By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli
Inexplicable sadness swept over me when I read last week about the deaths of Kate Spade and of Anthony Bourdain. Both high profile and talented, they influenced millions of us: Spade with her handbags and fashion sense; Bourdain with his perspective on food that brings people together. Both left young daughters behind when they need their parents most on the threshold of adolescence. Perhaps Spade and Bourdain’s pain was so immense that they did not see their suicides as abandonment, rather as a means of silencing the torture in their own minds. Their demons must have chased them down a black hole from which their strength to resist had been depleted. And therein lies another tragedy: Those who are dead are dead; it is the living who must find the ways and means of coping, continuing to live long after the deceased have gone.
Suicide is an equal opportunity means of ending life. It cuts across socio-economic groups and ethnicities. Yet it is a peculiar means of leaving that is on the rise in the United States. Benedict Carey wrote in his article, How Suicide Quietly Morphed Into a Public Health Crisis, in The New York Timeson June 8, 2018:
“The rise of suicide turns a dark mirror on modern American society: its racing, fractured culture; its flimsy mental health system; and the desperation of so many individual souls, hidden behind the waves of smiling social media photos and cute emoticons.”
One of the key phrases in Carey’s article is American society…its flimsy mental health system. I recall when I worked in the 1980’s full time at a Texas university that my healthcare coverage included only so many visits to a therapist, should I need one. I was offended then, and I am even more offended now that mental health care is still grossly underfunded in the U.S. The government and insurance companies seem to believe mental health care coverage should be limited when the opposite is true.
For some years now, my daughter and her cousin have liked Kate Spade designs; they even have several of her handbags and jewelry. Kate Spade designs exude a happy-go-lucky aesthete coupled with practicality. Several years ago, I bought my daughter a Kate Spade pencil case. The design was so clever that I could not resist a pencil case with a lined penmanship motif. Bright colors, cheerful scripts, and overall originality apparently belied the dark musings that lurked behind Kate Spade’s whimsical designs. She brought us so much joy with her designs over the years that I wish it could have empowered her to banish her depression. Alas, neither her fans, nor her family or friends could save her from herself.
Anthony Bourdain’s brash, no-holds-barred approach to food breathed fresh air into previously snobbish attitudes towards food truck street food. His landmark book Kitchen Confidentialblew the lid off food and restaurant respectability. His CNN show Anthony Bourdain:Parts Unknown mesmerized me. I particularly liked the episode “Quebec” where he traveled with two Quebecoise chefs who introduced him to beaver meat topped with shaved black truffles. The exotic Tangiers, Morocco episode made me wish my own town included a Moroccan eatery. Bourdain even took us to Libya where the people cook, eat, and continue to celebrate their freedom after years of an oppressive regime. I always feel like I am there with Anthony Bourdain as he and his crew roam the narrow streets and back alleys of a town with a local or two leading them to a fabulous meal behind a scruffy building façade. His talent for bringing us along for his street food ride has been pure pleasure. We feel like we have gotten to know the people with whom he talks as he eats with them. Sadly, we could not save him either.
Those of us, who did not personally know Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, only saw them through the prism of social media, from the magazine stands, and from television. Moments captured on red carpets are what we saw; we did not share in their private lives. Hopefully, they are now at peace, watching over their loved ones who hold them in their hearts.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-
Ciao for now.