The Mighty Logo

Why I'm Glad I Took My Friend's Phone Call at an 'Inconvenient' Time

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I was late picking up my son from his friend’s house when my friend Justin from New York called. On any other day, it would have been no big deal to tell him I had to run and would call him back later, but I felt something in my gut that told me he really needed to talk. I decided instead of calling him back, I would continue our call in the car on speaker phone as I headed to town to pick up my son. I pulled into the subdivision only to realize I could not remember which house belonged to his friend. I needed to call my son for the address, but I was still on the phone with Justin. I circled the block over and over, looking in the backyards for any sign of him, all the while continuing our conversation. After 20 minutes of circling the block, my son finally spotted the car and came out. I really needed to end the call so I could greet my son, but I didn’t want to hang up. My heart knew he needed to talk until he had said all of the things he needed me to hear. He needed my time, and I will be forever grateful that I took the time he needed.

Justin and I met each other a few years ago while volunteering for an organization that supports persons with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a disorder we, unfortunately, shared. We met during a conference call and became fast friends. We bonded because of CRPS and the work we were committed to doing for this organization, but also because we both loved foreign films, typography and gummy candy. I met him in person only once, but I spent hours and hours on the phone with him for several years. Somewhere along the way, we made a deal that one of us could be a “Negative Nelly” as long as the other was a “Happy Hannah.” It didn’t always work, but the exercise forced us to try to give the positives as much weight as the negatives. We were each other’s counterweight, as if our friendship were a pontoon boat, floating down the river in the wake of a speedboat. When the wake hits the pontoon, the port side goes up to meet the crest and the starboard side dips low into the trough. To keep the boat afloat, you need to counterbalance the boat’s motion by adding weight to the port side. That’s what our friendship was like — we were both in the same boat, and one of us was always ready to move from port to starboard if the wake was big and we were taking on water.

My phone call with him that day turned out to be the last time I would ever hear his voice. Three days later, he died by suicide. I learned of his death from his best friend in New York a few days after the doorman found him in his apartment. It was heartbreaking, but I cannot say it was unexpected. He never shared any of his intentions with me because he didn’t want to burden me with that knowledge, but I knew his pain and disability left him feeling debased, defeated and depleted. When I learned he was gone, I did what many people do in this situation. I went back to our last conversation to try to cement his words in my mind. At the time, I certainly did not know the gravity of our last conversation, but I did know he needed me that day. I believe he needed me to hear him say what was in his heart before he was gone. I believe he needed me to understand how much our friendship meant to him. That call was a gift, and I am grateful for every last minute I spent driving around and around the block that day.

Unfortunately, many of us who have lost loved ones to suicide never get this chance. I believe he knew I would feel immense pain in the wake of his death, and that I would endlessly search for clues in our last conversation for things I could have known, or should have known, that may have stopped him. I’ve searched my memory of the words we shared for things I might have missed, but there is nothing there. He did everything a solid crew mate would do in rough seas. He made sure that when the crest of this giant wave hit, I was in position to keep the boat afloat. I cannot feel
anything but gratitude for having him in my life and I am glad I listened to my heart that day. My boat has taken on a lot of water since his passing, but with the gift of time, our friendship serves as the counterweight I need to stay the course.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via contributor.

Originally published: May 30, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home