OK. It’s been awhile. Clearly, this journaling thing is more difficult than it used to be. Especially when you need a working computer and an internet connection to get it done. But I digress…
Here, we discuss communities. How to build them, where to find them, how to keep them, when to let them go…. But what do you do when someone elects to leave your community?
Whether it’s because of a fight, a divorce, or the slow continental shift of growing apart – it’s never easy. But at least in those instances you get the choice to work at the relationship, to continue to include them in your community, or to let them gracefully exit.
What about when that choice is taken from you? When someone elects to leave your community… permanently?
There. I said it.
For many this is an unfathomable concept, and when someone chooses this path to leave you, it can feel like a personal assault on reason. When you can never imagine taking this path, never have considered it, the idea that someone you love, admire, and respect choosing it is irreconcilable with your image of that person.
For those of us (and yes, I’m coming out and including myself here) who have considered the dark and shady path… well, things are less black and white. Not easier, necessarily. Just grey-er. Muddier. Murkier… yes, I like murkier.
My story (the not-so-short version): I was a smart kid. Too smart, fairly sensitive to the approval of authority figures, and frankly, I never quite fit in most places. I was that dreamy kid who’d rather spend recess reading or making shapes of clouds or imagining I was Kate from The Perilous Gard…. (Elizabeth Marie Pope, thank you for your story by the way) I was not an athlete, at least not on land (man, can I swim, and I am almost certain I can fly). My entire family is made up of athletes. Competitive athletes. National calibre athletes. Of land, water, and (possibly) air. My mother is sociable, and I am sure she had this fantastic image of her popular, athletic daughters surrounding her and going on shopping sprees and asking her for advice, and working out with her…. and well, that never happened. At least, not willingly on my part.
So I was thirteen, I was angry, and convinced that my mother loved my sister more than me. I wrote an angry, honest letter and hid it under my mattress. I felt unloved, but mostly, unnoticed. Unseen for the unique things I could bring to life, to our family, to a community. Would anyone notice if I just left? If I ran away and lived somewhere where they couldn’t find me and make me feel not good enough anymore? (I was thirteen and dramatic… seriously dramatic) What would happen if I died? Would they mourn? Would they see me then?
Then my father found my letter. And read it. And talked to me about it. See, in my emotional turmoil of puberty and despair and low self-esteem, I had neglected to think about him. My beautiful, fantastic, smart, capable, loving father, who raised my sister and I on his own. Who loved me. Always. And made sure that I knew it. Who celebrated my interests and listened to my stories and encouraged me without making me feel ashamed. He would be destroyed if I left; he would be utterly and completely destroyed if I died. Especially if I chose to die.
So, I cried. And I focused on life, and the pursuits I loved, and anytime those lonely, tenacious tendrils of darkness reached out for me, I thought of him. And knew I was loved, and that I couldn’t destroy someone who loved me.
Then in high school one of my fellows hanged himself. And the principal announced it over the PA that he had passed away. And I was angry. Enraged. No physically healthy teenager passes away. Suicide is violent. It is a wrathful tear in the fabric of life, of the community consciousness, not to mention of the mind and spirit of the victim himself.
Yes, I say victim of suicide. Because while I had my devoted father to pull me back from the brink, he somehow didn’t. I’m sure his parents loved him, I know his friends cared, why was that not enough? Why in those moments, days, weeks, before tying the noose did nobody spring to his mind that he knew would be destroyed if he left them? Why did I have a visceral link to life, an umbilical cord tethering me here, and he did not? Why, in his world, was there no one?
Just to be clear, I’m sure if people had known what he was about to do they would have risen up en masse to stop him. I am sure of that in almost any suicide.
My point is that, in this boys pain, in his world, the place where he existed (yes, I’ve gone a little Descartes, try to keep up), he believed he had no one. No one who would stop him. No one who saw him. So he would show them. I believe suicide is at once a martyr-like attempt to remove oneself from troubling those around oneself, from taking up space when one is so clearly not wanted, and a grand performance. If people don’t see you, fine, they won’t have to look around you for much longer, but you’ll leave them an image they’ll never forget.
People have called it selfish, and I can understand that perspective. It is certainly self-indulgent. But I think most people who go through with it, have convinced themselves that they are doing their community a favour.
So, murky. Yeah.
Now, in my late twenties, I am faced with suicide again. This time it is not someone I know. But someone I am close to has just lost a relative. A relative who had kids, no less.
I’m wise enough to keep my murky opinions to myself, at least while wounds are still fresh. But how do you comfort a family through this?
My friend is desperately trying to rationalize the unfathomable. For he is one of those aforementioned people for whom this thought is not only not an option, but I don’t think it’s ever come up. And now he’s faced with trying to understand it. Trying to reconcile that dear relative who took him aside to show him a corner of the world, that really cool guy that he wanted to grow up to be just exactly like, that husband, that father, that uncle… this volunteer corpse.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Let’s talk about the unspoken… Surviving suicide. Those who have thought and not attempted, those who have attempted and (thankfully, ironically) failed, those who have survived those who attempted and (ironically, disastrously) succeeded, welcome. How did you get through it?