Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sympathizing v.s. Excusing

Earlier this week, this happened. Yeah. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in a bit more, in case you haven’t already heard the story.

It’s terrible. Issy Stapleton is a 14-year-old Autistic girl, and her mother, Kelli Stapleton, is facing charges for trying to kill both Issy and herself with carbon-monoxide poisoning. I can’t say I knew Issy or her family personally, but I have friends on Facebook who did. I can say this—Issy did not deserve what happened. Kelli Stapleton’s job as her mother was at the very bare minimum to keep her daughter alive. Issy may have been aggressive, she may have been having those difficult to bear teenaged years, but there is never an excuse for murder, save in self-defense.

Now, have I made it clear that I deplore what Kelli Stapleton did? That I am grieving on behalf of an Autistic girl who has been permanently brain-damaged by an act of cruelty? Good. Because now I’m going to fuck with your expectations. I sympathize with Kelli Stapleton.

“But Mrs. Molotov, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t feel bad for the murderer while claming you’re mourning for the victimized 14-year-old.” I think Kelli Stapleton deserves to be fully punished by the law for what she did—attempted murder is attempted murder. There is no “unless you’re a(n)…”  No. Sorry Kelli, you fucked up, you have to live with what you did. I did too, once.

Here’s the thing. I have tried to take my own life 4 times. Actually, that’s not true. Those were the attempts that required hospitalization. And that won’t begin to cover the times I sat and thought about hurting myself, sometimes even going so far as to have a plan. I never tried to take anyone else down with me. But I can speak to that level of hopelessness. I may not agree with Kelli that what she was feeling hopeless about was worth feeling hopeless about at all, but that isn’t the point. The point is, something made her feel that low. She was sweeping a giant, shameful emotion under the rug, and didn’t feel she had anything that could make it go away. Where I get fuzzy is how this ends up hurting Issy.

Maybe she thought Issy was the problem. And she didn’t want to live with the shame of people knowing that. And I can’t agree with that mindset. But I can sympathize with a person’s pain while simultaneously not excusing their actions. That’s exactly what people did to me when I tried to kill myself. People wanted to help me. People were angry that I could do something so foolish and selfish. But they still loved me. They still reached out, and said, “I’m here for you,” without just saying, “Suicide is TOTALLY okay!”

No one (I hope) should say that it’s okay to excuse Kelli’s actions. Kelli made a giant-ass mistake, and you had better believe she’s going to be doing time for it. It’s just, maybe instead of spending our time yelling at each other over whether her actions were right, we should be focusing more on the mindset that she had leading up to the murder-suicide. If we can learn to recognize the signs in other families before they get to that point, maybe we can at the very least reassure that person that their feelings are valid, but the actions they’re considering are not.

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