Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Fear and loathing

There's been plenty written about the death of Hunter S. Thompson, and a lot of people have ascribed poetic meaning to his decision to kill himself--"He lived on his terms, he died on his own terms" as Henry Allen wrote in the Washington Post.

But as singular as Thompson's life might have been, there was something painfully familiar in some of the speculation surrounding his motives for taking his own life. Ten years ago, my Uncle Dean--my father's older brother--shot himself, and he was about the age as Thompson when he died. The two men were obviously nothing alike--indeed, if my uncle had read Thompson, I'm sure he would have found him highly offensive.

My uncle had been a highly successful executive who had retired to enjoy a big house he had built on a sizable piece of land in upstate New York. But he seemed to miss work, and he found himself aging physically more quickly than he anticipated. He also had a tough time coping with my grandmother's stroke-induced dementia (my grandmother died in 2002, never knowing that she had outlived her oldest child) and a few weeks before he killed himself, his beloved dog Tristan had died.

Like Thompson, he left no note, so were left to guess at his reasons through a mixture of grief and anger. Perhaps he simply believed that his best days were behind him, and there wasn't much point in wading through what remained. I don't know if anyone could have convinced him otherwise. But I know we wish that we'd had the chance.


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