This isn’t an easy topic to write about for anyone, I don’t think, but especially for me, as I feel there have been far too many that I have known. So these thoughts are not entirely perfect in their form, nor are they complete, but I have been wanting to say something since this day passed last year. So here are some reflections on where suicide has come into my life, and also, how necessary it is to be there for each other.
My first close encounter with suicide was when I was fifteen. I heard the news at school. I was a sophomore in high school then, just a year younger then Jack. His sixteenth birthday was the next day, anyway. And he wouldn’t be around for it.
The night before he had killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head.
His kind eyes and soft face were a compliment to his quietness. He was never mean or rude, so far as I knew him. We were all a bit rough around the edges, we were all a little bit on the troublemaking side, but we were all a motley crew of similar strokes, smoking together off school grounds. We were all struggling on the inside, trying to make it through the outside world as we were able. He was probably the nicest of us, and I couldn’t remember anyone speaking badly of him.
Even then, the shocking cruelty.
“I bet he killed himself because he was fat.”
A girl with a permanent smirk, one I always dreaded, was spewing this nonsense out of that smirking mouth at a locker as I passed by.
At that point, before lunchtime even drew close enough to provide an opportunity, I decided I was leaving. I blew past everyone in the hallway in a burning blur of anger, and bashed right through the two large metal doors at the back of the building. I found a friend on my trajectory who came with me, and we kept walking until we reached a friend’s house on the far end of town.
I never knew why he chose to end his life. I know he left a hole big enough that at the wake, the line wrapped around the building, and we all had to find somewhere to gather afterward and try and ease the pain with company. I know that many who were closer to him felt the loss more deeply and painfully than I did. And I know we all were struck with the powerlessness –what could we have done? If only we could turn back the clock. If only one of us had been there. If only someone had come by a little sooner. If only we had asked him if he was doing alright…
Recently, I found a journal from junior high. Roxy had killed herself, just fifteen years old, with a .22-caliber pistol—with a gun her father had bought for her, had taught her how to use. I had forgotten. It happened after I moved away from that town, after I had left that godforsaken town that had made me want to kill myself as well. But Roxy, my diary informed me, supposedly thought she was pregnant at the time. She was the darling youngest of the most popular family in school. Her father was a worshipped teacher. Her brothers were wrestling champions. She had fallen from grace. She was fifteen years old.
I found out later that the reasons she succumbed to the hopelessness of suicide were different. They were pressures of another kind, ones where she thought her family’s honor would be tarnished by something she didn’t even do, but was believed to have done by a school official. In the long-term scheme of things, it would have mattered so very little. Despite what she believed would be the reaction of her own father, the storm would have blown over. But she fell in the storm. And there was no turning back.
Oh, how we all wish there was an undo button on these days.
I wasn’t close enough to know what happened to Lindsay, but he was among the rotating community of friends I knew back in Indiana. I knew he’d gotten out, gone west to Portland to find a different life for himself out there. But I think he came back with a habit. A battle that he lost. I know so many people still carry a the deep bruise of his loss, and will for their lifetimes.
A fellow poet disappeared. The loss was so palpable among those of us that knew him that the state of Kentucky drew us from hundreds of miles away. His poetry was brave, vulnerable, broken in those beautiful sort of places that let the light in. He was a sweet, smart, gentle-hearted man, one who had just been given the green light for a new life in San Francisco. Dreams. Dreams that weren’t enough. I know he’ll live on in all who knew him, but again, the helpless feeling of loss. Why? Why… I wish I’d saved every message that he sent.
Oh, Blue Eyes. What a mess was made. Out of so much beautiful music, so much talent that flowed effortlessly from you into the world. This is my most recent ghost.
This isn’t a comprehensive essay of loss, by any stretch. There have been many others. There were the deaths I learned about several decades into my life, the great uncle, the great grandfather, two suicides in the depth of my family history that I knew nothing about. But the lineage would have explained a great deal, or at least helped me to understand my struggles that began when I was less than thirteen years old. Maybe younger.
Thankfully, through much grace, I do not battle that thought anymore. I feel very strongly about living my life, and I have gained a lot of hope and peace throughout the years. But many years of struggle went by before I could find that. And I am grateful for so much love from those who have loved me, who have been there for me in the darkness and the light. I am indebted to them.
But I have those close to me who fight depression, who fight dark thoughts of taking their own life, or have in the past and have had to fight through it. There are many who are still out there struggling. I hold my heart out to them. Today, and in the days to come. New days will come.
The reality is that we are, so many of us, so very tired. Tired of the reality of unbearable pain in the world, tired of our own little pockets of the same.
But it needs to be recognized how very brave and strong it is to wake up every morning and walk to the coffee pot, the tea kettle, the shower, and keep on going when the weight can be heavy enough to topple our beloved giants.
And we also need to remember to reach out to each other, give love to each other, not hesitate to be there for someone or ask if they are okay, if they need to talk, and do so instead of worrying if it might be taken oddly or they might not be open to it. Even in small gestures there is the biggest potential lifeboats that we can sail out towards each other. Even in the dark night, if a friend lights a candle, or sings a song that tinges the shadows with a shimmer, we can find ourselves saved for that moment, which can lead us to have many more moments in our lives.
And lastly, I want to say that the darkness is never permanent. It’s never the whole story. However, hopeless we might feel at a given moment, it can and will and does change. Don’t give up. Don’t believe the lies that depression or panic or anxiety or hopelessness tell you. Because they are lies. There is plenty worth living for. The sun will come up, and the pain will lessen, and the battle you are facing will dissipate. It will never be perfect, it might not always be easy, but there is always a way to a new day, and new possibilities.
If you’re struggling, here is a link to numbers you can call:
By state, in the US: http://www.suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html
By country, internationally: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html
Keep your light on, for the ones you love, and the ones that love you.