"Death ... was now a daily presence, blowing over me in cold gusts. I had not conceived precisely how my end would come. In short, I was still keeping the idea of suicide at bay. But plainly the possibility was around the corner, and I would soon meet it face to face."
--William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness
My thoughts have been preoccupied with William Styron these past few weeks since his passing.
When the cold gust finally overcame him and snuffed out his brilliance, what were the last thoughts of the writer, who had struggled so against his darkness visible?
I've often wondered about the final thoughts of those for whom the curtain of depression descended upon their psyche. The deeply wounded who struggle to breathe from one moment to the next, yet will themselves to survive, to find something-anything-in every single day to live for, whether the sprinkle of the sun splashed upon a crystal vase or the arms of a child wrapped tight around their necks in a hug to hold on for.
Upon passing from natural causes, as they walk toward the light and pass the screenplay of their lives, what comes to mind in those final moments as the brain flickers and fades?
Is it irony, that death came naturally and not at the hands of the self? Or success, that the soon to be deceased actually beat depression, the slogging through the thick molasses called life that most see as sweet but where the melancholic fear drowning in swallowed whole despair should their trudging through the thick stuff become psychologically too much to bear?
Or is it surprise? Wait...I'm not ready. When pondering-considering-while in control of my own destiny, I might have been ready at that time, but now that my end has come for me, characteristically unannounced and unwelcome...I choose not-I'd rather not-go at this time.
Perhaps death is met with open arms with the hopes that what lies ahead cannot possibly pain the heart as did the life left behind.
Styron wrote, ""To most who have experienced it, the horror of depression is so overwhelming as to be quite beyond expression...". The writer once recalled standing at the brink of taking his own life. Alone late at night and faced with the struggle of composing a suicide, he forced himself to watch a movie.
"...the characters moved down the hallway of a music conservatory, beyond the walls of which, from unseen musicians, came a contralto voice, a sudden soaring passage from the Brahms Alto Rhapsody. This sound, which like all music — indeed like all pleasure — I had been numbly unresponsive to for months, pierced my heart like a dagger, and in a flood of swift recollection I thought of all the joys the house had known: the children who had rushed through its rooms, the festivals, the love and work, the honestly earned slumber, the voices and the nimble commotion, the perennial tribe of cats and dogs and birds — all this I realized was more than I could ever abandon ... And just as powerfully I realized I could not commit this desecration on myself. I drew upon some last gleam of sanity to perceive the terrifying dimensions of the moral predicament I had fallen into. I woke up my wife and soon telephone calls were made. The next day I was admitted to the hospital."
Ironic in itself, that putting down the pen from which words usually flowed with ease in an ordinary realm, that the inability to come to terms with a note of suicide, lifted the "gray drizzle of horror" from Styron's life. The lack of expression at that defining moment, ultimately led to "Darkness Visible", the writer's sojourn through enveloping depression. "The pain is unrelenting; one does not abandon, even briefly, one's bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes."
As Styron moved toward recovery, he described himself as, "no longer a husk but a body with some of the body's sweet juices stirring again. I had my first dream in many months, confused but to this day imperishable, with a flute in it somewhere, and a wild goose, and a dancing girl."
My hopes are William Styron's final thoughts involved a dancing girl or two.
"...'creepers' For William Styron, I Wish Dancing Girls is a heartfelt tribute to the late novelist, who fought the good fight against depression and wrote openly about it."
--Daily Kos, 12/4/2006