A friend of mine committed suicide recently, and I find myself instinctively trying not only to understand why she did it and the cause and effect of how it happened, but trying to impose meaning -- trying to work out what the "significance" of her death is, and looking to sum up her whole life the way a funeral celebrant might, and say these are the patterns and themes and shape of it, this what it amounted to, this is what it represented, these are the takeaway ethical messages for your own life. But is there really any significance in suicide, is there any point to asking what it means, or is it senseless, like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn or any other physical event or act? And is it disrespectful to try to interpret meaning into someone's life or death or reduce their life to a moral lesson? The process not only feels a little bit like a lie, but also like it objectifies them and takes away from their humanity.

You are obviously grappling with your friend's death, and I appreciate the sophistication and sensitivity evident in your question.

I think it's crucial here to distinguish the meaning or "significance" of suicide from the meaning or significance of your friend's suicide. It's important that we resist what I think of as the easy mystification of suicide. There is an unfortunate tendency to infer from our inability to understand a particular suicide or to imagine ourselves engaging in the act ourselves that suicide is unfathomable, incomprehensible, or beyond reason. The truth is we understand a fair bit about the causes of suicide, have growing knowledge of how to prevent it, and so on. We should not let our emotional reaction to suicide -- whether it be shock, dismay, anger, whatever -- lead us to treat suicide as a "senseless" or trivial act.

That said, what we know about suicide in general can be difficult to extrapolate to particular people and cases. Individual people are in certain ways more complex than our theories about human nature can sometimes capture. I don't think that it's necessarily wrong for you to interrogate why she engaged in this act and to evaluate it morally. But as you say there is the risk that in so doing, you "objectify" your friend or reduce her to her suicidal choices or acts. And that, I agree, you ought not do. She, like anyone, had a history: as someone's daughter, your friend, and so on. Trying to see her suicide as a part of her life, and trying to draw lessons (moral or otherwise) from it, need not require you to reduce her to 'a suicidal person.' Quite the contrary: her suicide can probably only be grasped against the totality of her life. In this respect, your duty to her is the same duty I suspect we have to everyone as we attempt to understand them — to sympathetically, compassionately, and fairly appraise them as the complex wholes as they are, and not distort those wholes only by reference to a single choice or episode in their lives.

Best wishes to you as you work these matters through.

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