COMMENTARY: A chef, a designer and emotional triggers
He was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again. —Hamlet, Act 1. Scene 2.
I was deep into the results of the Ontario provincial election on Friday morning, interviewing a political science professor, when my radio producer posted a note on my studio screen: “CNN: Chef and author Anthony Bourdain dead by suicide at age 61.”
I became numb. I lost track of the academic’s opinion on who would be in Doug Ford’s new cabinet. I struggled with the last few questions and probably sounded quite confused. The election was obviously the top story of the morning and I had already talked to pundits, Global news personalities and the listeners.
But my mind was on one thing and one thing only: My God, my poor wife. Jodi.
Several days earlier, we were told that chic New York-based designer Kate Spade had hanged herself at home after a hugely successful career in the accessory industry. I admit I had never heard of Kate Spade until that terrible news, but I’ve never purchased a handbag.
Anthony Bourdain was a hero of mine. I’ve read Kitchen Confidential more times than I can count. I own at least three of his other books and I have travelled the world with the acerbic Chef in glorious 16:9 high definition television.
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We had the opportunity to talk on several occasions whenever he was passing through Toronto, promoting another book or television project. I always believed he and I shared the same iconoclastic worldview and I knew we both didn’t suffer fools gladly.
What I didn’t know was that Bourdain could not suffer his own self. He hanged himself with his bathrobe belt in his room at a five-star French hotel while in production for his massively popular cable series Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
My brother-in-law Tim was a huge fan. When Bourdain’s groundbreaking book was published in 2000, my wife and her sister both bought him the book for Christmas. My dog-eared copy is one of the two he lent me and said, “Keep it.”
Tim worked as a chef and his own history in the kitchen was never confidential. He talked as openly about the stress, the addictions, the sex, the fistfights and the joy and despair of cooking as Bourdain wrote.
I wrote about Tim last October when, after a long summer of struggle, he hanged himself in his apartment; his action has placed his remaining family into grieving process that only time will abate.
When Spade died, Jodi didn’t talk about it much. That doesn’t mean she didn’t feel wounded again. Bourdain, however, crushed her. Tim and Bourdain were so similar; they shared the same passion for food and punk music.
And this came after a plotline on her favourite British soap Coronation Street recently highlighted the unexpected suicide of a popular character. That moved her so much that she contacted the producers at ITV to thank them for how delicately they handled such a brutal twist. To their credit, they wrote her back and genuinely wished her peace.
This column is not meant to be another 700 words on how suicide transcends fame and financial status. There have been enough words published along those lines over the past few days.
Frankly, I can’t think of a reason why I need to explain why I’m writing this. You just observe the hurt and try to put it to page, letting what you see and hear traverse the body’s nervous system to your fingers and press the keys on a keyboard until something makes sense. But how do you make sense of something so nonsensical as suicide?
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Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain each left behind a young daughter. To some, that prompted the accusation that both were selfish in their motives.
Tim died childless, though I know he always wanted children. He was a hero to my stepsons. But do not, please do not, immediately conclude suicide is a selfish decision.
There is no “selfish” in desperation. No more so than there is selfish in addiction or selfish in despair.
Or selfish in grief.
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
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