ago a friend of mine decided to take his own life. He apparently
researched the local tides and the moon cycle in an effort to pick
the most ferocious of outbound tides on the darkest of nights.
He told no one of his plan, and never once reached out to his friends
in a way any of us recognized. On a cold and dark October night
he walked into the biting cold waters of the retreating River Mersey
whereupon he was quickly swept out to sea. His body was recovered
four days later.
I always wondered what he must have been going through as he made
his way to the darkened beach that night. Clearly he was in a state
of despair, but I could see nothing so terrible in his life that
it couldn’t be overcome. I remember in the days that followed
his death I wondered how I could have missed the fact that he was
so depressed as to be suicidal. I was disappointed that he planned
his suicide in secret and by doing so had denied any of us the
opportunity to intervene, to be his friend when he surely needed
I hadn’t really though of my old friend in a long while
until last weekend when I watched a film called ‘The Bridge‘,
a documentary about the large number of suicides that occur each
year at the Golden Gate Bridge. By pure coincidence, and unknown
to me at the time, the night I watched the documentary happened
to be the ten year anniversary of his suicide.
Had I known more about the documentary beforehand I probably wouldn’t
have chosen to watch it. The rather morbid subject is not one I
have any interest or curiosity in. However, I found it to be profoundly
compelling in the way that it unravelled this subject that is something
of a taboo.
Eric Steel, a documentary filmmaker, made the film after reading
Tad Friend’s 2003 New Yorker article entitled ‘Jumpers;
The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge.‘
The Golden Gate Bridge is a notorious site for suicide, some say
the most popular suicide location in the world. The 220 feet fall
takes between 4 to 7 seconds and leads to an almost certain death
as the jumper hit the water at 75-mph. Of the estimated 1,400 people
who have jumped or fallen from the bridge since it was opened in
1937, only 26 have survived.
Seeking to highlight the darker side of this awesome bridge, which
on average claims the life of one jumper almost every two weeks,
Steel and his film crew trained cameras on the bridge filming people
day and night throughout 2004. Of the 24 suicides that were made
that year 23 were caught on camera by Steel and his crew with some
of those being controversially shown in the documentary.
While the the idea of showing the tragic last act of those who
jumped from the bridge is undeniably difficult to stomach, the
film handles the subject in a way that seems to connect us with
the reality of suicide which might otherwise simply pass us by
as just another news story, if indeed an editor even deemed the
event to be newsworthy. The sense of isolation is almost tangible,
not just in those who jump but also in the fact that the unfolding
tragedy often goes unnoticed by people who are just a few feet
Suicide is very much a crisis based decision, usually made at
a time when it’s not unfair to say that, on the whole, the
person involved lacks the ability to clearly see their situation
in a wider context.
Kevin Hines, who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and survived,
said in an interview that he had made a condition that would determine
his fate that day. “If one person comes up to me and asks
if I am okay, if I need any help, I would tell them everything
and I would ask for help.” He said. At the bridge, after
crying for the entire journey there, Hines was tapped on the shoulder
by a woman. Failing to notice his distress she asked Hines to take
her picture. He did so, then as she walked away he turned and leapt
over the barrier.
The sense of isolation and loneliness would seem to be a common
denominator in those who choose to take their own lives. At the
home of one man who had jumped to his death a note was found on
his bureau. It read ‘I’m going to walk to the bridge.
If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.’ Presumably
nobody made that connection.
Though it’s clearly difficult to gauge, people who have
survived suicide attempts claim to have regretted their decision
to commit suicide the moment they passed the point of no return.
Speaking of his jump from the Golden Gate Bridge amid a serious
bout of depression in 1985, survivor Ken Baldwin said. “I
instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought
was unfixable was totally fixable - except for having just jumped.”
Learning this leads me to wonder if my friend had similar regrets
ten years ago as he gasped his last breaths in the cold and unforgiving
darkness of the Irish Sea. Suicide is a permanent solution to a
temporary problem, though clearly he didn’t see it that way.
Had he been able to get through the crisis he found himself in
he might very well be alive today. He could have married, become
a father, and essentially lived an ordinary life in which his depression
was merely a chapter.
It seems like the cruelest blow of all that right at the moment
when they cannot undo what they’ve done, the perspective
which seems to be absent from the lives of the ‘jumpers’ comes
rushing back in a fleeting moment of clarity that is soon over,