A friend killed herself this weekend.
Stop for just a moment and measure how you feel on reading that. Feel into your shoulders and your chest, your gut. Feel the visceral reaction to the statement of fact that someone loved took her own life. Own it.
It is our inability to physically, let alone emotionally, deal with the choice made, the act, that threatens to keep someone so special from living on in our memories.
I see it happening only days after. Had she died of illness or accident people would be reminiscing, telling stories. But upon hearing what happened, people clam up and change the subject.
The stories are not told. The loss is not dealt with. No one seems to be able to handle the fact that a vital woman who was held so dear in each of our hearts decided to leave us forever, with no possible chance of ever changing her mind.
Left alone, people turn to others for help. A huge part of the grieving process is the belief that just by telling stories we keep our lost loved ones alive. But not so when someone commits violence against herself, against us, in such a final way. People express condolences, then change the subject.
We have each experienced suffering that has made us question our ability to go on. But go on we did. Caroline didn’t and bringing her choice to mind leads to too many questions, too much guilt, to reconcile alone.
But working it out alone seems our only choice. Instead of coming together and establishing a legacy, we wander away and suffer with our questions alone. The community we need feels guilt, resentment, confusion, and horror too great to share. And so she risks being forgotten, and we risk never resting in the comfort that she is in a better place, and that her death is a resolution.
The most difficult idea to contemplate is that possibly, in her despair, she did what she did because she thought we would be better off without her. That she was too much of a burden for us, or her family, to bear. In her wordlessly choosing to die, she gave us no choice to help.
No matter how much we tried to help while she lived, she still decided to be gone. To bring her to mind and speak about her only re-emphasizes the fact that we cannot, possibly ever, reconcile the person we knew with what she did.
The way we do this, in grieving, is to come together and tell stories. But this hurts too much, risks too many unanswerable questions that make us too uncomfortable. It takes us too close to our own suffering to set aside our loss and fully accept hers.
Possibly, her act of surrender was an act of love. But society’s judgment, and society’s refusal to confront that possibility, keeps us quiet. We reach out, but no one can muster the courage to face the choice made and take our hand. So she ends up more misunderstood in death than she ever was in life. And in our misunderstanding we lose her — forever.
Again, go into your body. Experience how her killing herself makes you feel. Breathe into the space left empty and sit with it. Don’t run away from the pain. Don’t run away from her. Carry her with you. Sit with your memories, and then share them.
We will talk about you, Caroline. We will not be quieted by scandal, but will instead respect the life lived and mourn the promise unfulfilled. We will heal. You will not be held in contempt, left unspoken about, or forgotten. We will never forget that you loved us, always.