a grand experiment, blood, sweat, tears and all.

  69. 69

    […] over at Balloon Juice, Cole posted about a commenter who had recently killed herself shortly after her beloved killed himself.  I think her commenting tapered off before I started […]

  70. 70
    Gregory says:

    Oh, no. I’m so sorry.

  71. 71
    Thymezone says:

    This is such a shock and a sad thing, I can hardly process it.

    Such a beautiful young woman with the best years in her life ahead of her.

    There are no words, other than Rest In Peace, Sojourner.

  72. 72
    Xenos says:

    I had forgotten she was here way back, in the days before Schiavo and when DougJ was a literate version of BIRDZILLA.

    There are some great comments, full of righteousness. Like this one that put a contentious thread to bed.

    Maybe there should be a hall of fame for lost commenters.

    It all is such a sad story, though. May she be in peace, at last.

  73. 73
    jeanne marie says:

    Very sad indeed.

  74. 74
    The Moar You Know says:

    @Denise: Well, one of the mysteries is solved. Please seek psychiatric help; you desperately need it.

    I would say this anyway, having known the shattering effects of suicide on the people around them; but you obviously have issues of both rage (understandable) and serious paranoia that need to be addressed.

  75. 75
    The Moar You Know says:

    My original post, before reading the tragedy of Denise’s postings:

    I wish, dearly wish, that I could have had ten minutes of Faith’s attention. And that my wife could have had twenty. I feel that there is a remote possibility that between the two of us, we could have talked her out of the course of action that she felt was so inevitable.

    Sadly, we can’t, and it is too late now. She’s dead and not a damn thing anyone can do about it now. What a tragic and senseless waste.

  76. 76
    Dog is My Co-Pilot says:

    I checked out the Facebook memorial page. Wow… she seemed like a really lovely person. It’s really too bad she felt she had no other choice but to take her life.

  77. 77
    Denise says:

    If I may comment without any more direct personal assault from the predatory person who wishes he and his wife could have replaced my daughter’s parents, or at least her mother, (#74 and #75) I’d like to point out the first item in roshan’s list quoted from Scientific American: “Falling Short of Standards”.

    Sojourner had an IQ of 157. She was off the top of measurable skills in third grade. These are simple, well-documented, provable facts.

    She was attacked repeatedly by people when they discovered that, because they all expected something that she was not delivering.

    We had many conversations about this, she and I. We never could quite figure out what it was, although it was usually economic. We were not millionaires. We lived in an area that included quite a few millionaires and whose old culture included a lot of natural admixture among our children, regardless of family standards. I referred to Norman Rockwell in an earlier post, and I must clarify a detail I failed to type in: my sister was Mr. Rockwell’s book-keeper. Yes, we used the “honorific” “Mr.” in those days and most Stockbridge residents did not see the sarcasm that now seems to have underlain many of Rockwell’s most beloved works, for he did look at us through New York City eyes, and the other intellectuals like the Shirers and the Ceras who populated Berkshire County in those days, those are the people whose families provided Sojourner with her culture.

    Their children went back to their private schools or travels during the winters, and Sojourner went into the public school if my schedule did not accomodate home-schooling for any particular year.

    Each time, she would be regaled by the teacher because no matter what she did, no matter that she got an A, the teacher expected “something” and would announce it in class and the other children would take the story home, and the buzz would start.

    People, mostly upper-middle-class people who were from a very different background than the now-extinct, formerly affluent working class of Berkshire county, would accost me as I went about my daily rounds, and ask questions about her.

    Some self-appointed meddlers, similar in predatory mentality to #75 above, would start to intrude into family matters, calling my relatives up to see if they could gather gossip.

    The pseudo-gays, particularly, (those are the people who themselves would deny they were gay but who would insist that all others start pretending gay life is an oppressed race) had their antennas out for gifted students and, because of the natural tendency of youth to find their own and the simple fact that if your own are not numerous you will have a smaller circle of friends than those youth whose interests are more common, the pseudogay militants would start the campaign to co-erce a speech or a public stand of some kind from the hapless target.

    In Massachusetts this now can start as early as kindergarten, but at that time it started in late middle school or early high school.

    Sojourner was a poet. She had friends completely outside the hell that was school. We kept our social circle as far from the political hell around us as possible.

    Her friends were poets, musicians, and artists. Or should I say the “children of”, yet in our homes those lines were blurred.

    While the hellish ghouls, the people screaming “omigod, her mother drives a taxi! She is a single parent! Do something, she is not a celebrity and a genius should be a celebrity!” were buzzing with each other, Sojourner and I would be over the other side of Catamount relaxing with the family of an art professor whose own father was a music transcriber for the symphony in the very old tradition of that obscure profession.

    But of course my daughter then had to return to school, to face the legions of predators who think, like #75 above, that there is not something terrible sick in telling a parent that you and your wife would like ten minutes to take that parent’s child. God help your neighbors, #75!

    Ten minutes of counseling would not have undone a lifetime of the abuse my daughter endured from the legions of people just like you who haunt the schools.

    One of them was the music teacher at one of the local high schools. There was a controversy in Sojourner’s sixth grade. A certain group of parents wanted to take the children on a number of high-risk field trips. I should tell more about this in another thread. It was a very well-documented incident. Because of our unknown private life that included sailing from Hingham to Scituate in our friends’ sloop almost every weekend, we knew a little about the risks. These inland teachers had contracted a whale-watching trip with a man whose captain’s license had been suspended because one of his boats was sunk in a channel of the harbor. He was the seagoing version of a serial DWI.

