When You Wish for Death


This isn't a story about being suicidal.

This is a story about wishing for death, and there's a difference.

Let's go back a couple of years, to an early winter morning.

The suns struggles to rise as the sky tries to hold its golden head under the horizon. The light around me as I drive down the highway is muted, like looking at the world with a blindfold made of thin, violet nylon.

It's my morning commute, a thirty-minute drive each day that begins at 6:45 a.m. in my driveway and ends in the parking lot of the school where I teach, my mind trying to speed up on the on-ramp to hit the ground running when I walk into the building.

I usually love the half hour I have to myself in the car. Few distractions, nowhere to go--it's the perfect time to think. I like to ponder all sorts of things--contingency plans if my students hate the hamster-wheel of an experiment I have in store for them that day, what my role would be on the island if I was part of the show Lost, snippets of lyrics I make up for songs I may or may not ever write, which one of my friends I can convince to come on a midnight hike and exactly how I'll manipulate persuade them to do it, where and when I'm going to have my next batch of wings.

Those thoughts aren't in the queue today, though. Nor have they been for several months. Only one thought has run through my mind and brought all other thoughts under its subjection. One thought has slowly grown inside my head to the size of a midwestern storm head, a black monolith towering miles above anything and everything that would normally matter to me.

One thought this morning as my fingers constrict around the still-icy steering wheel:

How do I fix my marriage?

It's not a question I ask as if I'm standing in front of the kitchen sink looking at a dribble of water leaking from the faucet that I can fix with a Youtube tutorial and a washer from Home Depot.

It's a question I ask as if I'm a city official standing in front of a building whose structural integrity is in serious question, whose foundation is crumbling and load-bearing beams have rotted, and I'm considering evacuating the building of its occupants and labeling it Condemned.

It's a question I've asked through what has been a gauntlet of counseling sessions,

Dozens of nights slept on the couch,

Hundreds of nights of sleepless disbelief,

Thousands of smiles to convince people I was okay,

The repeated torture of someone inadvertently stabbing the knife in between my ribs when they say, "I love how independent you two are," and my gritting-my-teeth-to-hold-back-the-blood reply: "Yeah, it's pretty nice,"

The absolute deflation of hope when it feels like progress is being made, and suddenly we've slid back down to the bottom of the hill and have to push the rock back up all over again.

Now, as oncoming cars pass and burn circles into my eyes with their headlights, I scroll through the thousands of pieces of advice, the mantras, the maxims, the proverbs, the principles, the exhortations:

Love is patient, love is kind...

Love is selfless.

Love unconditionally.

Be a man and lead your wife.

Marriage isn't about you.

Serve your wife.

Pray for your wife.

Meet her needs.

Expect nothing in return.

Pursue your wife.

Woo your wife.

This morning, though, having thumbed through those solutions so many times that I've worn off the words, I stop at the only one I feel is left:

I don't want to live anymore.

Suddenly, my car isn't my car anymore--the 6:59 glowing on my dash, the line of headlights whizzing by my left, the bumps as my tires ravage road--it all disappears. I find myself in a room I've been before in my dreams: a vast, empty room, in a warehouse maybe, that's all darkness and nothingness and when my mind says the words, they shoot out into the black and it absorbs them and shoots them back at me like a cannon of an echo:

I don't want to live anymore.

I'm now aware of the gaping wound in my chest that I've refused to look at for months--the one that I've secretly known was there but couldn't bring myself to examine because I knew it was too grim and too gruesome and I don't do well with blood and guts.

And that room, the one in which you utter those words, is a lonely room. It's a room that you lock from the inside. You don't let other people into that room. They're not ready to hear the words you speak in that room because you're not even ready for them.

I pull the car over, and I break down.


Like I said, this isn't a story about being suicidal. I didn't want to take my own life.

I was tired. So, so tired.

I wished for death.

When you feel like you're a grain of sand trying to push up on the dark mass of ocean above you, when you feel like you've tried everything and nothing is happening, when you're on the verge of squeezing blood out of your pores as you pray for rescue, when you've grabbed God by the collar and, with rage and hate, breathe, "How could you do this to me!" and when God lets you sink to the floor, and the hot blood escapes your face and your clenched fists wilt in defeat…

You wish for death.

I wished for it. And I asked God for it.

But he didn't give it to me.

Instead, he sent a friend who sat on the floor there with me until I could get up.

He sent another who would simply hug me because that's all he could do sometimes.

He sent another who grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye, and said, "You're going to be okay."

He sent another who would leave me notes that said things like "Keep going," or "I'm proud of you."

He sent another who would cry for me until I recognized it was okay for me to do that, too.

He sent another who kept pouring strength into my glass to keep me from making choices I would regret.

He sent another who told me, "Don't believe your circumstances--you are enough."

And I've never, ever understood more what I actually need and don't need in this life. I've never understood more the saying, "My grace is sufficient for you."

I've never seen understood more clearly how life and death really work.


It's been a while since that day. I never was able to fix my marriage.

But lately, I've been saying the phrase "I could die right now" a lot.

It's not quite the same as that moment in my car. I say I could die right now because I've lived every day for a long time now in such a way that I've laid myself out, lived the most life I could live. If God decides to grant my request to die now, I'll go with a smile on my face knowing I've done everything in my power to squeeze every drop out of the days I have.

Before, I was tired. I was drowning. I couldn't tell which direction was up to be able to swim to the surface.

The only thing I really did during that time was hold on long enough. Eventually, I found myself back on dry land with my face blue and heaving water out of my lungs. And before too long, I could sense solid ground beneath me, and the sun warming my back.

I wasn't dead. I was alive, and I could live.


Feature photo ©2014 Kevin Dooley | Flickr