I lost a friend this week to suicide. My heart has been breaking since I heard the news, literal, physical pain. She was not a close friend, but still a friend. I looked back through my phone at the last text messages we exchanged. I had bumped into her while running errands and didn't recognize her at first. I hadn't seen her in months because of covid-19 and with our masks on, it took me a minute to figure out it was really her. This was in September what she wrote back to me apologizing for not recognizing her right away:
"It takes me a minute sometimes but it's nice to see people I know. I don't get to see very many people because we do online school and we don't go to church. I hope you are doing well too and staying healthy."
You know what? I didn't respond. Like I said, she wasn't a close friend. But I should have responded. I should have called her. I should have sent her a card in the mail or dropped off some treats at her doorstep. I should have done something. I looked back over the last seven months from that text and realize that I did nothing to reciprocate a friendship to her. Now, I know it's not my fault that she ended her life, but I also know that she was probably reaching out, desperate. In talking to a couple mutual friends, I've learned that she was really having a hard time with the isolation. And I know that Texas hasn't been that isolated for as long, but her family took it very seriously and didn't come to church and did online school. I'm not sure this woman ventured out much. When our ward returned to church, her husband went because he was in the bishopric. Sometimes her older children came with him (two teenage girls). But she hadn't been.
As I reflected on the fact that I haven't seen her at all in person since I ran into her at the UPS store, I realized that perhaps more people reaching out to her would have made a difference. I do not know what else she may have been struggling with. From outside appearances, her life was pretty awesome. She had a beautiful family (two daughters, ages 16 and 14, two sons, ages 12 and 6). She traveled a lot and it was pretty obvious that her husband absolutely doted on her and cherished her. I know she had a hard life growing up in Russia.
And even while I'm typing these words, my heart is filled with love for her, but also such terrible sorrow. I don't think I've ever known such sorrow. The only comparable event in my life that knocked the breath out of me and made my heart pound like this was when I got news that my brother had been killed in a car accident. I remember feeling so desperate that it was a mistake, that it wasn't really him. When I found out about my friend, my first reaction was disbelief, that maybe she had only tried to end her life but would actually be okay.
Unfortunately, she really is gone. I just can't believe it. I keep crying about it. About the loss for her sweet children and doting husband. About the things I never said but should have. About the world not having her in it--she was so bright and beautiful and full of life. I just can't wrap my head (or heart) around this new world. How do people move on from suicide of a friend or loved one? How is it even possible?
And with these thoughts come my own thoughts I've dealt with about suicide. I guess that's why this hits so close to home. I have struggled on and off with suicidal thoughts. I understand the deep, dark abyss of pain, and often not even understanding why the pain is there, only that it is. The darkness that surrounds you relentlessly. The feelings of anguish and deep sadness that cannot be explained. I always think, if only this worked out, or that worked out, I would feel better. But then those things do work out and I don't feel better. The feelings of loneliness and failure, and not even of failure of something specific, just failing at life in general. Wanting to feel happy but not knowing quite how to make that happen. Always feeling like something is weighing you down. These are feelings I understand, and I understand the desperation of wanting to stop feeling that way and thinking that the only way to end the pain is to end the life.
The things that have kept me from going down that path too far have been remembering the faces of my children and imagining their faces if they found me gone. Picturing the face of my husband trying to shoulder the heartache of it and pretending to be okay, because that's what he'd do. Imagining my parents, siblings, and friends (who sometimes I'm not sure how much of a friend they really are, but knowing they would be sad) and thinking of how they'd feel. My leaving would only hurt them and I don't want to hurt anyone. So I stay. Sometimes, I stay despite all the very real, raw sadness I feel. It's basically a state of never-ending hopelessness and anxiety. I don't know how to be happy. But I still try to hang in there. I have some good days where everything seems like it will be okay, and I try to cling to those.
This pandemic has made it really hard. I don't know if it was the pandemic that did it for my friend or if her troubles were deeper and ongoing; I really do not know. But I imagine, when I re-read that last text, that she was feeling very much alone and isolated. People need people. It really is that simple. And text messages, phone calls, Marco Polos, Zoom meetings, and other messages just aren't the same thing as face-to-face with hugs and handshakes and laughter and togetherness. It just isn't. It can be helpful, especially when you are far away from those people, but it doesn't replace in person. It never can. So much is lost when we can't see each other in person face-to-face in the same room.
My friend was amazing, beautiful, talented. She had so much life left. I'm so very sad because the world lost a beautiful person. There is much written about how to deal with suicidal thoughts and tendencies and how to cope with them and how to choose to stay. But there isn't a lot written on how to cope with the loss of someone who chose to leave. How to pick up the broken pieces. How to find hope in the Savior through something like this. I don't know how to do this. It's just very sad.