The death of Soundgarden’s singer-songwriter, Chris Cornell, left his family and friends shocked. He was performing brilliantly on tour. He was in good spirits. Although in hindsight, those close to him said something was “off” on the night of his death.
CNN reports that Cornell’s widow disputed the official finding that her husband died by
suicide because she does not believe that her husband “intentionally” took his own life. Specifically, the family is waiting for toxicology test results to see whether Ativan may have impaired Chris Cornell’s judgment before his death.
I recognized this as denial at once. I remember the shock I felt when my husband and I visited our pastor the day after my mother died only to hear her say, “This is our second suicide this year.” Suicide? Who said it was suicide? She poisoned herself, but she wasn’t in her right mind, I wanted to say. She didn’t mean to do it.
Grieving is a process, and grieving the loss of a loved one by suicide is especially complicated. I’ve heard it compared to a minefield. The stigma, for one, is especially stinging. Weak. Shameful. Sinful. Unforgivable. (None of which is true.) This view tends to be propagated by the ignorant who’ve never experienced the day-to-day suffering of the afflicted. The unanswered questions complicate the grieving process as well. Could I have prevented this from happening? Many times, the answer is no.
We were fortunate in that my mother lived for three days after she harmed herself and was able to communicate with us for the first 24 hours, so we did get some answers, albeit through the lense of psychosis. On the other hand, it was a very painful experience both mentally and physically for her, and I deeply regret that. It’s all part of my personal minefield.
Here is what I learned: My mother was aware of what she did, but she did it in a moment of personal torment. Yes, she meant to do it, but hours later after she regained some clarity, she was sorry for what she had done. She said she felt she was doing everyone a favor – that her illness (major depression) was a burden on our family. The truth is, she was right. It was, at times, a burden – but it was one we more than willing to bear because we loved her. I’m sure Chris Cornell’s battles with addiction and depression were hard on his family as well and, like my mother, he hated the havoc it wreaked. Maybe he didn’t want to put them through the nightmare again, and unwittingly created a new nightmare for them. That’s part of the cruelty of depression. It lies to its victims.
As the Cornell family navigates their own minefield of grief, they are reluctant to call his death an “intentional” suicide because none of the stigma (selfish, weak, etc.) fits the person that they knew. I know this not because I knew Chris Cornell, but because I knew my mother and none of those words fit who she was either.
My heart goes out to the Cornell family…