Earlier this week I found out a friend of mine had died unexpectedly. Or rather, unexpectedly to those around her--she committed suicide.
M has been on my mind in the ensuing days since I learned of her death. She wasn't a close friend, but someone I came to know because we had a kin-ship of sorts--we both grieved about aspects of our sons' lives and the things they would never experience, and we both felt the isolation that comes from living in a world full of people that had no idea what we were feeling, having not experienced it themselves. She rarely left her house, and we talked mostly via emails. Obviously, my "isolation" was just the tip of the iceberg for what she felt.
I have been trying to think of a way I can honor her memory, and I think I can do it best by sharing her story--a story that has an additional layer of tragedy because she lost her son 3 years ago. He was 14 at the time, had been drawn into playing the choking "game." You have heard about this game before--kids cutting off their own air supply by tightening something around the neck, loosening it just as they are passing out to get the rush that comes with "coming back." I don't know if he was experienced with the game or this was a first time, but her son had used a belt and did not loosen it in time. He accidentally hung himself in his bedroom closet, and his mother was the one who found him, when he didn't come down for breakfast, already cold. His step-father performed CPR, 911 was called, the paramedics transported him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. This was M's only child.
I did not meet M until some time after her son had passed away. She was a sweet, gentle person, with a warmth that you could still feel beneath all the layers of troubled grief. M did all the things expected of a grieving mother. She shared her son's story on the news and created a memorial website to spread the word about the dangers of playing the choking game. She released balloons--with messages to her son in heaven--to commemorate holidays, the anniversaries of his birth and death. She went to therapy and tried medications. There's no such thing as a "right" way to deal with death, no fool-proof method for making sense of the absurdly senseless. But to my mind, M did everything that one could expect of her.
I think part of the reason her death is weighing heavily on my mind is my initial reaction--I remember being deeply saddened, but not shocked. The more I thought about it, I realized that on some level I might have suspected something like this could happen. I found some emails from a few months ago we had sent back and forth, and re-read them. With hind-sight, I can feel the despair in her words--cloying and thick. At the time, I didn't think they were any different from conversations we'd had off and on in the months before. I didn't see it as possibly being a first step towards surrender. I can't help but think maybe I could have done more, been a little more inviting to continued dialog in my reply, asked more questions, picked up the phone... And then I think I'm so arrogant to think I could have some how changed the course of events, avoided something so carefully planned that even her own family could not stop.
I think the stereotype is that people who commit suicide are a little bit selfish, because they don't think about the impact it has on those around them. I think that is a bunch of crap. M felt a kind of pain that most of us are fortunate enough to never experience--the pain of saying good-bye to a child. And instead of dulling with time (like it is "supposed to"), each day she woke to a feeling sharp as a knife freshly drawn along the wet-stone. M battled for three long years--to me that is bravery.
My thoughts and prayers are with M's husband, and I too hope she has finally found the peace that eluded her here on earth.