Taking Control: Suicide of a Friend

Monday seemed like it was set to be a rather uneventful day. True, I had to go to the Post Office and mail some things (a rare occurrence), but other than that, just do some studying, clean the house, and otherwise have a forgettable day. And then, a Facebook post about the suicide of a mutual friend. “What?!”

Part of me wants to be upset, rage at the world about “how does this happen,” to be furious that there wasn’t more I could offer him, that I didn’t have the insight to offer, that the world couldn’t have been a better place for him. The situation of his life had become quite dire in the last year in a half and left him feeling like a square peg struggling to survive in a world full of round holes. A kind and beautiful soul, liked and loved, but feeling like a houseguest that had overstayed his welcome. There didn’t seem to be a way forward, financially tapped out, that wonderful soul trapped in a body that was failing, in a world that felt rejecting.

And I can’t say that I don’t understand it. I can’t say that I can’t see where he was coming from, that I didn’t see him painted into a corner with no way out. I don’t think anyone wanted to see it, that we were all hoping for a tomorrow that will never come. A day in which his problems would lessen, a job offer would arrive, his health would improve. A day in which the storm would finally pass and he would find himself standing in the sun.

On a post about the snow here in WV last week he asked, “May I come live with you?” It was a busy crazy week, I didn’t get back to him. The last thing I would ever hear from him was whether he could come live with me. Would that have helped, would it have put me in a bind, would I have been able to help him?  Whether I had said yes or no, was the bigger implication that all hope was lost, and he was just blindly hoping for a Hail Mary at the last second? Or was it him, being him, making a trivial comment on a trivial post, having no bearing on what was to happen a few days later?

I don’t know, I don’t get to know. Part of taking control of his situation, as he put it, is one of robbing us first of his being and second of our participation with that being.

Which leaves everyone who knew him to make choices about how we make peace with the one he made. I choose to believe that it was him being himself as he commented, that “May I come live with you” wasn’t a last ditch effort to find another way out, but just a thing he posted in regard to a picture, no more ominous or foreboding than if he had asked me to send that pretty scene to him inside a box. I’ve had my own rough few months, with the passing of my grandmother, trying to figure out what comes next, putting one foot in front of another and remembering how—after 7 years of being her caregiver and abandoning much of what made me, me, to do so—to move forward in my own life. Maybe it makes me a horrible friend, but I don’t think I could have taken on that responsibility, and I think he wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have seriously asked me to do so. I won’t take on that guilt, I refuse to feel or think that I “could have, should have, would have, ought to have….” I didn’t have anything to offer that would tangibly help, as he never asked otherwise for such, I think he knew that.

For so many others in his life, I can see their pain. The guilt, the ways they wish they would have helped more, done more, offered more, given more. But so many did so much for him, and it wasn’t enough. Not because they didn’t try, they did an amazing job of helping him survive. Despite their efforts, his situation was more than his friends could handle. There’s no shame in that, they tried, he knew they did so out of love. It’s not that those efforts were futile, it’s not that those efforts failed. They succeeded, it’s just that even in that success, he was still overcome by the hopelessness of his situation and didn’t want to continue taking their help, resolving to commit suicide rather than feel like he was abusing his friends. To a fault, he was the definition of a good friend, one who would have gladly abused himself repeatedly to help those he knew, but one who never wanted to be abusive of his friendships.

I am left wondering, however, if in a different environment, in a country with a basic income and universal healthcare, if he would still be here. Would the square edges have been softened enough that he could pass through the round hole world, would he have been able to hang in there? Would he have met his feelings of old age and obsolescence, his pain and declining health, with a renaissance if he had those tools to work with?  If he had been able to focus on a smaller set of problems?

I don’t have answers, only questions, only thoughts. That’s all someone’s death leaves us. Thoughts of how things could have been different. Regrets of words spoken and unspoken.  Life is a complicated web of answers to seemingly endless questions, suicide is a single answer that ensnares everyone who knew a person in a complicated web of unanswered questions.

As I transfer one more person from present tense to past tense, people I know to people I knew—I think back on the fun we had, the conversations we shared, the laughs and memories of those yesterdays and choose to be thankful that my world and my life intersected with his, and hope he felt the same.

Tim, you were a gift to all who knew you, your passing is a tremendous loss to us all!