The Theme from MASH - Suicide is Not Painless
By Karyl Chastain Beal
The Theme from MASH
I flipped the button on the remote control, pausing mindlessly at each channel to see the picture on the screen; I could not motivate myself to do anything else. I had worked all day and was too tired to move. I needed to do something that would require no expenditure of energy, no time to feel. Because feeling hurts.
All of a sudden, the theme from the old television show, MASH, rang out of the screen. I looked up to see Hawkeye and and Hotlips laughing together as the show began.
I could not press the button to switch the channel. I could not turn it off.
I felt my heart slowly and coldly sinking down inside my body. The music - I closed my eyes.
My mind flashed back to the hazy image of my daughter, seated on the claw-foot piano stool in front of our hundred-year-old Steinway piano, practicing her music in the living room. Practicing the last song she ever played.
The theme from MASH has another name, even though many are not aware of it. The original name was --- "Suicide is Painless."
The song has a light catchy melody; it's one that you find yourself humming over and over, if you aren't careful. Arlyn enjoyed playing --- the theme from MASH, along with a few dozen other songs on a regular basis. We enjoyed listening.
But for about a week before Arlyn left, this special song rose to the top of the chart, when Arlyn practiced. Every day for about a week, my child sat at the piano and practiced --- the theme from MASH. She often practiced music over and over until she perfected it, so no one thought it odd.
But then one day, Arlyn skipped piano practice - and shot herself in the head.
Perhaps as she placed the barrel of the hunting rifle in her mouth, she thought of the words, "Suicide is painless." Perhaps she was hearing the tune play over and over in her mind. Perhaps she pulled the trigger remembering the words.
There is no way to get inside of Arlyn's mind to know what her motive was as she played the song to herself --- alone in our living room.
~ Was she trying to send a message to others? Was she secretly hoping someone would ask her what she thought about the words?
~ Did she want someone to shout out, "No! Suicide is NOT painless!"
~ Did she play the song to reinforce in her mind what she wanted to believe - that suicide would be a quick, easy way to stop the emotional pain she felt?
~ Did she play the song to give herself confidence to do what she was afraid to do otherwise?
~ Did she play the song to hypnotize herself into taking action?
~ Did she play the song to lull herself to sleep?
We will never know the answers.
We know that Arlyn found solace in music --- that music --- at times, was her best friend. Perhaps her only friend.
Music had been her safe haven when she needed to separate from the world. (I even suspect that music replaced the thumb she sucked when she was a little girl, to relieve stress.)
So I believe that the music to Suicide is Painless wrapped Arlyn in a soft blanket gently that week, making it easy for her to finally close her eyes --- forever.
So here I am, listening to --- the theme from MASH, and hating the site of Hawkeye and Hot Lips. The puddle of tears that is slowing spreading in my heart feels hot, and I begin to shake. Self-blame is a viscious judge.
My child connected more with music than with me - and I am her mother. The one she should have connected with most. It must be my fault.
Arlyn pressed the piano keys over and over to produce the same haunting --- chilling melody; if only she had let me press her to my heart and caress her hurting soul. Why didn't she? It must be my fault.
Is it possible that music that had uplifted her in life also helped take her down? Why couldn't I do that? It must be my fault.
So I listen to the song and begin to hate myself --- again. But then, I think of my child, and I cry.
Suicide is painless? Hmmm .... I truly hope it *was* painless for her; No mother wants her child to suffer - ever.
But the truth is that the title is a lie. A despicable lie. Suicide is NOT painless --- to those left behind.
Suicide causes a lifetime of pain in the minds and hearts of those whose lives were touched by the person who left. A lifetime of guilt and self-blame. A lifetime of regrets and struggling to understand the incomprehensible.
And learning to forgive yourself is not easy.
So what is Arlyn's song now? What would she play if she were here?
I believe Arlyn would compose a song called, "Listen."
I believe that she would urge them to make time to listen *to* their children and *with* their children --- especially when they stop singing "Old Mac Donald had a Farm" and place headsets on their ears to listen to heavy metal and other 'wild' music.
When teenagers play loud, fast, angry, powerful music, I wonder if that's a sign that they are struggling with anger and depression. I wonder if it's a sign that they need more direction, counseling, or support and encouragement. I wonder if they are seeking help in the only way they know to communicate.
I cannot rewind the music and bring my little girl back, but maybe what I have learned from her tragic death can help someone else; maybe other mothers and fathers will not have to pick out a casket for their daughters or sons.
My advice to parents is to understand that music can actually be a bridge between your children and you. Walk with them on that bridge.
Listen to the songs they like. You don't have to like them, but find out what it's all about. Ask your children what they think about the words, especially when the words seem rough, chaotic, or shocking. Ask them what the music does for them and how it makes them feel. Then, listen with your heart.
So I sit here, listening to music on television, and I wonder. If I had listened more carefully, is it possible that Arlyn would not have spent that week playing -- the theme from Mash? Is it possible .... ?
Karyl Chastain Beal