“Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.
And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him.
So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together.” (I Samuel 31:4-6)
“I Shot the Sheriff” is a 1974 pop music hit song recorded by Eric Clapton. Wikipedia tells us the song was written by Bob Marley, told from the point of view of a man who admits to having killed the local sheriff, but claims to have been falsely accused of killing the deputy sheriff.
No, this piece is really not about the song, “I Shot the Sheriff.” I was trying to find a clever title about the apparent suicide by gunshot wound of Middlesex County (Massachusetts) Sheriff James DiPaola. I believe the news was first broadcast on Boston media outlets this past Saturday evening. It was a shocking new story. DiPaola had been found dead in a Wells, Maine hotel room. He died from a gunshot to the head. HIs body was found by the hotel cleaning staff. It has been reported that he left a suicide note on his laptop computer.
This piece is in no way meant to heap more pain on the DiPaola family, nor to any friends of Sheriff DiPaola. I did not know Sheriff DiPaola personally. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones. My memory of Sheriff DiPaola is from the Natick 4th of July parades in which Sheriff DiPaola usually participated. As I recall, they’d have a classic 1960s “Sheriff” car in the parade each year. If my memory serves me correctly, it was a Plymouth sedan from the mid-1960s. I believe they also had at least two other vehicles in the parade each year. The Natick parade features a lot of “politicians” and public figures. That’s especially true in an election year such as this one. I’ve shaken hands with a number of politicians and aspirants for political office over the years. I definitely remember Sheriff DiPaola. He had that heavyset Italian-American law enforcement officer look. I mean that with no disrespect. He was a guy that made an impression- that really looked like a cop or somebody in authority. I’ve shaken hands with SO many over the years (the pols really work the crowds at that parade) that I can’t be 100% sure, but I THINK I did shake hands with the Sheriff...maybe even this year.
On Emily Rooney’s “Greater Boston” public affairs show this evening on Boston’s WGBH channel 2, there was a segment devoted to discussing the Sheriff’s apparent suicide. Emily Rooney had Republican State Senator Bob Hedlund, former Democratic State Senator Warren Tolman, and Boston University’s Tom Fiedler discussing Sheriff DiPaola’s passing.
I’m a regular viewer of “Greater Boston”. I seldom miss the show unless I’m working at the telephone answering service during that time. I had NOT been aware that Sheriff DiPaola was a guest on “Greater Boston” just one week ago. Somehow I missed that broadcast. They ran a brief clip of that interview tonight. Considering he dies just over four days later, it was very eerie to watch. James DiPaola had been scrutiny from the media for planning to use a loophole to collect both his salary and his pension at the same time. (After the media scrutiny, he changed his mind about doing this, and in fact announced his resignation.) He was also under an ethics investigation by the state over other matters; although that investigation has apparently only uncovered rather minor infractions.
Emily Rooney commented on how positive and pleasant DiPaola was on her program a week ago. She also commented that he had gone on the “Howie Carr” radio show on WRKO that same day. I was not aware of either media appearance. Howie Carr is a brutal critic of politicians and “political hacks”. Most will not touch his show with a ten foot pole. It suggested great transparency that the Sheriff would go on these programs.
Of course, the $64,000 question is: If Sheriff DiPaola was so pleasant, transparent, friendly, and confident before the media just one week ago, why would he commit suicide just a few days later?
I would guess family and friends are already saying, “If ONLY he could have talked to somebody. If ONLY he could have told somebody what he was thinking about doing”. That’s true. None of us knows what was going on in Sheriff DiPaola’s mind, but it’s my guess that his (apparent) suicide was NOT a rash act that he suddenly decided to do over the weekend. My guess is that even as he was making those media appearances, he had it all planned. He knew what he was gong to do. Those appearances were a “good-bye” and meant to leave a positive impression with the public.
I write those words with no disdain, and again, wishing no ill on the family.
Depression and suicide are complicated issues. When somebody kills himself or herself, it’s usually asked why they couldn’t have talked to somebody... or why they would resort to such an act.
