“Sometimes, when you see a person cry, it’s better not to ask “why?” Sometimes, it takes only three words to make them happy again. And those words are “I am here.”
I just found out this past Monday that a friend of mine committed suicide last month.
According to the one person I spoke with, she began drinking again after seven or so years of continuous sobriety. I don’t know why she began drinking again or why she even took her own life, but that is what she did and I just found out about it. I met her when back in Rochester, NY after a year not drinking (I have seven years of sobriety now, by the grace of Spirit). I was at an AA meeting at the time when I spoke about something that people seemed to agree with–my friend included. I don’t even remember what I said, but she ran up to me and started talking with a speed that became her trademark in my opinion. Since then, we would talk on the phone the majority of the time, met up at meetings and talked about the benefits and detriments of AA. Granted, we had our falling outs, but we seem to get it together to some degree.
I lost all contact with her when I moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college. Up until a few months ago, I didn’t know how she was doing and what was going on with her until she found me on Facebook. When I friended her, we started talking again via chat and I would read her posts on my wall and vice versa. Suddenly, I didn’t see her posts anymore, but I figured she dropped off to finally live in the real world instead heavily relying on Facebook for human interactions (as I have). The last time I heard from her, it was during this past summer and I didn’t call her back because of the nature of the question she left on my voicemail. I didn’t realize that that would be the last time I would ever hear her voice.
When I heard the news about her death, I couldn’t even speak or type. All I could do is cry. My arms–my whole body–felt heavy and I could not do anything other than turn off the lights and bawl. I don’t know if anyone in my house heard me and if they did no one made it known. I posted the news on Facebook when I could gather some mental and physical capacity. I got a few responses, but not many unless I said something in person. One of my friend’s closest high school friends came after me on Facebook today, “yelling” at me for posting on Facebook the fact that she committed suicide. But after messaging her in private about how I didn’t appreciate her actions towards me and why I did it (my friend and I had mutual Facebook friends), she apologized for her outburst and told me that she and our mutual friend have been like sisters since high school. I reached out to this woman and told her that I am here if she ever needed to talk. So far, I received no response.
I have since deleted the post announcing my friend’s suicide. In retrospect, it wasn’t the smartest move, but I was not in my right mind. I’m STILL not in my right mind. But more importantly, I was hoping that her high school friend reached out to me because I seriously have no one to talk to. As I said before, I reached out to people telling them what happened. Yet, I have not received a phone call and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been hugged. So far, the only people who have reached out to me were my two professors when I told them what happened. When I told my sponsors, one said that I can cry, scream and that this too shall pass. The other one told me that, because it already happened, there is nothing I can do about it. Now, let me explain: in their defense, they didn’t know my friend and I don’t expect them to cry with me and, in their own way, they meant well. But I wasn’t asking for an answer. I wanted open arms, a shoulder to cry on and the three words that tells me that I’m not alone:
“I am here.”
The way I feel now (angry, depressed and alone) I felt when my grandmother passed way. She died the day AFTER my birthday and when I heard the news, I broke down crying. But I was told to not display my emotional state and to come down to the hospital. As I looked at my grandmother’s lifeless body, no one hugged me, touched my shoulder and told me that she was in a better place. If anything, I felt like the older family members washed their hands of her and proceeded to go on about their business. It was as if my grandmother’s legacy ended that day in everyone’s minds.
I look back on it now and realize that I have not grieved Grandma’s death and because I was drinking at the time, I never allowed myself to grieve. I don’t handle death well so not only am I grieving for my grandmother but I’m grieving for my friend whose mental illness may have caused her to take her own life. I don’t know what to say or do other than grieve. To sit in my room and be angry at the world because two of a few number of people in my life are gone. To be angry at the fact that friends and even roommates can go on about their business when I reach out to them for solace. And in some cases, I found out in the most fucked up of ways (i.e. Facebook, via text message), so I am not only angry and depressed but hurt.
I am writing all this to tell you, Readers, that if someone is hurting and you get that gut feeling that they will take their own life, don’t just say “I’m sorry you’re going through all that” and keep it moving. Sit down and talk to them (if they let you). According to the National Center for Health Statistics (2010), “suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States” and Approximately 105 people commit suicide (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2012, n.p.). I am not saying that words alone can save a person, but being there for the suicidal person is better than not being available at all.
The same would go for those surviving suicide. With all due respect, it is not enough to say “I’m sorry,” only to give advice or walk away uncomfortably. I only wish that people would ask me how I’m doing instead of giving advice or walking away. I don’t expect people to be my therapist, but by not saying much of anything, it shows that you do not care, even if that’s not the case. If you would talk to the grieving person, you would quickly see that we more than likely don’t know which end is up or what to think next. If anything, we have nothing to say. We just want to cry, so please just be there.
We have to be there for people and not run away from grief. It just bothers me that many of us have become so desensitized to the pain of others (perhaps due to technology) that when people are hurting, we spit out one-liners and “pull it together” advice. Don’t give advice. Give that grieving person your shoulder, your time and your ear to listen to. And maybe ice cream…peanut butter swirl.
And now I leave you with the same quote I started with. Read it. Internalize it. And please do what it says.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (2012). “Facts and Figures: National Statistics.” Retrieved from http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewpage&page_id=050fea9f-b064-4092-b1135c3a70de1fda