    Anyway, to put it in a nutshell, after I and a few other concerned parents brought this to the school’s attention, Sojourner’s teacher sent a note around telling the families that Sojourner’s mother had forced a cancellation and she became the target of the sixth grade version of the same mobbing behavior that was actually going on at Simon’s Rock at the same time. It was actually being taught, and some of those parents of those children were part of the political group that was teaching the mobbing tactics, and so Sojourner expereienced that.

    But it did not destroy her, she understood what was going on and the injustice of it.

    She went on to win second place in the Berkshire County Spelling Bee.

    And, in the receiving line for the winners and their parents, right there in front of all the media, that music teacher made a very big show of spinning his back to her and me instead of shaking our hands.

    I still feel the terror and the chill of that moment.

    After that I made the biggest mistake of my life. Recognizing that these people could kill soourner and were making it obvious that they were willing to do so, to publicly humiliate a youngster that way, I told Sjoie it was me, and not her (true) who was hated and so from that moment on, for fear of that particular hate-group that we faced, she understood that I would not attend any opening nights.

    Of course, I thought I was simply sparing her any more public assaults such as that one that happened at that spelling bee. But in reality, I had let the bastards with the same mentality as #75 win, because they could spin their viciousness at every opening night.

    Sojourner was very prominent as a young actress in the Shakespeare company and was torn between that direction and more intellectual pursuits. As a ski instructor, she decided she really preferred the more intellectual pursuits. She told me she liked acting more for the experience of exploring personalities as characters than for the glitz, and her interests after that were far outside the public eye.

    My posts a tragedy? Not if they shed light on the fate of thoughtful youth in Massachusetts who are placed squarely on the first step to suicide by these horrible shallow people who think that high intelligence means “success” and that “success” has to be some kind of material glitzy thing so that a happy person, feeling quietly fulfilled after helping publish a manuscript, is publicly attacked and yelled at for falling short of some Kafkaesque invisible standard, and collapses because Massachusetts is filled with ghouls like the ghoul in #75, ghouls who are looking for other people’s children and attacking those children’s parents in a perverted …. I don’t know what, but it is perverted.

    I do believe that you all, or most of you here, understand exactly what Sojourner’s dilemma was, when her private self-confidence could not be expressed in terms the success-hungry ghouls were willing to accept.

    If you have youngsters in a school system where the teachers start screaming at you about “potential” and you know your youngsters are fine with their handful of artsy friends, GET YOUR KIDS AND YOURSELF OUT OF THERE! Look at #75 and get yourself and your kids out of the reach of such ghouls! Book yourselves onto a tall ship or hike the Appalachian Trail, join a service-mission to a disaster area, anything, but break the connection to those ghouls!

    If you yourself are standing on that first stage of the Sci-Am list, that “standards” stage, (and we all go through life-review periods even into middle age) ask if anyone really knows what these standards are? Who sets them? Who recognizes them?

    Really, it is Kafkaesque.

  78. 78
    Xenos says:

    Denise, your statements bring to mind Nabakov or Ford Maddox Ford more than Kafka.

    Having lived in Western Mass most of my adult life, and having a couple highly gifted children (and a couple equally delightful and lovely not-so-gifted children), I can’t relate to a single one of Denise’s concerns. My kids have had some outstanding teachers who have been openly gay, and I am very glad that our community allows these teachers to be who they are in a wholesome, humane, and professional manner.

    No ghouls around there, really. Maybe it is not everybody’s idea of family values, but who cares what the bigots think? It says something about Sojourner that she found a home in the very lovely town of Leeds. I may have run into her any number of times at the Hamp Y, or on the UMass campus, and not known she was someone I had talked to, in a fashion, dozens of times.

    While we would probably not get along too well, Denise, please accept my sincere condolences for the loss of someone so precious.

  79. 79
    Smurfhole says:

    I’m very sorry for our shared loss of Sojourner, Denise. She was a wonderful person.

    I would also like to apologize for the people in this thread who think that this is an appropriate time/place/manner in which to debate your ideas with you, or to insult you personally. While I’m sure I’d disagree with you on many issues, I don’t think this is even the most remotely appropriate place to go into that sort of thing.

  80. 80
    Thymezone says:

    Denise, Soj was a much loved figure here at BJ. We are all desperately sorry for your loss and are sending you prayers and good thoughts. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  81. 81
    Denise says:

    Thank you, all. You know, the real world is reflected in the differences we all have. It would not do anyone any good for all postings to be limited to PC cliche’s. The challenge for those who live and who want to help others live, is to engage those differences, making it worthwhile and to hell with empty niceties. I see the sincere love in this thread, and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Anyone can see from all the postings here that Sojourner engaged the real world on its own terms. I do beleive that her death was really a kind of accident, an accident of the acute phase of her grief that was very much like coming to a hairpin-turn on a mountain road and realizing only at the last minute that you are not going to make it.

  82. 82
    roshan says:

    @Denise: Please accept my condolences on your loss. I don’t have proper words to explain how I feel about losing one of us. It’s very heartbreaking.

  83. 83
    Denise says:

    Here is a poem Sojourner wrote last June. Ihope the formatting comes out right:

    Night Poem

    I am inside out and outside in.
    …Exhausted and drained;
    Thinking of you.

    Words fail me, the sun has set.

    I have no gift for you this time.
    The quiet of the night belongs to us all,
    nothing more than night,
    nothing more than darkness in which to sleep.

    I know you will be there, sleeping.
    I know you will be there in the glow of the morning.

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