The One Gift I Would Have Given My Friend Who Died by Suicide
So far, I’m not a fan of 2018.
In the closing hours of 2017, a very dear friend of mine lost his life to suicide, and 2018 has been consumed with grappling with this tragedy.
What is there to say in the shadow of such a colossal disruption that doesn’t come across as trite and self-serving? I don’t know, but I suppose that’s a secondary concern to trying to pick up the pieces that are left to us — his friends and family — in these hours so close to the event. We are left to endure and adjust as best we can.
For me, this is a glimpse into an alternate future where my place is switched with his. As those close to me know, I have struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts for most of my life, so this is a chance to see what the aftermath of my own choice may have looked like. More than the sudden, explosive revelation, there are the never-ending moments of grief and guilt, certain that everything would have been different if I had just been inspired to say the right thing at the right time. If I had just known. If I had been more perceptive. Sensitive. Intuitive. Smarter. Bolder.
We were so much alike, he and I; right down to family makeup, interests, history and beliefs, that I’m finding it impossible to not take this personally. I was blessed to have been able to spend significant time with him in the past few weeks that served to cement our existing bond, but that has only increased how keenly the loss is felt and confirmed how powerless I was to affect positive change.
You see, that’s the gift of those of us left behind by suicide: guilt. We all feel as if we held the key to life and fumbled its use, that it was our ineptitude or callousness that cost a life, but perhaps that isn’t so. Can we truly know the mind of another? Can we fully appreciate their values and motives? I have no inclination to blame anyone for what has occurred, even my friend. Who knows what the final days, hours and moments were like inside of his head? Who knows what toxic debris the years of living piled up in his mind like sediment in a river? Who knows how well he was functioning or how information was being processed? Not I.
The sudden precipitous fall into suicide can transform the world into a dark, strange place that demands your erasure. The very act of existing is excruciating. Your loved ones would be able to feel joy, except for your presence. You are forgotten. Alone. Unimportant. Despised. Unlovable. These are the lies we hear inside ourselves despite ample evidence to the contrary, and yet are largely powerless to decode unless we ride it out and give ourselves the very thing we loathe to invest: time.
If I could have given my friend one gift before his passing it would have been tomorrow. Not only the actual day but the concept. Tomorrow has been my lifeline for decades. You see, I have resolved that I would never kill myself today, but I would do it tomorrow. Now I’m thousands of tomorrows from that discovery and still here for today. Tomorrow doesn’t always bring resolution, but it can gradually get you closer than you were at the start. Tomorrow can give you time to heal, to cope and to get help. It gives the light time to shine into your darkened mind and bring you healing illumination.
To my anguish, I will never get to share this with my dear friend, but I do get to share it with you. If the conclusion of his life among us teaches us anything, it’s that we need to be kinder to one another, foregoing the easy contempt we fling about due to differences in belief or inclination. Please look at the fragility inside yourself and understand that all those around you struggle, too. I urge you to be bold with your love and care, only holding back that which you can endure as a regret.
Our time here is short. And it is my belief that the only lasting thing is the eternal human soul. Let us resolve to treat it that way and respect the divine that resides in each other.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
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Unsplash photo via Alex Boyd