Last Thursday, a guy I went to college with, Mark Rife, committed suicide. As I understand the story, three years ago his wife Sarah died due to complications from a fall off a 75 foot waterfall. She fell; he dove in after her. Against all odds, they thought she had recovered. In fact, in one of the messages he left, he reminisced about her caring for him during his recovery while she had landed back at work and routines. Life had returned to some degree of normal; but then six months later, she died in her sleep. Mark was devastated.
In a video he left behind, Mark describes leaving Sarah’s funeral, driving who knows where and simply wanting to die — but he remembered the time they watched the film Juliet and Her Romeo, a film he loved, and he remembered Sarah’s question: “Do you think Romeo would have still killed himself if he’d waited 1,000 days?”
So, Mark went on a 1,000 day odyssey, with funds from Sarah’s life insurance policy, to give him time to see if his choice would still be the same. Would he still want to kill himself? Mark traveled, explored, met knew people. He says he “followed every impulse.” Mark had been a pastor in Hawaii, and he left his life behind. Apparently (though I didn’t see it) he suggested that perhaps he left his faith behind. I don’t know what to say about all that, but Mark spoke of the many places where he spent time volunteering and serving the same marginalized and forgotten people for whom he had always felt compassion. This much is obvious: Mark was a man searching.
After 1,000 days, Mark determined that yes, he still wanted to end his life. This man searching had convinced himself that taking his own life was the best way to discover whatever it was he was looking for. He put up a website, called 1,000 days (which Tumblr took down over the weekend) and told his story, with images, videos and posts about his long journey, his experiences, his questions, his grief. He spoke often of the power of love, and he asked forgiveness from anyone hurt by his decision. And then he signed off.
I didn’t know Mark well. Other of my friends knew him much better. The last time I saw Mark was probably 2003 or 2004 at a conference in Atlanta. But Mark’s death, the story of his last few years, has sat heavy on me the past few days. Late last year, another friend committed suicide. This isn’t the way things are supposed to go. I’m angry at death.
If you are contemplating suicide, don’t play that card. Talk to someone. Ask for help. Pursue hope, not death.