I wish I could talk about how suicide changes an extended family forever. I wish I could talk about how the stigma of not being able to talk about it makes the kids, who haven’t been told, a lot different than they were.
They see their parents and adult relatives huddled together talking about god knows what, but they know it’s not good.
They watch their beloved grandmother go from healthy, vibrant and the most wonderful person in the world to sad, sick (she had strokes; one killed her a few years later) and still wonderful.
This isn’t my story and I can’t go into details but after I found out about the suicide when I was 35 a lot of things fell into place. I finally understood my family. And wondered how many good years my grandmother would have had if not for this event. And I wondered about other members of the family.
How much happier they could have been had this been out in the open and they understood why their immediate family had been so weird both before and after the suicide. “Weird” being a nice word to explain certain members.
Of course it would be have been better had there been no suicide at all. At that moment the person saw no other options. I understand now that’s the entire catalyst for suicide.
The first boy I met in Seventh Grade–he became a high school football star. Then a college friend. I watched him become more and more depressed. He virtually stopped talking. He tried volunteering for some activities and people would call me and ask me how to use him. Me? I was 20, 21, self-centered and naive.
True I knew how to stop people from overdosing on heroin, a horrible drug I never did. But does that life skill translate into knowing how to save a person from himself?
I knew how to get Viet Nam vets to the VA—something that probably did more harm than good but I didn’t know that then and can’t fault myself for trying.
A beautiful boy, a dancer and my personal angel who had been my first college friend and maybe my best, had overcome drugs to get hepatitis. When he was coughing up blood his girlfriend took him to the hospital where they gave him drugs any med student should have known not to give a person with hepatitis. He lapsed into a coma and died six weeks later.
He loved life passionately but he hadn’t when he did the heroin. Was that a form of slow suicide that finally happened just when he got his life together and was selling art–gorgeous light boxes–in the very new Soho? I have always wondered.
The girl who lived in the dorm room next to me Freshman year went missing a few years later. I was on the subway and read over a man’s shoulder: “coed found dead.” I did something so out of character–I grabbed the paper from him. He saw how shaken I was and offered comfort rather than yelled. She died of frostbite not half a mile from the dorm.
So many others. A boy from high school–class after mine–was found in his garage after he hung himself.
I moved to Cambridge. My parents were visiting me and acting very very strange. Finally I asked (in the roundabout in Harvard Square) why? They didn’t want to say but I forced them to say that the boy I had known since Seventh Grade had been found dead in four feet of water.
I didn’t, couldn’t believe my parents and ran out of the car (hell you were stuck at Harvard Square forever; it wasn’t like I was risking death) and called the New York best friend. “Yes, it’s true. Nobody wanted to tell you.”
After I moved back to New York I met a charismatic, funny, wonderful-seeming man. We moved in together after two nights (I make no claim for moral-superiority.)
Soon I realized that he was an undiagnosed bipolar–though I’m not sure I knew the term for that then. He was abusive though not physically and I realized he had to go. It took years to untangle him from my life. He was the nice charming one; I was a known bitch.
January 4th, 1989–he shot himself in Nashville. That was eleven years after we met and I didn’t know for years. I felt horrible. I felt free. I felt like in my struggle to save myself I played a part in his killing himself.
(Our life together–indeed–everything above–are major parts of my book.)
The “joke” is I have an invisible neurological condition that’s supposed to lead to increased suicide. The other day my best friend of 37 years asked me if I had ever thought of killing myself.
Honest answer: “Who hasn’t? But I have always believed in the promise of “tomorrow.” If I could have only sung and was much younger I would have made a perfect Annie.
Most of my life I was too anxious to ever feel depression. It wasn’t until the anxiety was under control that I ever felt depressed. And immediately I tried meds because I knew the depression was a chemical reaction to the anxiety med. I spoke to my doctor every single morning for six months until we finally found one that worked.
Everyday in New York I would pass a building. The side of the building says “depression is a flaw in chemistry not character.”
Always remember that. And seek help immediately. For suicide is an irrational act. One taken when you’re standing on the street corner of despair and hopelessness.
It’s so hard to cross those streets but it can be done.