Recently a friend, Donna, experienced the trauma of losing their sister to suicide. Even though it has been eighteen years, four months, and 17 days since my best friend committed suicide, it still haunts me. Within seconds of hearing Donna’s journey, I was instantly transported back in time to the days following my best friend’s death. I tried to stay engaged with Donna and show empathy for her experience all the while desperately desiring empathy for my own.
My best friend was beautiful inside and out with a compassionate heart too large for her physical body. As one of the smartest people I knew, she loved to engage in passionate discussions about her favorite subject: politics. She had more energy and could cram more things into one day than most could in a week. She was lovely, generous, clumsy, sarcastic, determined, enthusiastic, and feisty.
She was also Bi-Polar Type 1. She tried to overcome it through numerous efforts of self-medication, physician prescribed medication, counseling, and several hospitalizations. But it did not work. The treatment would last for a period of time and lose effectiveness. Some of this was because she would think she was getting better and stop the medication, only to find her condition rapidly declining. The hole, as she described it, kept getting bigger and bigger.
But that did not end her life. Rather, it was the lies she believed which dominated the thoughts in her head. These falsehoods devalued her contribution to life, stole her precious energy and time, and minimized her impact on the lives around her. As Donna spoke, these lies had an eerily familiar ring with Donna’s sister.
- Lie 1: She would only be missed for a short time. I still mourn her death. Not in an unhealthy, “I can’t move on in my life without her” way. But in a sorrowful, “I wish my best friend was here to see this” way. She thought she would eventually be forgotten. However, the manner of her death, suicide, does not allow those left behind to forget. It is a traumatic way to end a life, leaving a lifelong scar on family and friends. Apparently my ability to quickly count the days since she died is a demonstration of the reality that she will always be missed.
- Lie 2: Things would be easier for those she loved if she was gone. She was wrong. It has been over eighteen years of hard. She believed she was an unnecessary and inconvenient burden that others tolerated out of obligation. She was not. It was a joy to know her and it was an honor to be her friend. Sadly her legacy is tainted by the manner of her death instead of the positive influence she left on the lives around her. Ironically, her absence has left a hole in the lives of many which cannot be filled by anyone else. In truth, I would give just about anything to have her here.
- Lie 3: Her mistakes were too great to be forgiven. Just before her death, her manic behavior led her to make several impulsive and uncharacteristic decisions. She believed the best way out was to end her life. Having made many poor choices and seen others made even worse errors in judgment than her, I have learned that even the worst slip-ups can be overcome. Losing a life is too great a price for any mistake.
- Lie 4: Her life would have more meaning in death than in life. This is the worst of the lies because it exalts death and demotes life. For those who don’t believe in an after-life, life is all there is. So how is there a benefit in ending it too soon before its time? For those who believe in an after-life, each life has a specific purpose and design while here. How is taking it achieving any purpose? It does not. Life can be hard, frustrating, and depressing but it can also be joyful, fun, and exciting. Death, specifically suicide, is the end of all possibility in life. It does not add meaning, it steals it away.
As I shared with Donna about my journey and talked about the lies her sister and my best friend believed, she began to feel the intensity of sorrow. Unfortunately, this sorrow is more of a haunting than a vanishing. It is the kind that does not leave a person.
Suicide is not the answer. Everyone who considers or talks about it needs to get some help from a professional. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for assistance. The national suicide prevention lifeline is 800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.