Cory Monteith: Trying hard to die while others struggle to live

Cory Monteith: Trying hard to die while others struggle to live

I can’t stop thinking about Cory Monteith, who died of a heroin and alcohol overdose last Saturday in his Vancouver hotel room.

My family and I have loved, and in more recent seasons hated, Glee. As the character Finn and as a celebrity, Monteith alway seemed particularly winning to me because he seemed humble and sweet, yet troubled. More than anything he reminded me of the young men in my college writing classes.

When I saw the news of his death, my first reaction was: Why do some people try so hard to die while others struggle to live?

As he was dying in a hotel room from drugs that likely cost him a significant sum, one of my friends was dealing with side effects from her first round of chemotherapy.

It’s harder for me to be charitable about addiction after being diagnosed with cancer. When people complain about the weather or about their work load I can’t help but see my support group at the Cancer Support Center in my mind’s eye. And when people die because they drank too much or drove too fast or injected poison into their veins, I have to try hard to close the door on the icy draft blowing in my heart.

But then I see Monteith’s face, that sweet, troubled face. I know that I can’t throw the first stone. I know firsthand about addiction and bad choices and taking stupid risks.

I’ve played around with smoking since I was 17, and I apparently smoked enough over the years to end up with bladder cancer. Though no one really knows what causes cancer, most scientists and doctors will say unequivocally that smoking and bladder cancer are causally related.

Last year, on the day before I went to the hospital where I would be diagnosed with cancer, I had smoked a couple of cigarettes. They were the last cigarettes I’ve smoked or will ever smoke. For six months after diagnosis, tears would well when I smelled  cigarette smoke.

Yet, just today I breathed in deeply as I passed a smoker in a parking lot, drawing in just a little bit of second hand smoke. I get addiction and risk and good old self indulgence.

I doubt that Cory Monteith actively wanted to die. I certainly didn’t, despite my full awareness of the harm smoking could do and was doing to me. I still shudder at the memory of smoking outdoors one clear and bitterly cold Alaskan night, just a few days after being diagnosed with pneumonia.

I don’t think Cory Monteith deserved to die, either. Addiction is a disease. As valiantly as we want to think that we’re captains of our own ships, I don’t think we have as much control as we think. I think it’s likely that Monteith’s biology made it very, very hard for him to break his addiction.

So where does that leave me? My brain tells me that I shouldn’t judge people at all, but especially not at the time of death. Still, I can’t help but feel a special sort of sadness when I see Cory Monteith’s face or hear Amy Winehouse's voice and then think of my friends who are struggling with chemo or entering hospice care.

Some people are pouring all of their energy into trying to stay alive while others are dying of overdoses in hotel rooms.

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