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THOMPSON: Remembering Anthony Bourdain

June 18, 2018 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


It’s a pity more people didn’t understand and appreciate Anthony Bourdain before June 8.

Television specials and articles too numerous to count have memorialized him following his suicide…as well they should. He was uniquely talented…and not merely as a chef or raconteur or bon vivant. He was all of those, of course, and so much more.

Bourdain was more evolved than most of us. He proved it time and time again in visits to so many far away places. His ability to bridge long-standing gaps between stereotypes and realities while sharing local cuisine left us with a willingness to consider our prejudices and embrace the unknown.

He had a loyal and loving following when he killed himself. Ironically, a lot more people know him now than ten days ago…and those who just found him are every bit as sad as long-time fans.

I met Tony in 2002 at a culinary event in Miami. His book “Kitchen Confidential” - a more or less confessional of the hazards lurking behind most restaurant kitchen walls - came out in 2000 and was already a New York Times Best Seller. He was as affable in person as he was in front of the camera. Few people - even trained actors - pull that off as well as he did.

I spent part of that evening with him and it was as though we had long been friends. I would see him just one other time in New York in 2005 at another dinner. I was surprised that he not only remembered my face, but as we shook hands, he asked, “How are things in Florida?” That’s how engaging he was…he listened…because he cared.

We chatted for perhaps 30 minutes during a pre-dinner reception over some passed hors d'oeuvres and Champagne at The Mark in New York City. There were other celebrities there…but they seemed as though they were there to be seen. Tony was part of the fabric of the evening…just as he was with every place he visited.

I wondered why this man - someone who both men and women not only admired and respected but might willingly trade places with - killed himself? It has been said…and I first heard this talking with a man in Jamaica…”You don’t know if the roof is leaking, unless you go inside.”

It is not always easy to detect obvious signs that someone is troubled enough to kill themselves…we wouldn’t have so many suicides if it was easy to see inside someone else’s heart and mind. I don’t know exactly what Anthony Bourdain was thinking…feeling…hours and minutes before he took his own life. It has to have been horrific to believe that death was a better alternative than life.

Suicide is a problem here in Canada…and in the United States. Indeed, suicide plagues people of all ages worldwide…and for those between ages 15 and 29…it’s the second leading cause of death. Every day…every single day in Canada…11 people kill themselves. In the United States, there are 123 suicides every day.

Various mental health organizations say that between seven and 10 bereaved “survivors”…family and close friends…are profoundly affected. So much so that they often develop physical and mental health issues after someone else’s suicide.

But even those sobering statistics don’t give total weight to the widespread nature of the issues of suicide. In both Canada and the U.S., almost 20 times as many people try to kill themselves…and thankfully succeed at living instead.

Here in the Okanagan - a place many call one of the best places in Canada to live - is also a place where too many people kill themselves. Most suicide deaths here are a result of hanging…which is how Anthony Bourdain chose to end his life. I don’t believe there is a good choice for killing yourself…and we all have to do more to reverse the growing trend of people taking their own lives.

You don’t have to do this on your own. There are organizations in the Okanagan that stand ready, wiling and able to help…from learning more about suicide to crisis response.

The Okanagan Suicide Awareness Society (OSAS) in Kelowna offers resources in areas of suicide awareness, education, prevention and survivor support. Its website - suicideawreness.ca - is worth a look.

You should be aware of the various crisis lines here, as well. The Canadian Mental Health Association has a crisis line for the B.C. Interior at 1-888-353-2273. Again, check out the OSAS website noted above for complete crisis and intervention information here in the Okanagan.

Beyond awareness and education about suicides where we live…we should all care enough to engage family and friends…and acquaintances…if we believe there might be any chance that someone is thinking about suicide.

Calls to suicide prevention centres in Canada and the U.S. have increased by 25 percent since the suicides of celebrities - Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade - in the past two weeks. I guess if there’s any silver lining to this dark cloud it is that a significant number of people are reaching out for help.

I have little doubt that anyone reading this would have liked being around Tony Bourdain…and would have come away from the encounter enriched…wiser than they once were. Certainly, he will be sorely missed.

But his suffering - a despair so deep that taking his own life seemed not only okay but the right thing to do - was no greater than those with whom we go to school and work…and say “hello” to in the grocery store…and sit down with at dinner every night. These dear people are still with us. Let’s try - earnestly - to keep it that way.


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