Tomorrow, 10 September, is national suicide awareness day and I'd like to talk about losing my friend to suicide.
When she died we were initially told that there had been a tragic accident. We knew she had been spending Christmas abroad with her family and set to googling to try and work out what had happened. We found a news article about a car accident where there had been one fatality, the age was wrong but we thought that might be a mistake and guessed that this was how she had died.
As the days passed the story became more confused. We discovered that she had passed away at home, and that she had died on New Years Eve. Even then, knowing her as we did we never imagined that she had taken her own life.
She had seemed so happy, when we heard what had actually happened the shock was immense.
I didn't believe it. I thought a mistake had been made, that she had hurt herself accidentally or that someone else had harmed her. Even when there was no question anymore I could not accept it. How was it that my beautiful friend had been so desperate and none of us had seen any warning signs. How was it that she could have died, alone in such sadness when there were so many people, just minutes away, who loved her so much.
As weeks passed I would imagine her in that moment. What she was feeling, how she negotiated the moment between living and deciding not to live anymore. How she did it. Why she did it. I crafted a horrible image where she changed her mind only when it was too late to turn back. Imagined her trying to stay awake, to reach for her phone as it buzzed with New Years text messages so that she could be saved, only to find that she was too weak now to move. I imagined her crying, realizing that it was too late, understanding that she was going to die alone, frightened and sorry. I imagined she despaired at the end, that life seemed worthwhile again in her last moments.
I hope that she just went to sleep believing she had found some peace.
We didn't talk about it. We always used that original story and talked about a tragic accident. I had the word suicide stuck in my throat, terrified I was going to scream it out for want of some truth. I felt like I was part of an elaborate lie, everyone knowing but nobody speaking.
Months after she died a group of us sat together in a pub and she was mentioned. For the first time somebody said suicide and the conversation changed. We honed in on it, now that it had been verbalized. The conversation we had was filled with so much anger that it hurts me now to think of it. For a moment we were united in hating her for it. All of our hurt and confusion twisted into complete rage, what she had done to her family, what she had done to us.
I am not angry now, our anger in that moment can be understood. Now I just feel very sad that she is not here anymore. The reason she is not here matters less than it did. It was important for us to be able to talk about it, to make it real and lay it down, to accept it and move away from the way she died to a more honest grief.
Sometimes I think, what if I had called her on the phone. If it had been at exactly the right moment would something I said have changed that night, stilled her hand until the moment had passed and she wouldn't have died. She would still be here. But we cannot rewrite the past, we cannot bring her back with wishes and regret.
Now, I find myself watching. I see a small sadness in a friend and feel a horrible sinking terror that they are hiding a bigger despair. I worry because I missed it in her. I fear getting another telephone call to say that someone else I love felt so lost in the world that they thought it better to leave it. Selfishly, I'm terrified that I will have to deal with it again, that I will have to relearn every moment I spent with them to the tune of their dying.
If there was any magic in the world I would use it to bring her back, or if that was to big I would use it instead to be with her again for a moment. Not to ask her why, not now, but rather to wrap her in a hug and make sure she knew that I loved her. While everything else has been boxed up and put away safely it is the thought of her dying without that knowledge that hurts now.
I do not know that there is anything we could have done to help her. There is no way to work out why she took her life. What I do know is that the pain of losing someone to suicide is a singular hurt, all mixed up with anger and confusion and regret. Talking about it is difficult, people do not know how to react, often there is a sense of shame.
I don't know if awareness will help people in despair, or if our being more aware could have saved her; but I do know that awareness helps the people who are left behind. Being able to say, 'this is what happened to my friend, this is how she died' allows us to process it.
Many people have stories like this to tell, or stories they do not feel able to give voice. The importance of awareness cannot be underestimated, nor can the importance of reaching out, talking and listening to the things people might not be saying.
This week is world suicide prevention week. Tell someone your story.