The Tragedy that ‘Defines’ Us
May is my February. A dark, bleak, hopeless month that symbolizes a loss so massive, I have yet to move beyond it. While some see a rising sun and blooming wildflowers. I smell the memory of death and a moment so sad, I relive it every day. May marks my tragedy. We all have it, that one tragedy, and if you have yet to experience yours, I am sorry to say you will. There will be one moment that comes in your life and rips up your roots. A moment so dark, it will forever change the landscape of the very world you live and exist in daily. It is a vast, ugly, invisible beast that swoops in without warning and devours someone you love. It comes in many forms, but the form I speak of is a hulking beast with a scythe. For me, It was death, yet I wasn’t lucky enough to have it come for me. No, that would have been easy. It came in the form of the suicide of my best friend, and it would go on to define me in ways I am still discovering to this day. It is what that knowledge that I pray I can help anyone else who has to endure that.
Life After (Their) Death
To bury someone you loved dearly and had in your daily life for years is pure hell. A sickening, steaming, agonizing place of pure anguish I would wish upon no soul, be they good or evil. It is a sadness so deep, it eats away at the lining of your soul (and the lining of your stomach in my case, as a bleeding ulcer was also a result). Though death itself is soul-shattering when you are on the other side of it, it is even more crippling when you are burying your best friend, who was still in his early 20’s (and who just took his life by lighting himself on fire, which I will never understand nor speak about after this). There are no words to capture the vast, black hole that tragedy leaves inside of you. No perfect simile or amazing visual metaphor. No poetic way to spin it or romanticize it. Even for a writer, sometimes a sadness can hit so hard that it leaves us without words, and words are how we make a living. But I am here talking about this now for one reason and one reason only:
So future survivors of the suicides of loved ones will understand that it will stain the fabric of your being and you will NEVER shake it, but you can survive and become the person that would have made that other person incredibly proud.
That, my friends, is the secret.
Accepting The Loss
I am not going to sit here and tell you the things that led up to my friend’s suicide. The wound is incredibly fresh, even at the 17th year mark (this month, May 23rd) and to dredge it up will be a journey too painful for me, and it would also feel exploitative to his memory and those who loved him. But I will tell you this, he was sad and we were all trying to help him. But he was sad on a deeper and darker level than any of us knew. I can tell you the day of the funeral, it was sunny but my mind worked its revisionist history and makes me remember it rainy, simply because he LOVED this song and would sing it a great deal. Even the song itself being a cry for help we may not have heard:
But what I cannot tell you in words is how it felt. I find myself grasping desperately at the words and emotions I felt that day, and even right now I can only truly recall one feeling:
Feeling that I had failed him and then feeling so freakishly alone, in a matter of 24 hours. My girlfriend of 6 years and I had just broken up as well, so all the things that defined my life up to that point were all gone and without warning. A life I had come to know was gone completely. And if you think you know the sadness of losing someone, it is tripled when that person ends their life by their own hand. You think it is hard burying someone who passed away from an illness or old age, wait until you have to bury someone who chose death over you and their friends and family. It causes a sickening nausea that sits in the pit of your stomach for the rest of your life, ripping and gnawing at your fetid guts like frenzied, trapped rats.
Letting Go of the Anger and Accepting the Sadness (But Not Drowning In It)
I misled people with the title to this article, and I DIDN’T mislead people with the title of this article. No, suicide didn’t show up and kill my friend. My friend got sad and killed himself. The title makes it sound like I am in some form of denial and projecting the blame, and I am not. I know, whether sick in the head at the time or not, he made the choice. He took his life. BUT I also know about sadness enough myself (does this story make more sense now? It happened after the story you are reading now) to know that sadness and depression are a VERY real disease few enough discuss or seem aware of. You have cancer, someone gets you a cup of water and makes sure you are comfortable. You have depression, people who have no idea, tell you to “get over it.” I am sorry, but that DOES fall back on us as a society. We push sad people away, tell them what they are feeling isn’t real. This act alone pushes sad people even further towards that final act of desperation. I can confidently say my buddy and I talked about both of our sadness’ all the time, so I was not one of those deaf to his cries, though I will say, MANY around him were, and that made it all even sadder.
