Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Suicide Ever So Cruel

The news hit me like a bullet, stopping me cold and numbing me.

"Are you still there?" my secretary asked.

She had just finished telling me a long-time client killed himself today. His blood had hardly dried before the press calls started. He walked out onto the grounds of his property, put a gun to his head, and ended it all. Tout suite. I am reeling still. Some part of me is begging the gods for relief. Bad things keep happening. Walking in the shadow of death haunts me.

I thought I might have seen enough death for one day. The state and I gave closing arguments in a murder trial today. I stood in a courtroom and asked a jury of 12 to find that my client was justified in shooting a young woman to death. Her family sat only feet away. The courtroom seemed ankle deep in blood; it was hard to keep my footing. I am sure I stumbled.

When arguments ended, yet another legal issue emerged relating to the law of self defense. The state and I met with the judge. This new issues appears undecided in any authoritative way. The answer seems obvious to me and to the state; unforntunately, the state's position and my position are polar opposites. The judge must make a call. We end early to give him time to think about the issue. In the meantime, the jury went home and I got in my car happy to have made it through a bad day.

And now my client is dead. By his own hand. He leaves behind many who love him, including me.
This man came to me years ago in trouble, and I did all that I could to help him avoid the trouble. We were largely successful. In the course of representing him, I would frequently travel to Florida, to stay at one of his homes. My wife and I were guests at his estate in Connecticut. I spent hours with him, learning his business and discussing everything from books to politics to the state of the law. Just yesterday we exchanged emails about a case on which I was working for him. He seemed down. I made a mental note to call him when I had my verdict, to see if there was anything I could do for him.

And now he is dead. Just like that. I am the underside of a scab.

I wanted to cry on the drive back to my office. And I almost did. Then the lawyer in me surfaced. Death yields issues, and issues, as lawyers know, means busywork. I set about making calls to see what needed doing to wind up a long life passionately lived.

My client was not an easy man. He was sometimes more feared than loved. He did not tolerate fools, and he was wealthy enough to speak his mind with impunity. Tonight his mind is gone, and the body that housed it is to be cremated. I am angry that he left without so much as a goodbye, and reminded again that we come and we go far too quickly.

I want to say something to him now. But I cannot. And I will never be able to do so again. This is wrong, and there is nothing to be done about it. Suicide is cruel.