Saturday, June 19, 2010

More on the Case of the Doctor's Suicide

I am continuing to transcribe the investigatory documents concerning the case of the doctor who committed suicide in St. Augustine in 1810.  The file contains 82 pages, consisting in testimony of witnesses to the event, evidentiary submissions, and an inventory and sale of the decedent's personal effects, as well as papers concerning the disposition of the proceeds of the estate (the doctor seems to have died intestate; I'll determine that, of course, as I go through the documents).  It is going to take several days to transcribe this one.

Further developments, however, do paint a sad picture indeed.  The doctor's wife had died fourteen years previously, and apparently he was devoted to her, for he had told his friends that he was miserable without her.  Their two daughters were in Ireland, by that time probably grown young ladies, and according to the documents in the case, were well taken care of.  These are the heirs in Ireland mentioned in the first few pages of the file, which I referred to in yesterday's post.  They were residing in Dublin.

In one document, a witness to the event, another doctor, is asked by the investigator if there were not any signs that the doctor was suicidal, with an eye to the question of could it have been prevented?  I wish that investigator were around here in the early years of the 21st Century, for he would find that we do not have much more in the way of an answer to that question than he did in 1810.  Yes, there are signs, as there were in the case of this unfortunate doctor, and the witness says as much.  But as we see these days, those signs are not always given proper priority, not acted upon.  Is it that we are not any better at it than they were in 1810 or that it is just difficult to know?  And how much of a role did denial play then, as it plays now?  And the idea that one just "toughs it out" when life gets rough with us.  Certainly men in St. Augustine in 1810 were expected to soldier on in the face of all difficulties and despairs.  It is a legacy that bears on the earlier question of why we do not always pick up on the signs given by one who may be contemplating suicide.

The implications of suicide in our genealogy are stark indeed.  It is still a subject people do not like to discuss, though in today's atmosphere of letting it all hang out, and quite frequently on national television, there is more talk of it than previously.  It is painful for those who remain, bringing self-blame, despair, and fear.  One can only wonder how this doctor's daughters reacted and felt, and how the news was treated in their families, back in Dublin.  It is no less a difficulty and a tragedy today than it was then, when a very lonely man just wanted to be reunited with the dear wife who had left him too early.

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