Last week was emotionally difficult. Over the space of three days I lost two friends. Now, these weren't best friends or particularly close friends, but they were people whose paths crossed mine in a significant way during different points in my life. I knew them well. I liked them. I will miss them. Both were wonderful people who always offered smiles, kind words, and inspiration to others. For those of you who know me, you know I'm not wont to offer treacly platitudes, so for me to give these descriptions, you must know these people made an impact.
On Wednesday morning, my friend lost a valiant fight to overcome breast cancer. I understood her to be in remission, so either I understood wrong, or the cancer came back with a vengeance. She was 42. This is a devastating illness that takes far too many women at far too young an age.
If you're one who's taken with politicizing charity groups like The Komen Foundation because "oh, they support abortion" or "oh, they kowtowed to the right and quit supporting Planned Parenthood", do me a favor - shut up. Because you know what else the Komen Foundation does? They spend enormous resources supporting cancer research and prevention; and that's all that matters.
On Friday morning, another friend lost a different kind of battle - this one against personal demons. Here was a man who brightened a room with his mere presence. He was never without a joke, or funny anecdote; personable, bigger than life. But like so many others suffering from depression, the light, avuncular exterior belied a dark and troubled psyche. We no longer live in the same town, so I don't know what might have triggered his deep despair or if there were signals, any kind of cry for help, but I know from personal experience, there are almost always clues, but most of us don't know how to recognize them.
This is the second friend in 8 months to commit suicide. The first was someone I knew less well but for a much longer time. I spoke to him a few weeks before he took his life. He was in a very dark place - business trouble, marital trouble, substance abuse, and the creeping mortality of mid-life all haunted him.
It's common for depressed people to believe they are doing their loved ones a favor, particularly if there are money troubles. Often there will be life insurance policies payable to the survivors and the depressed parties actually believe "They'll be better off without me." If you, dear reader, ever have that thought, let me tell you right now - NO, they WON'T. You see, suicide is a permanent solution to what is almost always a temporary problem, and by your making that ultimate decision, you are leaving people behind who will always have a big hole in their souls.
And that doesn't even begin to touch the guilt. My two friends both have children. Fortunately (is that even an appropriate word in this context?) their children are grown, and probably understand a bit more about mental illness than they would have as impressionable kids. When it happens to a kid, the first feeling is guilt. "What did I do to cause this?" That's not to say there won't be feelings of guilt by adult survivors. "Why didn't I recognize his depression?" "What was so bad he couldn't deal with it any more?" "What could I have done to prevent this?" Adults are better equipped to handle these questions, given time, but they are by no means immune from the feelings.
You'll hear people from time to time talking about suicide being selfish, or how those committing suicide are "taking the easy way out". Let me dispel those for you. For the person who feels those left behind will be better off, "selfish" is the exact opposite of what he's feeling. He truly believes he's doing them a favor. As for "The easy way out", that's just stupid. It takes quite a set to taste the cold steel of a gun barrel and pull the trigger. There's nothing easy about it. These are people who are so tormented, disillusioned and deluded, they don't believe there's any other way. Accusing them of being selfish or taking the easy way out is like calling those who jumped off the Twin Towers on 9/11 cowards for not hanging out in the inferno and waiting for help.
There was a girl I knew in high school who committed suicide. She threatened suicide and no one took her seriously. They thought it was a joke. When I heard about it, it made me physically ill. By that time I already had some experience with it and knew there was no such thing as a suicide joke. I couldn't believe her parents and her friends hadn't taken her seriously.
I don't know where I'm going with this screed, or what I hope to accomplish. Mostly catharsis I guess. All of us have the capacity for self-absorption and self-pity. If you've ever been in a romantic relationship for any length of time and you haven't had a fleeting thought about suicide or homicide, you're probably not normal. But to ever seriously consider it shows you have a problem and you need help. Don't just assume the feelings will pass. Go get help. Your family and friends depend on you.