I sat down to write this post for the first time one year ago, when the news had just reached me, tears still drying on my face.
I shut the computer. I wasn't ready. Too raw.
I've tried again a number of times since, but have never been satisfied with what I came up with. Today I realized, though, that this is not about my pretty writing, and acting like there is some perfect thing I could say is actually rather self-centered and silly. I wrote a spur-of-the-moment epic status on facebook, and it seemed to bring people some comfort. For the sake of keeping a record that is more accessible than a facebook status, and to process this day a little more, I've expanded on that status here.
One year ago today, a woman I had known practically since birth took her own life.
Kate was one of my mother’s best friends, starting back when my mother was roughly the age I am now. When I was little, before Kate had kids of her own, she often babysat me while my mom worked or went to college classes. The first phrase I spoke was “hot tea”, because that was what Kate would always exclaim as she shooed me away from hers.
Once Kate started her own family, I saw her a little less, but she was still a frequent presence for most of my childhood. At any major family celebration–major birthdays, graduations–she was there with her family. In the summers, she often brought her kids over to swim with my siblings and I, either in the Chesapeake Bay in the backyard, or in my grandparents’ swimming pool. Many years I saw Kate and her kids more often than I saw many of my cousins, and at events with extended family, Kate’s kids would be absorbed into the big chaotic group of children.
When my family moved a few states away when I was 14, my mother’s closest friends, including Kate, made her a scrapbook/cookbook, full of pictures of over a decade of birthday parties and beach days, alongside everyone’s favorite recipes. Kate contributed several, but the one I always remember most is her carrot cake, because it is literally the only carrot cake my family will make: “Ms. Kate’s Carrot Cake”.
Unfortunately, in more recent years, Kate dealt with a degenerative spinal condition that caused her a great deal of pain and gradually decreased her range of motion. She eventually developed severe depression, though it seems no one in her life knew quite how dire things had become. And then she killed herself.
After my family moved away from Maryland, my mother kept in touch with Kate, and I saw her maybe once a year or so, on visits back to Maryland. While I have fond memories of Kate and always enjoyed her company on the rare occasions when I got to spend time with her as an adult, we weren’t exactly close. She was my mom’s friend, not mine.
All of which is to say: while Kate was, unquestionably, part of my life, on the list of people hurt by her death, I’m pretty far down, after Kate’s kids and husband, her extended family, and her close friends, including my mother. I am not writing this in memory of her because I am hurting or in need of comfort.
I’m writing this because I’m fucking angry.
I know that Kate was struggling. I know that depression is an evil, lying fucker, and that living with daily pain can drive people to dark places. I have deep empathy for those things.
But Kate also had options. She had friends and family who loved her. She had the ability to access treatment. And she chose not to do so, not to stick around.
Kate was in pain, and her pain is over now. But the pain of her loss ripples through the lives of everyone she loved. So many people will always wonder “could I have done more?” or “why wasn’t I worth sticking around for?”
I know that Kate was a kind and giving person, and that she never would have wanted to cause this kind of pain, which can only mean that she succeeded in convincing herself that, for some twisted depression-logic reason, we’d all be better off without her.
That’s a horribly fucked place to be, and it breaks my heart to know she was there. But I also wish I could go back in time and shake her. To tell her that her children need her. Her friends need her. That everyone who loves her would truly do anything to help her, and that the proof is all around her if she could just let herself see it.
I know that there is little utility in being frustrated with people who are dead, and so I try not to focus too much on these thoughts.
But the senselessness of it all still kills me. It is stupid and awful and unnecessary for Kate to be gone. So many people miss her. So many people never even got to say goodbye. All because at one, crucial moment of despair, no one was by Kate’s side to say “no, please, don’t. Stay.” Because at that one crucial moment, she couldn’t bring herself to reach out for help.
That will always be absurd, unfair, wrong. That will never be okay.
As is the case for any tragedy, the various people who knew Kate have processed her loss in different ways. Some reassure themselves with the thought that at least she is no longer in pain. Some, like me, get angry.
There isn’t really a “right” way to process this, and I have no desire to take away anyone’s comforting thoughts. But to my mind, there isn’t any bright side to Kate’s suicide. The world lost a beautiful person, who most likely died feeling horribly alone. The only meaning I see to be gleaned there is “mental illness fucking sucks”.
But here is what I think we can take from this story.
If you are a person who has, in the past, struggled with mental illness and particularly with suicidal thoughts, file this away for future reference: no matter how alone you feel, your suicide would affect more people than you can imagine. Someone would care. No matter what that evil lying fuck depression is telling you, deciding to quit life also means deciding to hurt all of those people.
If you are a person who is currently struggling with mental illness, hopelessness, or anything else that makes life feel not worth bothering with, PLEASE GET HELP. Call a friend. Make a therapy appointment. (Here are some resources that discuss how to do that if money is a barrier). Really, to start out, anything is better than nothing. Isolation feeds despair. Break out of it anyway you can, even if that feels pointless.
If you are currently contemplating suicide, make sure the help you get is immediate. If you need someone to talk to, there is hopeline (1.800.442.HOPE). If you are literally taking steps to physically harm yourself RIGHT NOW, call 911.
And finally, if you are any variety of human who cares about other humans, listen up.
If a close friend tries to talk with you about scary, painful things like depression and suicide, don’t judge or dismiss or shame them, tell them to “just cheer up”, or insist that their life is so good, they HAVE to be happy.
When people come to friends with problems like mental illness, what they need more than anything is to feel seen, and to feel like someone is in their corner. They need to know that you acknowledge their problem as real, and that you still see value in them even when they are in a dark place, far from their best. You don’t need to say much, and it isn’t about saying “the right thing”. Mostly, your job is to listen.
If you observe that a close friend appears to be struggling with mental health problems, do ask questions. If they aren’t getting help, suggest it.
To a large degree, people with depression have to choose to help themselves–having all the good, helpful friends in the world doesn’t help if you don’t let them in enough to help. The one thing you can do, as a person on the outside, is to let them know that you are someone they can lean on, if/when they are ready.