Miriam Toews

We Will Do This And We Will Do That

Eric Steel, “The Bridge: Parents Of Philip Manikow” (2006)

Suicide is a special death. Those of us left behind find ourselves in the peculiar position of having to establish, suddenly, a philosophy of life and death. We have to choose what we will believe. We have to work out an answer, or more accurately, a response, that allows us to rest. We rage and recoil and incriminate and deny. We feel betrayed. We feel abandoned. But we don’t have answers. We know nothing. We are simply disturbed.

PennyAnn25, “Suicide — Breaking The Aftermath Myth” (2009)

Is it true, what Penny Ann says (5:18-7:58), that each of us has a responsibility to stay alive? Is the onus on us to protect the people who love us from the devastation that would result from our death? Is that what love is? Is it a sin to kill ourselves? “God’s not going to hold you responsible for something you can’t handle,” says father to suicidal son.

Eric Steel, “The Bridge: Gene and Lisa” (2006)

“He was not of this world as we know it…” “She was more angelic…” What world did Gene and Lisa belong to?

Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people.
Where do the black trees go that drink here?
Their shadows must cover Canada.

A little light is filtering from the water flowers.
Their leaves do not wish us to hurry:
They are round and flat and full of dark advice.

Cold worlds shake from the oar.
The spirit of blackness is in us, it is in the fishes.
A snag is lifting a valedictory, pale hand;

Stars open among the lilies.
Are you not blinded by such expressionless sirens?
This is the silence of astounded souls.

— “Crossing The Water” by Sylvia Plath

Tomorrow is coming and we will do this or we will do that. Isn’t it conceivable that the only way a person could choose to leave the world is because he or she is actually so very much of the world, in love with the world, and because of that too often blinded by expressionless sirens? I too prefer to think of those I’ve lost to suicide as not of this world, as angels too exquisitely wired to sustain, or not to turn away from, the relentless piling on of pain and hurt that defines our life on earth. But it’s never the entire story. (1:27:30 – 1:28:55)

Eric Steel, “The Bridge” (2006)

Gene, the tall man on the bridge with the long black hair, is a rare lucky person to have a friend in this woman (1:27:30 – 1:28:55) even after, and especially after, death. She understands him, she’s relieved for him, and she’s let him go and given him her blessing. Gene is free, and so is she finally, of having to choose a life philosophy. She’s done it, she’s chosen. Now she can share her pain with strangers. She can go back and join the others, the less angelic, the ones of this world, back to the simple hard act of grieving the loss of a friend, without anger and without judgement, back to a more ordinary sadness.

Jesper Just, “No Man Is An Island II” (2004)

– Miriam Toews

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Miriam Toews is the author of "A Complicated Kindness," "The Flying Troutmans," "All My Puny Sorrows," "Women Talking," "Fight Night," and other books. She has also published a work of non-fiction — "Swing Low: A Life" — about her father's struggle with manic depression and suicide. Photo: Carol Loewen