At this point in my career, it is very rare that I am shocked by a death related story. But the story of Mark Rife is like nothing I have ever heard. It goes against everything we, as a western culture, believe to be true about life.
And by “life,” I am referring to the kind of life in this photo. Propaganda life. Jumping through the air with your face towards to sun and a profound sense of well being and adventure and yoga and charity life. The type of life that if we just get our damn hands on we know we’d be happy.
Mark Rife’s story was not reported by the national media. My best friend from high school had this status appear in her facebook feed earlier this month. Since Hilo, Hawaii is a small town, she did some intrepid googling to see who he was.
Here is the background to Mark’s story, a write up from a blog of one of Mark’s friends. It’s worth reading.
“Last Thursday, a guy I went to college with, Mark Rife, committed suicide. As I understand the story, three years ago his wife Sarah died due to complications from a fall off a 75 foot waterfall. She fell; he dove in after her. Against all odds, they thought she had recovered. Life had returned to some degree of normal; but then six months later, she died in her sleep. Mark was devastated.
In a video he left behind, Mark describes leaving Sarah’s funeral, driving who knows where and simply wanting to die — but he remembered the time they watched the film Juliet and Her Romeo, a film he loved, and he remembered Sarah’s question: “Do you think Romeo would have still killed himself if he’d waited 1,000 days?”
So, Mark went on a 1,000 day odyssey, with funds from Sarah’s life insurance policy, to give him time to see if his choice would still be the same. Would he still want to kill himself? Mark traveled, explored, met knew people. He says he “followed every impulse.” Mark had been a pastor in Hawaii, and he left his life behind.”
Long story short, after 1000 days of living and exploring 22 countries around the world, Mark Rife decided that he DID want to kill himself. He didn’t want to live in a world without Sarah and he was out.
This is his vimeo suicide note:
The video is difficult to watch. If makes you feel far too intimate with Mark, privy to some wild secret pain. Yet he made a very calculated decision to make his suicide public. It’s his own vimeo channel, his own editing. You would almost think this was an art project, or a mean spirited internet troll pWning the day away. But here is Mark’s obituary from the local Hawaii paper. This is a real person and he is really dead. Less than a month ago he was alive, and now he’s dead.
Mark’s death was actually incredibly transgressive in its way. It just doesn’t end where we are comfortable with it ending. Popular culture tells us that when you lose your wife and you spend 1000 days traveling the world- learning, loving, experiencing, etc- you always decide you want to live. Renounce death and learn to love once again, save some children, suck the marrow from life. Look at all the life lessons you’ve learned along the way.
The makes Mark Rife a cruel reality, he who dared say, quite publicly, “yup, tried that, still filled with unrelenting ennui and despair, I choose death.”
If Mark had made the choice to continue his life, he could have sold his 1000 day story to a publisher and ended up with an Eat Pray Love style romantic comedy. Simply because that is the narrative that people like to hear. A happy, life affirming ending to a tragic tale. Become a Buddhist and travel the world and slough the burden of grief. Be born into new life.
Mark kept a detailed blog of his 1000 day adventure, which we may never see because Tumblr took it down immediately after his suicide. I do not know whether or not this was at his family’s request, but it is distressing because he clearly wanted us to see his work. He painstakingly blogged, created content, made videos. In his suicide video he says that the website explains, “a bit more of my process, how I came to this conclusion.” To keep the blog censured is not the way to honor his death. God forbid we face the reality of a man’s decision to die when we could all just be re-blogging that picture of a squirrel in a ballgown instead.
Mark obviously did not view his life or his death as a personal matter. He wanted to live them both out loud, so to speak. You can see in his eyes that he truly believed that he was going to be with Sarah. His life since her death was not as sweet as the chance that he could be reunited with her again, in whatever his conception of the beyond.
Do not think I condone his decision. Of course suicide is a horrific choice when you are young, healthy, and have friends and family who love you. But suicide is the choice that Mark made whether we agree with it or not. And we cannot ignore or censor that choice.
We’d all like to believe that if we had a 1,000 days, enough money, and a mandate to rediscover the joys of life we’d be able to do so. That there exists enough love and compassion and natural wonder out there to sustain us. But for Mark there just wasn’t enough. I do not know Mark, but I believe he lived as a man who knew death, but not as a man who knew death acceptance. He set out to travel the world and find ideals outside of himself. But make no mistake, grief will wait. As it waits for all of us who dare not look it in the eye.