Julie's agony shows why suicide is never answer to depression
Julie Burchill has been, since the 1980s, the very embodiment of a fearless, witty, hedonistic and confident female voice in the British media: a celebrity figure around whom a fan club developed because of her affirmative view that a woman must live the life she wants and the life she loves, undaunted by convention or social hypocrisies.
She has often written openly about her life choices, and always, boldly and courageously, stood by them. But her most recent public message, put on her Facebook page last week, was heart-wrenchingly sad: she announced the death of her son Jack, aged 29, by suicide. "My beloved son Jack Landesman killed himself earlier this week. Look after the people you love, as I tried to and failed." She who had always been so open and so public about her life, now sought privacy in grief, and asked friends not to be in touch. "Thank you for all your good wishes and offers of support, but I have my Dan [her husband Daniel Raven]….the love of my friends is a wonderful source of fun in my life, but excuse me if I don't need it right now."
Heaven knows any mother - or father - who has been through the loss of a child will sympathise with her: and will have full understanding that this is the worst emotional sorrow a parent can experience. Jack Landesman was a bass guitarist in a rock band, and had suffered from depression. His father, Cosmo Landesman, Julie's second husband, is a witty writer whose parents, Jay and Fran Landesman were an adorable American bohemian couple, veterans of the Jack Kerouac beat generation, and habitués of Soho whom I knew.
Although Julie's marriage to Cosmo broke up when she went to live with her then lesbian lover, Charlotte Raven, and Cosmo was awarded custody of Jack, I remember the late Fran Landesman speaking very affectionately about Julie Burchill, her former daughter-in-law.
The judge in the Burchill-Landesman divorce case was less generous, and awarded custody of Jack, then aged nine, to his father, on the grounds of Julie's unconventional lifestyle. I know that Cosmo was a devoted father, but it has also been reported that Jack greatly missed his mother - as any child would.
Divorcing parents can contribute to anyone's struggles in life, and yet depression can hit people with the most stable backgrounds.
Jack could have suffered from depression in any circumstances: even if many studies show that creative people, working in the arts and the music world, can be more volatile.
Julie - who subsequently broke up with Charlotte Raven and is now married to Charlotte's brother, who she describes as having been "a wonderful stepfather to my poor boy" - has two sons, and has written, previously, about her more estranged relationship with her elder son, Robert, from her first marriage. Being frank and open as ever, she wrote, that only Jack was "the apple of my eye, my Achilles heel". Robert was out of her life.
It is simply a terribly sad story, as is any loss of a young person by suicide. Speaking on the BBC yesterday, a volunteer from Survivors of Bereavement (which, like the excellent Irish organisation Console, supports those bereaved by suicide) commented that only those who have been through this agonising experience can understand it. "It feels so isolating - and of course there is guilt."
Ingrid, the volunteer who counsels the bereaved by suicide, said that society often did not react appropriately to the victims of suicide.
And these tragedies show that there are, indeed, "victims" of suicide - those left behind and asking "why?" Even where there is a compassionate understanding of the darkness which depression can bring, there is still that haunting "why?"
Just recently, I spoke to two women who had lost a husband and a daughter to suicide, and even many years on, there was still grief - and "why?"
In the context of these losses, it is dismaying to observe the direction in which the "assisted suicide" movement is now going - in some societies, now, towards advocating euthanasia as a "cure" for depression. A chilling report in a recent edition of the magazine 'The New Yorker' gave a bleak picture of the situation in Belgium, where the pro-euthanasia movement is recommending that suicide be regarded as an "autonomous choice" for depressives.
The case of a divorcee, Godelieva De Troyer, was tracked: depressed after her partner left her, she applied for "assisted suicide" and it was duly carried out without any member of her family being informed in advance. Her distraught son simply received a terse message afterwards saying that his mother, who was in her 50s, had requested euthanasia and her wishes had been carried out, on grounds of "autonomy".
But as every such case attests, suicide affects other people. Sometimes for the rest of their lives. The loss of Jack Landesman will always be remembered by his mother - and his father - and will have changed every aspect of their lives forever.