Labours of Love

The expression means, “Work undertaken for the pleasure of it or for the benefit of a loved one.”

Giving birth is a fine example of a Labour of Love.  It isn’t done for the pleasure certainly, since birth is a very painful and often deadly for some women.

9 months of work culminating in some of the most intense pain is for the benefit of loved ones and Love itself.  The child that is born is the fulfillment of expressions of love between a couple.

As we raise our children, we guide and nurture their bodies and minds, plan for their futures and hope for the best of everything for them.

Raising children is intense work, a labour of love unending, as we teach them kindness, compassion, how to play well with others, educate them, expand their horizons, help find their passions in life.

Yet there are families that have more labours than others, such as a child with an illness, an illness that can be life threatening like cancer, or a child with a disability, like autism.

These families accept the new labour of love and work for the benefit of their child, to make life as normal and as happy as possible.  They don’t often complain of the burden but feel grateful for having their child with them.  This is the unconditional love of a parent.

I have been fortunate to have 3 labours of love.  The first two are my sons.  My day and night children, both born at 7:55, one in the a.m. and one in the p.m. They both delayed their arrivals, one by two weeks and the other by three weeks.

My oldest son is a delight; he is handsome, quiet, fun and funny. He works hard and plays hard and cares about his friends and his family.

My younger son was born with an illness that didn’t appear until he was 12 years old.  It almost cost his life at that time.  But there were doctors and treatments and medication.  When he was 18 he was free of all of them, living his life as expected; working, going to school; hanging out with friends.

And then slowly, ever so slowly, the disease returned.  For reasons I can only guess, he decided to never tell me.  He never gave me the chance to help him, to heal him, to save him.

He was 20 and a half when he disappeared, but I knew the worst had happened.  I was woken suddenly with the greatest sense of fear and anxiety.  And I couldn’t find him; not in the house, his car was gone, he didn’t answer his cell phone.

We learned later in the day that a young man had jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge.  Our son’s car was parking in the lot there.  That was almost 5 years ago and we haven’t heard or seen of him since.

My sons are my greatest labours of love.

My last labour is almost completed.

It has taken nearly four years to complete.  The first year was experiencing the comments and thoughts of people who felt a suicide barrier on the bridge was a horrible idea.  It did not matter to them how many people have died there.  Their attitude was that ‘they [the suicide victim] would just go somewhere else’, so why mess up the bridge with an ugly barrie

“Better for them to jump here then jump from a building and maybe kill someone else.”  “It is Darwin’s theory in action; weeding out the weak ones.“ ”Wouldn’t want them having children and passing this on. “ “Good riddance.”  “Waste of money that could be spent elsewhere.” “Not with my tax dollars – they [the victims] aren’t worth it”

Those are mild comments compared to some I have heard but the underlying message was people feel suicide can not be prevented; a person would immediately find another means; no one felt responsible for these victims.  Most certainly every one thought $50 million was too excessive to save anyone.

People were arguing the idea that the views from the bridge would be ‘tarnished’ and the view was more important than a person’s life, especially if they would find another way to die.

When I tried to discuss the issues, people said I was too emotional, I couldn’t think clearly and rationally about the problem because my son died there.

Research refutes all of these arguments but articles are written for scholars and laypeople do not understand how to process some of these papers.  But what if the problem was laid out in graphs and color charts?  They wouldn’t even have to read the words, just look at the graphs to understand the major problem with Golden Gate Bridge suicides.

So I spent the next two years, all of my extra vacation hours, researching the information at the Marin County Coroner’s office and the San Francisco Public Library obtaining documentation about suicides in San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.  I covered the past 70 years, from 1936 through 2006, and grouped in the information into decades.

A graph was made of the top 4 major methods of suicides used, with the Golden Gate Bridge suicides included under “suicide by jumping” category.

So as suicides by other methods decreased, suicide by jumping increased every decade, so it is now the most common method of suicide and 60% are those off the Golden Gate Bridge.

This picture will let people see that by doing nothing; the suicides have flourished at this one site.

The issue of cost was easier.  Every highway construction project needs justification for the cost. There is a standard cost – value of statistical life (VSL) – that is used.  The time base is 20 years and the amount of lives saved (with VSL) must exceed the cost of the project.  Otherwise it is not worthwhile.  There are high and low ranges of VSL for different areas in the county; low VSLs for low income areas, rural areas and high VSLs for areas with higher incomes (the premise is if you can afford to spend more to save your life you will).

San Francisco and Marin counties have some of the highest income in the country, 30-80% greater than the mean income in the USA.

So it comes down to this: for every life saved in the 20 years after a barrier is in place (minus the 13% who may go on to die by suicide) the cost per person is $180,000.  That’s it.  And that is less than 6% of the LOW VSL.

When this is reviewed by the guidelines of the World Health Organization for every year a person lives beyond their intended demise, the barrier only costs $4,800.  $4,800 per life-year saved.

How can that be considered expensive and costly?  It is less than most people’s car payments for a year.

So this is my third labour of love – work for the benefit of my sons; for the one who is gone ahead of me, so people will understand how he could have been saved.  Also for my son who remains, so the world he lives in will be more understanding and hopefully more concerned about lives rather than views.

It is a labour of love for the benefit of the public to understand the fallacies of suicide are just that, fallacies.  That suicide can be prevented; that by stopping people from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, more people will live.  If people attempt with a different method, they are more likely to survive and live out a full life because any other method is not as lethal as a bridge jump.

The greatest labour is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and to care for them as we would care for our own families, without question of inconvenience or cost.


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