“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” (Isak Dinesen)
Last week, a friend of mine jumped off a downtown high-rise building to end her mental torture and free herself from the inner hell she’d lived for the past few years. My friend Mary and I would often go many months and not see or talk to one another. It was just that kind of friendship. Sometimes distant, still ongoing, and long term.
I first met her about twenty years ago, right before she was pregnant with her first and only child. She left behind many friends and acquaintances, and a nineteen-year-old daughter, a play date for my oldest girl when they were both little. Their sleep-overs at ages five and nine meant on any given morning they’d have kid-baked pizza for breakfast and afterwards in Mary’s back yard, sky high trampoline flights and landings closer to the spine-breaking metal spring edges than I could bear to watch. These memories stand out for me as much as Mary’s ending.
Her suicide carved the deepest of pain in my soul yet somehow in this last week since her death, I still feel her presence as if butterflies, fairies, and elves float around. Kooky concept I know but I’d rather sense this mystical in the air than other images left behind.
Over time I’ve lost several friends and also a family member to suicide. I don’t know the kind of torture and prison they must have lived, for my instinct drives me to look up and glance around when I’m in the dark. I ache for anyone who loses hope. So far it’s never happened to me. Maybe it’s because of my extreme beginnings in prison but as long as I can look up, around, and beyond myself, then I can get up. I hope it stays that way but I’ve learned there’s no guarantee. When the options are insanity, institution, or death, who knows what we’ll choose until we’re there.
What’s helped me a little is to learn about “the secret.” I’ve learned it goes way back. The earliest recorded suicide was 1046 BC when Shang Zhou, the last king of the Shang Dynasty of China, set fire to his palace and remained inside. Suicide touches a lot of us, with
• An estimated 4.5 million survivors in this country. (AAS)
Mary, at least, is out of her living hell but what about the others down the road who will make the same choice?
- There are twice as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS. • An average of one person dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes. (CDC, AAS)
- There are four male suicides for every female suicide. (CDC, AAS)
- There are an estimated 8 to 25 attempted suicides to 1 completion.
- 1 in 65,000 children, ages 10 to 14, commit suicide each year.
- The strongest risk factor for suicide is depression.
As a several-times-over survivor left after suicide, not much helps me grapple with it other than talking, and also silence and private meditation, and a wide umbrella of friends and family. Mary still lives in a part of me. Mary, a name I now feel in my bones, which I’d never thought much about before this. It was my given middle name at birth, Madlyn Mary, before my adoption when I became Deborah Kate as a toddler.
Besides a personal association with her name, Mary left me two unexpected legacies. One, a coincidence. Or maybe not. Today I dug around looking for a file on a shelf packed with miscellaneous folders and I came across the box where I’d stored my pen and ink greeting card line, which I created many years ago and since discontinued. Dancers in Tutus. Somehow I know Mary wouldn’t mind my tutus along side grief. The coincidence lives in the two I found, mourning, and secrecy.
The second legacy she left to me has altered my world. My outlook on life changed from the second I learned of her suicide. I have no idea how this happened. I’m not the most patient person sometimes, but since her death, nothing annoys me. Not one person, place, or thing can spark any anger or irritation from me right now. This might change but for now my priorities about what matters have shifted.
Along with the deepest of grief and anguish about how Mary’s life ended, I’m left with an interior calm I can’t explain other than she handed it off for me to carry. No “What if…” and “If only…” Only mourning, and doing what I know to survive. Write, dream, draw, talk, and seek silence.
I don’t need answers about anything right now. My friend doesn’t either. I honor her freedom from her living hell. May her memory be for a blessing.
Already I’ve received a blessing. I haven’t felt one teeny bit of criticism about anything or anyone from the second I learned of her death. Not one.
I hope it lasts.