It’s been a little under 2 years since my Aunt passed away. Officially, she died from secondary tumours from breast cancer. Unofficially, she took her own life. For three long, excruciating weeks, she defiantly refused food, water or medication. She had been suffering from severe depression for over 40 years.
No one can say whether she would have survived her battle with cancer. It wasn’t terminal, but it was still cancer. However, her depression definitely expedited death. It was depression that robbed her of the will to see a doctor about the growing lump in her breast, and later, the dizziness and blackouts that were becoming more and more frequent. Her depression made it difficult to get out of bed, to take her medication, to go to the hospital for treatment, to bathe, to stay hydrated, to eat. Her depression had made her an outcast, leaving little space for the friends or social networks who might rally around her to help her get better. Ultimately, it was her depression which robbed her of a desire to fight (yet gave her the inordinate strength to refuse food, water, or pain reliving medication in those final, agonising weeks).
In the months since her death, my family and I have been to too many funerals for friends who have lost their battles with depression. Friends gone way before their time. Suddenly. Inexplicably. Leaving gaping holes in lives and in hearts. Suicide is now the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44. I have never faced the daemons that these friends have. I can’t even fathom to understand the pain, the sadness, the loneliness, the isolation, the anguish, or the desperation that led them to their final acts. These are terrible deaths. And for various reasons, we can’t easily talk about them. We certainly don’t want to set anyone off down that path. Then there are the cultural and spiritual taboos that attach to it. There's also guilt, and lots of anger.
So I guess my question is … what does a conversation around the end of life even look like for those with depression and their loved ones? Are there ways to acknowledge the presence of death, while steering loved one's away from it's immediate appeal?