for the ones left behind
“I’m not trying to bug you here, but are you sure you’re okay? I can come by if want.”
“No worries, I’m good. Just going flake on the couch for a bit.”
I hung up, but I wasn’t 100% convinced either. There was something about his voice. Nothing I could specifically place, no concerning words or sentiment. It was more the tone, Sean just seemed to be “off”. So, I brushed it aside, assuring myself I had nothing to be concerned about. He’d gone through a lot lately, you’d be stressed too, I told myself.
Ten minutes later, and after cutting Singher’s walk short due to my escalating concern, I called his number again.
Concern was turning to a cold fear. The kind of fear where you can feel your heart beat faster and you get a slowly rising, rancid taste in your mouth. If he’s fine, he’ll be pissed at me for coming over, let alone using my spare key if there is no answer.
Fuck it, I thought, as I grabbed my jacket and headed out the door. My intuition is good, very good. I’ll take the risk.
Sadly, my intuition was right. Eight years ago today, I found my best friend dead in his bathroom. He had hung himself. There is nothing to prepare you for something like that, and the images, eight years later, are sometimes so clear and visceral it’s like I’m back in that bathroom again.
The why question, as well as the “what could I have done” question are things I have stopped asking myself. Trust me, that took a while. In Sean’s case, there was no note, no pre suicide gift offering, and there were no hints dropped. Eventually I found out he had talked to several of his friends at roughly the same time he had talked to me, and only myself and his ex girlfriend whom he was still close to sensed anything was wrong. She too, thought her concern was probably misplaced.
If you have a friend and are concerned about their mental health, please talk to them about your concern. If you get a vibe or feeling something is wrong, please take it seriously. Chances are you are right. And if you are wrong, well, it will demonstrate very clearly to them that someone cares enough to show love and worry.
If you are depressed or are having thoughts of harming yourself, please visit this website or call the number below it. Someone is available and ready to talk 24 hours a day.
If you are a survivor of suicide, if someone you loved or cared about has taken their own life, please understand that whatever you are feeling is okay. Because if you are like me, you are feeling a wild mix of complex emotions. Feeling angry, hurt, and betrayed while you are grieving for your loved one is not shallow or self centered. It is normal. Suicide is not only the ultimate act of self harm, it can be experienced as an act of violence on those of us left behind.
If someone you know has killed themselves and you are having a tough time with your grief, the people at these organizations can help. I know this because they helped me. But please, know this first:
- No, there was nothing you could have done to prevent this. If someone is truly intent on killing themselves, they will.
- Yes, there will be a time where you will be okay with feeling both love and betrayal. If you are like most people, getting some help will go a long way to bringing you the place where living with that kind of duality is workable.
It took me almost six years, but two years ago I was able to write about this. It was a poem with indirect references, yes, but just doing it was a huge hurdle for me. I include it below, in memory of my friend Sean. Out of concern for his family, I have changed his name.
I miss you bud. Every day.
In Between Cold Days
In the seven days before he was gone, he came to me
three times in dreams. First at the shore in spring
then in fall, the last in deep winter.
He walks the edge of water, naked, symptomatic
manic contortions, those wild eyes. Yelling after
him, I bargain for him to return though he is
gone, has been for days.
In the second dream, air is sharp and crisp, frost
coats the windows, our breath indistinguishable
from falling snow beside a cabin where no leaves
have fallen. Silent, he never meets my gaze.
In an ice grey winter he appears, visceral scent
of smouldering cedar follows. I speak, but he
is silent, tonic. Standing by logs, back turned
is how I see him for the last time.
The absence of things familiar is all
that remains between us.
When he walks away, I don’t call after
call after him, dark assurance telling
me he won’t return.