"Dead Man's Cake" is the title track (track 4) from my 2012 CD "Dead Man's Cake". It describes the tragic event of my mother Judy's suicide, but unlike track 3, "Judy's Mind", the song Dead Man's Cake presents a different sort of perspective.
The basic facts are that my mother, Judith Friedman Barrows, who, like my father, wrote for Hollywood television shows in the 1960s, on the night of August 19th, 1970, drove to Mt. Sinai Cemetery in North Hollywood where her father was buried, and committed suicide by taking an overdose of pills.
"Dead Man's Cake" is a metaphor for the pills, but it's also a metaphor for suicide generally. I wrote the piece as a cautionary tale against suicide. The chorus of the song says, "Don't you eat that Dead Man's Cake. If you're thinking about taking your life, don't do it."
(Incidentally, if you are thinking about it, I say, don't do it. Instead, contact suicide prevention now.)
The song looks at the events of that night from a poetic and surrealistic standpoint. I imagine her meeting her father's ghost, as well as a kind of watchman figure who acts as the gatekeeper to the afterlife, similar to the Greek myth of Charon, the boatman who takes the souls of the dead across the river Styx to the underworld. Judy has cake and tea with the watchman. All the while the song admonishes her, "don't you eat that Dead Man's Cake. Don't you drink that Dead Man's Tea." But it's too late. She's shaken her father's hand. She's eaten the cake, and drunk the tea.
Suicide is a complex issue.
My personal belief is that in cases of terminal illness, assisted suicide should be made legal. I think it's unethical to force someone to prolong their life if they are suffering terribly and there is no hope for a better quality of life.
But I think for people who are not terminally ill, where mental illness, despair, or some intractable set of circumstances is the reason for contemplating suicide, then I'm strongly against it. It's utterly devastating to the people left behind, and it's an act no less violent than murder. There's got to be a better solution.
There are so many reasons to live, and despite all its problems, so many great and beautiful things in the world that make life worth living, I just think suicide is a cop out. It's running away from your problems. It's trying to effect some dramatic response to whatever set of issues you're confronted with.
Why not just simply make a change in your life? Why not pack a bag, take a trip, take some time off, or maybe check into a clinic if things are really bad? If you're in a bad relationship, why not just leave the relationship, rather than commit suicide? Surely there must be some better way to deal with your problems. Surely, although this day seems bad, tomorrow's another day, and things might be entirely different.
Don't you eat that Dead Man's Cake.