Paths away from suicide

By Marilyn Duff, Contributing Editor of Dispatches

June 1994 – An open letter to late tock singer Kurt Cobain's one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Frances: 

Like a lot of people, I’m dreadfully sorry that your daddy didn’t choose to see you grow up. I’m sure he loved you, but he killed himself because he was sick with a disease called “despair,” a contagious disease made worse, perhaps, by the messages of hopelessness he sang and the drugs he took.

Some people will probably tell you that what I’m about to say is simplistic and naive, big words you can’t even understand yet. But, compared to you or even your daddy, I’m an old person and I’ve found these things to be true. If he had lived, he might have learned them, too, and passed them on to you. Since he did not, I will.

• The feeling of abandonment that he may have felt over his own parents’ divorce was no excuse for abandoning you. Instead, he could have taken revenge against those who were not there for him by vowing always to be there for you until you were able to care for yourself.

• Drugs are not a solution to any problem and almost always become the biggest problem of all – demanding, incessant masters of your body and soul.

• Music can have a message of hope, love and courage in it, instead of the legacy of chaos, rage and nihilism he sang for himself, other kids and eventually you.

• All the money he was paid by his record producers and MTV to spread his message of rage and despair did nothing to help him, you or his fans. In fact, money can sometimes complicate your life and make you wish for simpler days.

• He was a role model whether he wanted to be or not, just as we all are. Even if we never stand on a stage before a packed stadium as he did, someone in our life will be watching us, listening to our words, studying us when we least expect it: a little brother, a friend, our kids. And someone may imitate us – for good, or bad.

• Disorder begets disorder. Chaos in our room and slovenliness in our appearance beget chaos in the mind and spirit. It’s therapeutic to set a room to rights – smooth a bed, straighten a desk, wash dishes, pick up clothes. It’s something you can do for yourself – not because someone told you to.

• Seeing yourself in a mirror with matted hair in your eyes is a downer. The comb was first invented to ferret out lice, did you know that? A hot shower, clean clothes and combed hair are palliatives that make you feel better. At bedtime after a hard day’s work, they can help you sleep better than Seconal.

• Being a “slacker” can give you too much time to feel sorry for yourself. Also, sluggishness and inaction feed on themselves, increasing a tendency to do nothing. But summoning the courage to get up and move your body – if only to take a walk or do some work – will release a natural tranquilizer into your bloodstream, better than Valium.

• The world has always had ugliness and hatred in it and always will. Most days all you can do is “brighten the corner where you are.” But brightening that corner can be a powerful tranquilizer against despair not only for you but for the ones around you. A bouquet of wildflowers on a bare table has been known to lift the spirits of everybody around it.

• Also, you can get a rush from planting a garden, tending it, nourishing it and watching it grow. A lot of rage can be dispelled by pulling weeds.

• Life is something like a mountain range where dark valleys give way to exhilarating peaks if you have the courage to keep climbing. Helping others out of their own dark valleys can lift you with them higher than any drug – and give you purpose.

• Caring for the sick, teaching the ignorant, comforting a child, inspiring the discouraged – all are things that help fight despair, yours and others’ – and make you feel better about yourself as a person.

Belief in some force for good beyond yourself can give you strength during scary times. (“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me....”)

• “Generation X,” your daddy’s generation that he’s said to represent, may have been abandoned more often by their divorced fathers, dropped off at day-care more often by working mothers or left to entertain themselves with TV and violent video games more often than previous generations. But they do not have to repeat those mistakes with their own kids. No new marriage, no new house, no new car is worth making your kids feel lonely and unloved.

Yes, little Frances, some people will call all this Pollyanna-ish nonsense, but life is full of choices, and these are just as valid as the ones your dad made. I’m sorry that no one ever taught them to him. They might have saved his life. Instead, you have to live with the knowledge that he chose to leave you. But that painful knowledge can be turned into a steely determination on your part to live your life differently from the way he did. Good luck, little one. A lot of us are rooting for you.