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Response to column about father’s suicide leads reporter to Lee Hawkins’ story

In March, the Gazette published a column I wrote about my father’s suicide and my family’s subsequent decision to be public about what he did.

Many of the responses I received were from people with family members who had committed suicide. Some were from people contemplating doing so, or holding that out as a possibility in their future for reasons similar to what motivated my father: a desire to maintain control over their lives and to avoid a lingering, painful death.

One of those letters came from Lee Hawkins, a woman I knew casually at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, where we are both members.

In it, she described her thoughts about approaching the end of life, the many conversations she’d had on the subject with her children and her position that suicide is a reasonable option for someone who has had a long, full life.

She also forthrightly addressed my father’s suicide, not mincing words about his method.

“I admire your father. He left you with so many warm feelings, as you did him. He was thoughtful in the papers he left behind,” she wrote. “As a non-violent person myself, I cannot imagine choosing the violence of a gunshot death and wonder that your father would leave you such an image, but he did save you the last memory of him as an old man with nothing to give, expressionless, kept alive but not living.”

Her words were both validating and challenging, prompting me to challenge my own judgments about what my father had chosen to do. Her letter also made me want to learn more about her and the process she is going through. I asked if I could tell her story in the Gazette.

She agreed, and for the past two months, we’ve had weekly visits. We have had many long conversations about life and death matters, resulting in this story.

It’s been a privilege to be witness to someone looking at both life and death with such fearlessness.

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