WIthout going into much detail, I can say that there is depression and suicide in my extended family background (on my mother’s side) and so our family has been touched by the illness (and it is an illness) of clinical depression. Think of the awful spot of being a public figure, being well thought of and respected, having an image to uphold, wanting not to let anyone down, and also struggling with serious self doubt that you feel you cannot tell ANYONE about. Think of being such a person and confiding in someone that you’re having suicidal thoughts.
It’s kind of like that line in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where Matthew Broderick pans to the camera that you’ve got to be careful not to overdo the faking sick thing...that a good fake fever can end you up in a doctor’s office and that’s worse than school. Telling somebody you’re thinking about killing yourself can lower some people’s esteem and image of you from a “ten” to maybe a “two” and worst of all can get you committed to a psychiatric unit for three days evaluation. If you think it’s a struggle for a gay person to “come out of the closet”, try being a person who’s thinking about committing suicide. After the poor person has revealed it and ended up in the psychiatric unit, they may be so distraught that they really WILL commit suicide! It’s a real “Catch 22”, isn’t it?
You can tell I’ve had some life experience with this stuff, and indeed I have. With such a sensitive matter, you can’t share very much because you end up breaking confidences. I will say that I think of an elderly woman I will call Mrs. Lundstrom (not her real name). She was around 75. Her husband had been a successful Baptist minister for decades and had died of cancer. They had no children. Mrs. Lundstrom’s whole life was being a pastor’s wife and serving in the church. When her husband died, they had been at that particular church for nineteen years. She lived in a beautiful parsonage. Within a few months, she had to move out of the parsonage and moved in with her mother who was almost 100 and had dementia. Mrs. Lundstrom did not like the new pastor at all...a weak, nerdy man of around 30. She fell into deep depression. One day after a friend took her grocery shopping, she announced to her friend, “I’m going into the house and DRINK BLEACH!” Within a short period of time, she was in a psychiatric unit. I remember visiting her. She was so sad and ashamed. I just listened to her and tried to show her the love of Christ. I certainly did not condemn her. I thought no less of her as a person or as a Christian, and I told her that. We had a good relationship, and she died of natural causes a few years later.
I’m not saying suicide is “right”. It’s not right. It’s really not O.K. It devastates the people left behind. We had a beloved member of First Assembly of God of Framingham commit suicide in December of 1998. I realized later that he’d shown all the signs, but we didn’t see them at the time. He gave things away to people. He was particularly faithful to church attendance in the final six weeks of his life, and paid compliments to various people in the church. There was a warm phone call to me just days before he killed himself. He told me he just wanted me to know as his pastor that “everything’s fine” with him. I realized later it was his good-bye call. His death devastated me and just about everyone at our church. We did not have pews, but chairs that we set up in rows for our main meeting room. I actually changed the pattern of the chairs after his death so people would not be distracted by thinking about “his” chair.
Sheriff DiPaola had been Sheriff since 1996. Before that, he was a Malden Police Officer, and had been a Democratic State Rep. He also spent time in the military. He leaves behind a wife and three daughters. Yes, if only he could have talked to somebody.
With a LOT of people there’s a tremendous stigma about suicide and a tremendous stigma about clinical depression. Clinically depressed people can be looked upon sort of as “lepers”. They’re thought of as “weak” and as people who should hang their heads and be very ashamed. Listen, I’m not saying people SHOULDN’T be placed in psychiatric units for observation. Sometimes for their own safety that needs to be done. But (and I suspect some will roll their eyes, thinking, “here we go, another politically correct thing”) there’s got to be a change in how we view clinically depressed people and how we view people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Most DON’T want these thoughts; most really want to get better. Most just want to know they’re loved unconditionally, and that they can talk to their family and friends about this stuff without facing rejection and condemnation.
It’s complicated stuff. It’s very sad this happened. It’s very sad whenever anyone kills himself or herself. If this tragedy causes someone to rethink how they’d respond to a loved one who revealed a struggle with suicidal thoughts, that’s a good thing. And, if someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts comes forward before loved ones they can trust, RATHER than taking their life and continuing to harbor their terrible secret, that’s a better thing.
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