Friday, September 7, 2018

Final Judgement

Yesterday the alleged killer of WLHS teacher Laura Wallen was found dead in his cell on the day his trial was to begin. According to the account in this article in the Baltimore Sun, he used the bedsheet in his cell to hang himself. Our local news was filled with this story yesterday.
This quote bothered me.

“Today was his reckoning,” State’s Attorney John McCarthy said at a news conference Thursday afternoon at the county Circuit Courthouse. “He took the cowardly way out.”

In recent years our attitudes about those who die by suicide have evolved. We have learned that the process in the brain that convinces the victim to end their own life is not at all rational. Old ideas and old terminology are beginning to fall away. We don’t say “committed suicide” anymore. We challenge the assumption that suicide is a selfish act. As we gain more understanding of the mental illness which brings people to suicide, we gain more empathy.

But then there is Tyler Tessier. Although he was not proven in court to have been the murderer of a beloved local teacher, we are pretty sure that he was. And not only that, this murder involved someone he was supposed to have loved, who was carrying his child. We don’t like Tessier. We don’t even consider having empathy for him. And the statement by McCarthy is part and parcel of that.

“The cowardly way out.”

I am not a mental health professional. But I am wary of jumping in and deciding whose suicide is worthy of empathy and whose it is okay to judge and criticize. This makes me deeply uneasy. If suicide comes from a disordered thought process, from suffering and what we call mental illness, isn’t that true for everyone, whether we like them or not? 

I don’t know. I do know that I wouldn’t say what Mr. McCarthy said. I’d say something factual, perhaps that the Wallen family will now be deprived of the closure that a trial might have provided. I don’t thinks it’s at all useful to know McCarthy’s opinion of suicide in general or this suicide in particular.

Reverting to old stereotypes because the victim is someone we find despicable isn’t at all helpful and may even be harmful.Loathing Tyler Tessier is understandable. But when we speak of suicide, I still think it’s important to get it right.  People are listening when we say things like this. Even in times of anger and pain, our words matter.

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