We Get To Remember.
When I was fourteen, my stepbrother shot himself in the head.
When I was seventeen, my youth pastor said that anyone who committed suicide would go straight to hell, and I got up and walked out, and it was the beginning of me questioning everything I had ever believed. What kind of God?, I asked myself endlessly. What kind of God would let someone suffer so endlessly, and then add an eternity of torment on top of it? I didn’t want anything to do with a God like that. I didn’t want anything to do with people who believed in a God like that.
For a long time, I was angry. I was bewildered, and I was frustrated, and I was so very, very sad. We didn’t talk about Scott after he died. We didn’t talk about his shy smile or his warm brown eyes or the way he covered me with his own blanket one night when I slept on the couch because I was too scared to stay in my room by myself. There was a large portrait of him above our TV, and the layers of silence fell on the ghost of his face, day after day. We haunted ourselves.
Imagine, for a moment, if we could see each other inside out: the battered spirits with ropes of twisted scars, the grievously injured souls with dirty tourniquets and torn bandages to hold in the blood and the guts, the fragile psyches just one blow away from a fatality. So many of us are walking wounded. “Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary pain.” But how do you define temporary? How does temporary feel when you are trapped on a battlefield under the weight of your own depression, pinned into the muddy ground by the intensity of your own self-loathing? If I am sitting upright in my saddle, bright sunlight in my eyes, looking out across the injured underneath me, how can I fathom what they’re feeling? I can’t comprehend lying broken when I am an intact observer.
“Suicide is selfish.”
“Only a coward would take their own life.”
“Look at the mess he left behind for others to clean up.”
“How could he do this to his friends and family?”
Have you ever been depressed? Not a little depressed — where you don’t want to get up from the couch and cook dinner or brush your teeth or get dressed. But really, legitimately, medically depressed — where your bones feel like black holes and empty universes span the breadth of your skin, where taking one breath is an effort that depletes you for the day, where nothing stretches as far in front of you as your mind can see, great waving plains of emptiness and ennui. The kind of depression where your heart sits in your chest like a fat useless thing, every beat an unnecessary distraction, a reminder of the pain, or the worthlessness, or the loss. Ba-bump: this is it, all there is. Ba-bump: you’ve never done a thing. Ba-bump: what a giant disappointment. Ba-bump: who could love you? Ba-bump: they would all be better off without you. Ba-bump: if you loved them, you would set them free from you. Ba-bump: fuck you. Ba-bump: fuck you. Ba-bump: this is it, all there is.
Months. Years. Sometimes decades of an inner dialogue that destroys you cell by cell. Those among us who suffer from depression, from mental illness, from addiction — every day they keep breathing is a goddamned victory.
You don’t get to judge them. If someone succumbs to cancer, we don’t say, “He just didn’t try hard enough.” When someone has a massive heart attack, we don’t say, “If she’d just realized all her blessings!” When someone has a DNR order in place, we don’t say, “Oh, what a coward.”
Sometimes people just can’t go on living. And you know what? It is nothing personal. I couldn’t heal from the loss of my brother until I finally realized and accepted that, years later. In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide, I read one comment that said, “Your life doesn’t belong to YOU, it belongs to those who love you.” No. No. Your life is your own. Your body is your own. Your soul and your spirit and everything that makes up the essence of you is your own. It’s what makes you shine in that particular way you have, it’s how you shed light in your specific way onto the universe around you, and it’s why you are so missed when you are gone — but it’s yours. We can never claim true ownership of each other; we can only share for as long as the other person is willing to stay open.
It is hard to let go when someone dies. It’s even harder to let go when they commit suicide. We can talk about why. We can talk about what-ifs. We can talk about the desperate need for honesty in the discourse surrounding mental health issues, and we can talk about how we all need to talk more when we are struggling. But we don’t get to kick rocks and throw stones and let our confusion and grief become ugliness. We don’t get to name-call and knock someone who is permanently down. We don’t get to preach and point fingers and assign blame. What we get to do is this: live. We get to live. We get to wake up and know that someone loves us, we get to walk out into the sweet muted light of morning and know that we matter, we get to lie down at night next to a lover, or a baby, or a cat or a dog, or maybe we get to lie down at night with no one but ourselves and we’re grateful for it.
We get to remember. We are grief-bearers; we are lamenters. We are wailing women. But we are also the storytellers, the sentinels of memory; we carry the tragedy of all these burned out stars in our pockets and their soft sighs remind us of our wonderful, vulnerable flesh. We get to keep connecting. We have to keep connecting: each one of us is an important light in the immense constellation of humanity, and when we see someone dimming, it is our duty, and it should be our honor, to turn ourselves towards them and share a part of our light.