On Losing a Childhood Friend to Suicide
On Sunday I attended the memorial service for a childhood friend who committed suicide last week. We rode horses together. His mom helped me find my horse. They live close to my childhood home.
My childhood riding partner was anything but an introvert. He was charismatic, handsome, witty, highly intelligent, and generous. He had a gift with words.
I lost touch with him after I left for university. I heard that he had struggled a bit, but I wasn’t aware of the extent of his struggle – I am not sure anyone was.
He wasn’t a mean, cold, closed-off, rude, hurtful or uncaring individual. He didn’t wear dark clothes, eye-liner or adorn his face with metal or ink. Perhaps our stereotype of what constitutes a troubled youth have shifted in recent years as we have begun to talk about suicide more, albeit only a little more. However, I don’t think they have shifted all that much.
I recently watched a special broadcast by CTV titled “Speak Out Against Suicide”. It featured a number of individuals who had lost either their child, partner, or friend to suicide. It also featured individuals who had attempted and failed. One such individual was Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire who is internationally known for his peace-keeping efforts in Rwanda and his authorship of Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. He spoke about his struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that has plagued him since returning from Rwanda. He spoke about his numerous suicide attempts and self-inflicted body mutilation. He spoke out against suicide.
Hearing a powerful, handsome, intelligent and successful adult man speak about his suicide attempts finally opened my eyes to the reality of suicide. Suicide attempts are made by all types of individuals regardless of their education, level of power or success, experience, intelligence, personality, race or religion. It’s not a choice made by just the introverted, depressed, lonely, isolated, or mean. It is a choice made by different individuals and for different reasons.
At the memorial service, listening to the friends of my childhood friend speak was difficult. Yet, each speech made it clear that his adult character was no different from that of his youth. While he may have experienced a few more demons in his adult years, he remained the loving, gentle and thoughtful individual that he had always been. Just recently, he had gone back to school and things seemed to be improving. From an outside perspective, things were seemingly OK.
The point of this post is to shed light on the individuals who make the choice to commit suicide. These individuals, from the exterior, can often seem like very happy people. Thus, knowing who and when to help becomes exceedingly difficult.
My only advice is to listen. While the individual may never share or hint at their thoughts or plans, it is important that we take time to listen. And if we do in fact hear something that hints towards suicide or self-harm, we must act.
But sometimes there is no indication. Sometimes there is nothing that we could have done. Sometimes we have no reason to take action. This is what makes suicide so difficult. If it were only the outwardly and obviously troubled children/youth/adults who chose to take their lives, it would be easier for us to notice those in need of assistance. As humans, we tend to seek out and desire the easiest, most black and white explanation. In the case of suicide, there is only grey.
“His death is the biggest waste of greatness that I will experience in my lifetime”. Spoken by one of his university friends, this sentence aptly summarizes the loss that many are feeling. He will be forever missed.
My hope in writing this post is that you will start to examine your own perceptions of suicide. My second hope is that you will take more time to listen and potentially act. My third hope is that if you have been or are affected by suicide in the future and there was nothing you could have done, do not spend too much time in a mire of guilt. Think only of the joy that that particular individual shared with the earth during their time.
If you are in distress here are some resources:
2. TeleCare Cambridge 519-658-6805
3. Waterloo Region Crisis Line 1866-366-4566
4. Community Torchlight 877-822-0140