But again, what about us? How do the survivors of a tragedy get past that? How does one not lose themselves focusing on that loss?
The truth is, you need to take a moment and see through their eyes, even if they are gone and even if you are mad as hell about it (which is totally within your right). But you need to really try understand that, in that moment, they lived in a world that was so unforgiving to them and so intense, they chose death over experiencing any more of it. Yes, we have the right to be mad at what they did, and yes, we have the right to be sad, but not further condemn them or call suicide selfish. Life condemned them. A disease condemned them. But to hate someone for that or to call them selfish is ugly. I have been on the doorstep of self inflicted death and can tell you, I have jumped out of airplanes and I have tried to kill myself, and the trying to kill yourself is such a painful, sad, desperate moment BUT it takes a great deal of courage to actually do. I am not saying it is the right kind of courage, but DO NOT call them selfish. It is a disease. Trust me, no one WANTS to want to die (outside of those ever-so-rare suicide cults like Heaven’s Gate) and to call a diseased person selfish makes YOU the selfish one. Was what they did right? Hell no, but don’t think they wanted it. They lived in a world that made them feel hopeless. To let go of the pain and anger from that loss is to empathize with it and not condemn it because you are sad they are gone. THAT is US being selfish. The miles they walked were over broken glass, never forget that. Our feet are not as scarred as theirs.
And if you are too mad to forgive, so be it. But remember, when we forget, that loss was in vain, and losses of that size should never be in vain.
Cliche Alert: Be Aware and Enjoy Every Moment
So what do we learn when someone we adore chooses to commit suicide? The first thing we do is admit the genuine epidemic this is. When we pretend these deaths weren’t suicide, the message does not get sent. When someone takes their life, they are letting us know they were sad and life was hard for them. Does that make what did okay? No, that is never okay. But it can make it so WE become aware as a collective society of what sadness and depression really are, and maybe start trying a little harder to hear those crying out for help all around us, every day.
The truth is, you don’t know it is an epidemic until it hits you. Sadly, between best friends and family, I have learned it many times over (and made the same stupid decision once before but was blessed enough to survive it, which I now take a sign to help others, which is EXACTLY why I am writing this.).
Keep your eyes peeled for those around you with depression or who may have the urge to leave this place. You would be SHOCKED how much a random hug and an “are you okay?” can do for someone in that low of a place. Believe it or not, springtime is the time of the highest suicide rates in our country (yes, the Christmas time thing is a myth). Reason being, spring makes happy people feel hopeful. But for the sad, it marks a time when everyone is waking up to a beauty that, unfortunately and beyond our grasp of understanding, they just cannot see, which only makes them feel even MORE hopeless and drives them toward that single act of desperation. So keep your eyes peeled for signs, and if someone seems sad, ask them how they are or offer them a hug and take them out for a meal. You may not even know it, but you could have already saved 100 people in your own life with acts that simple. Thank you for that.
And the final cliche lesson this should teach us all is that we really do need to embrace every second with the people we love. Because like I said in the beginning of this article, we all have tragedies waiting just around the corner, and nothing is worse than the tragedy of regret. Live in the essence of each day, absorb and appreciate every single second, and pray you never have to know the sadness of burying a best friend, because as much as I talk like I have moved beyond it, such is not the case. I am a survivor of it, both sides, but I am also strong enough to forgive him and to recognize it is a ghost that will haunt me every day until I die.
May you never know what that feels like.
May you never know my May.
I love and miss you, B.
We both joked and dreamt about how we would never be writers, but how we wanted nothing more from life. I did this for you, brother. For us. I hope you are proud. I hope I have become the man you knew I could be. And I pray you know your suicide was a mistake. I forgive you, but it aches, always and every day. You were the kindest soul I ever met, and you did this planet a great injustice by denying it and us more years with you. Hell, if I am a professional writer now, I cannot even fathom what you would have become had you just given yourself a chance. That, my dearest friend, is the biggest tragedy and loss of all.