Yesterday I saw a suicide victim. I didn’t actually see the woman jump but I passed the scene just minutes after.
She had left her shoes and sunglasses on the wall of Cesena’s old bridge before throwing herself off.
When I drove over, the traffic was moving very slowly. Standing by the side of the road were a young man in full cycling gear and another woman who was probably on the way to the nearby market. At first I thought they were simply admiring the view but something in their expressions told me they had stopped for some other reason.
When I turned the corner, I saw more people were staring towards the bridge from both sides of the river bank. I pulled over and saw they were gazing at a motionless figure lying face down on the flat rocks below the bridge.
The medics arrived seconds after. They easily navigated the shallow water and walked over to the body. One reached down and confirmed the inevitable. They covered the deceased with a white sheet. There was something horribly banal and undramatic about it all.
Today, I looked in the local newspaper to find out who the woman was.
The news story amounted to no more than a hundred words. It said that she was 72 and came from Cesenatico, a nearby coastal town. No name was given and no information as to what drove her to this very public end. The death was described as an “insane act”.
I wondered whether her home town was correct. These stories are given to junior reporters and the facts are notoriously unreliable. If she really come from Cesenatico it would have meant a 45 minute bus journey and a 15 minute walk from the station to the bridge. Why did she choose this location? Did it hold some special meaning for her? If so, this information probably died with her.
I wondered too, why the rookie had chosen to describe the suicide as “insane” rather than “sad”, “tragic” or “inexplicable”. To label it as an act of madness without knowing anything about the poor woman’s state of mental or physical health seemed both callous and dismissive.
Surely, she merited a modicum of sympathy for the desperate state she must have been in as she lifted herself onto the wall of the bridge, removed her shoes and sunglasses, and took a belly dive into oblivion.
Maybe she just couldn’t face people saying a ‘what a nice way to go’ as imagined in Roger McGough’s touching yet funny poem Let Me Die A Youngman’s Death:
Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death
When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party
Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides
Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one
Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death.