I’ve gone back and forth in my head on if I should write this…and how I should.
The reason I’m writing this isn’t because I’m Soundgarden’s “biggest fan” or because Chris Cornell’s death hit me harder than anyone else’s death has. Because to be completely honest, there are a handful of songs he has done that I love and know all the words to, but it doesn’t stretch far beyond that. I always stood by the fact that Chris Cornell had the best voice to ever come out of Seattle–but I won’t lie and say he was my all-time favorite in my lists of artists. That’s not the reason I’m compelled to write about him.
I write instead because in my opinion his death–and his life–deserves to be talked about.
And it hit my heart even harder after I overheard a conversation the other day.
This person I overheard was rambling about how we choose to glorify the worst people in our society–putting people on a pedestal who clearly took the easy way out and have nothing moral to offer us or leave us with. He went on and on about suicide being selfish, worthy of hell, and nothing we should mourn over. And my blood boiled.
Just the night before, the day we all heard the news that Chris had been found hanging in his hotel room–I had to sit in bed with my partner who sat with a laptop and an open YouTube tab, watching slow tears roll from his eyes. I watched him replay his favorite songs and grieve over an artist that was easily his favorite since early middle school. Chris Cornell spelled his teenage years, got him through the tough times of feeling like the odd-man out in his group of friends and the years of being bullied. Chris Cornell’s voice, presence, poetry, and role mattered in his life. And losing him, even though they never met, was like losing a friend who had offered a safe place dozens of times when the world was anything but. There he was as a thirty-one year old man, remembering the songs he sang in his first car–remembering the bon fires and the moments that the music lifted him, encouraged him, and offered solace he so desperately needed.
Without even meeting my partner, Chris did that for him.
So yes, we choose to glorify him.
Suicide is one of the most, if not THE most, misunderstood cause of death.
Never would we point the finger at someone who has succumbed to cancer or who has been diagnosed with diabetes or kidney failure. But when someone’s mind is diseased–when mental illness or the medications that come along with it destroy someone’s peace, someone’s lucidness, or someone’s normal thoughts or functions–we shake our heads. We tell them to just “be happy”. We cringe uncomfortably and say they took the easy way out. We forget that this taboo subject is killing the strongest, loveliest, best people to ever grace the earth–just like cancer.
So, yes. We will talk about it.
The greatest tragedy out of all of this, second to the world losing a good man and a brilliant artist, is that his life will forever be tainted by those who scoff at suicide and further perpetuate the problem that affects our brothers and sisters all over the world. The tragedy is that we aren’t learning. We’re causing people to not want to seek help, to think that their problems are minor in comparison to others, to make people feel shame for having to take a daily pill or having to talk to someone every week in a sterile office. People who stand pompously with crossed arms and talk about suicide as a selfish act, people who disregard those around them who struggle with getting out of bed in the morning, people who openly preach about love and God and salvation while damning those who were murdered by their own diseased minds–those people are the problem.
Each year, 44,193 people die by suicide in the U.S., an average of 94 completed suicides every day. That makes suicide the tenth-leading cause of death across all ages. The number one cause of suicide is untreated mental illness.
And it’s considered selfish.
These are the people who fake the smiles. Who try to make things seem okay. These are people who are embarrassed and shamed by the culture of those who shame those like Chris Cornell. These are people who don’t want to be labeled as “crazy” or “unstable”. These are parents, spouses, business owners, artists, friends, teachers, the person beside you on the bus–the voices behind the soundtrack to your summer nights or your childhood. These are people who matter.
And yes, they do deserve to be glorified. And talked about. And loved. And remembered.
When my father died I got angry for a period of time that he left us. In my selfish heart I got mad that the cancer came, that he couldn’t fight it, and that he closed his eyes. It wasn’t until later that I accepted the fact that he would have stayed if he could. That he would have fought it if he had the chance to. That the cancer defeated him not because of his lack of character or love for us–but because his body was diseased and ready to rest. It sounds ridiculous now to say it–absolutely ridiculous. He suffered, and it wasn’t his fault in the least.
The same goes for Chris and the thousands of others who have succumbed to mental illness. They would have fought harder if they could. They didn’t leave because of a lack of love. They didn’t end it all because they didn’t try. And I guarantee they didn’t want to die.
My heart hurt as I watched my love grieve someone who added a level of beauty to his life that stitched fragments of his very character together just by being the background melody of so many memories. My heart aches for Chris’ family, his friends, his millions of fans who have cried, laughed, loved, danced, and grown up with his poetry. My heart hurts for the thousands, or millions, of people who have died of suicide not because of choice, but because of unsound minds. Like cancer, it is real. Like cancer, it steals away those who define us, those who love us, and those who make us dance.
We choose to glorify those who leave us behind because they are our fellow brothers and sisters and that’s exactly what Christ would do. We choose to talk about it because mental health and suicide deserves to be talked about and highlighted in order to prevent it or remedy it. Let us glorify each other in order to love each other–and save each other.
We simply don’t have the right to be angry about someone’s struggle, lifelong trial, or the prescriptions they had to take to keep moving their feet.
How he left us and the struggles he faced doesn’t take away the joy he brought or the art he created or the lives he touched. It doesn’t minimize the love for his children or his wife or the stage. It doesn’t bring him down a notch on the scale of strength or will or worthiness. It doesn’t make him unworthy of being glorified, loved, and understood.
It doesn’t silence the music.