“In years to come, they may discover what the air we breathe and the life we lead are all about, but it won’t be soon enough, soon enough for me.”—Paul McCartney, “Tug Of War”
Last week at work, an announcement was made over the speakers that a former co-worker had taken her life. She had retired before I transferred to the office I’m at now, so I literally never met her, never worked with her, didn’t even know she existed, since no one told me any tales about her after she retired. Now, I should point out that I am no stranger to death. I’ve attended funerals for relatives, a relative of my significant other, classmates, a coworker, and even a late boss. Not to mention people I once knew whose funerals I was unable to attend. Still this was the first time that a suicide victim was someone whom almost everyone else within a particular social circle of mine knew.
And therein laid the problem for me. Just about everyone else knew her, but I didn’t. I wasn’t deeply moved, and what did stir within me were the ripples of emotion from other people, like aftershocks or a domino down the line. I learned (from a coworker who claims to have barely known her either) that this woman was having both physical and emotional difficulties. Her family all lived faraway, and one of the apparently closer ones, whom she wanted to move in with, said she didn’t want her to move in. So, her last months were very sad and tragic. And I was a little saddened by it too. So if nothing else, I proved I’m not a robot.
Still, I was left with a little bit of sadness, and no way to really express it that would be appropriate. I didn’t feel like crying, nor did anyone else in my immediate vicinity, though the supervisor who broke the news to us was breaking up in tears as she told us.
I guess I really don’t know how to feel about the whole ordeal. No one really blames me for not feeling much, and yet I feel bad for not feeling bad. While we look upon death as natural and part of the cycle of life, it’s still sad when it hits close enough to home for us, and even more so when the cause is neither natural nor accidental. I want to do something for those who knew her, like be ready to fill in for them if they need a day off to grieve, but no one seems to need it. I guess they figured with her physical complications, she wasn’t bound to live for long.
Overall, I guess the saddest part for me is imagining what must have been going through this woman’s mind in her final days. Our society is a little more (albeit very little) sympathetic to those who would choose suicide because of constant pain, but it’s so tragic to think that the reason she did it might have been that she believed her entire emotional support network was frayed and disconnected. I don’t claim to be or to have ever been clinically depressed, though it’s been suspected of me before; nevertheless, I have frequently known the feeling of sadness that comes with an unmet need, but you don’t want to actually ask for help. You want someone to care enough for and about you to a) recognize something’s wrong in the first place, and b) offer help or initiate contact or conversation, and it has to be that way because to get help after you asked for it first doesn’t feel as meaningful, or even genuine—they only care because you asked them to care and not because they actually care. You want to be reached out to, but unless you overact the emotions, no one’s gonna be able to tell that you need someone to talk to. It’s a vicious quicksand. I heard someone say that most suicides are just a cry for attention. Well, if a little attention can stop it, I’d say it’s worth it, even if it’s just long enough to get them to a trained professional to help them.
I’ve seriously contemplated suicide a few times in my life, but I’m glad I’ve never gone through with it. I’m very thankful for the relationship I have with my fiancé, who can almost always tell when something’s bothering me, and sometimes worries something’s wrong when fatigue causes me to act like I’m depressed. I’m also thankful for my relationship with God, by Whose grace and mercy I’m still chugging along and learning, finding meaning in life. If that sounds trite or cloying, it’s because I’m not good at sharing my faith (tends to happen when the majority of your friends throughout your life are atheists who are stalwart in their doubt or denial), but I really do mean what I say. But right now I only hope that I can be there for friends when they need me. I’ve been there for friends with relationship issues, which is practically the height of irony given my entire life, but I’ve never yet had to be there, as far as I know, for someone on that edge. I only hope that if I am, I never find out what the stakes are, because I know I’ll panic and give lousy advice or listen wrongly.
I don’t know what to say to wrap things up. Always beware of becoming too self-absorbed? Be a good friend? Even then, there’s only so much you can do. I can’t really say everyone’s responsible for their own actions, since we know that physical and mental disorders can many times render a person inculpable for their actions. I guess don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re at that place. No one wants you to commit suicide, and those who do aren’t worth you giving a shit about them. Talk to God, talk to the Suicide Hotline, talk to friend or family member. Talk.