Last weekend marked one year since I have seen my friend. In a few days, it will be one year since he took his own life. I prefer to remember the first date.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve replayed the last time I saw Justin. We were at a friend’s family cabin on the lake. At the end of the night, we walked back toward the house together, up too many dark and uneven stairs. Justin walked in front of me, a flashlight in one hand and his cell phone in the other, walking sideways to make sure I didn’t fall. We parted ways when we got back to the house. I don’t remember why I had to leave before everyone got up the next morning. But I remember hearing “Good night, Liz” for the last time.
I often think of that night as an appropriate, if not perfect, way to remember my friend. And I always acknowledge how cliche that is. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that a shocking number of cliches hold true in the wake of such loss.
Justin was perpetually holding a flashlight in front of me. He was the first person I saw when I went through the darkest time of my life a few years ago. He was often the only person I had the strength to see. He regularly dropped what he was doing to go along with me on some ridiculous errand, if for no other reason than to tell me I was being ridiculous. He was the strong one.
Justin genuinely loved our group of friends, collectively and individually. We knew how important we were to him. And I believe he knew how much we needed him here. In another moment of another day, maybe everything in him would have reminded him of that. But there was a moment in which something told him otherwise.
I cannot fathom the gravity of that moment, nor the depth of that darkness.
I have certainly tried. In the process, I have blamed myself, I’ve blamed others, and I have occasionally allowed myself to be angry with him. I fulfilled all those cliches; I questioned what I could have done differently, what text message I could have sent, which nights I could have left work a little earlier. And a year later, I am still trying to figure out how to move forward. I’m still trying to decide what to do with his screen name on my Playstation network that reminds me it has been a year since he logged on.
I’ve also realized that he will always be one of my best friends, just suspended at 26 years old. When I’m 40 and probably consumed by my career, with a family or a lot of cats, he will still be my friend. I’m still trying to process that.
Through that process, there have been times I’ve cursed social media. As someone who has studied it and appreciates its importance, I can also admit that I occasionally find it insufferable. I’ve tried hard not to begrudge people their grieving processes, but mourning in the digital age is a fascinating thing. What are we really seeking? Support? Attention? Validation? I am a very private person, especially in my pain. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the support. I just haven’t wanted the attention. Maybe it makes me feel stronger or superior to internalize everything. Or maybe broadcasting my grief gives it some kind of credence I don’t care for it to have.
I write this as recent headlines have turned a spotlight on the things with which I’ve been struggling. This week, I have been bombarded with tweets, wall posts, and editorials about what people believe suicide is and is not. I have been told that it is not to be romanticized. It is not to be glorified as an escape. It is also not to be viewed as a selfish act. I’ve been told it’s a result of a disease, and something that “healthy” people simply cannot understand. I’ve seen the term “suicide survivor” used to describe someone who has lost someone close to them. I’ve heard the statistics. I’ve been told to recognize the warning signs and to get help for my loved ones and to write down these phone numbers.
There are a lot of people who appear to have this figured out.
I suppose I should be inspired. I find myself, however, somewhere between frustrated, resentful and a little embarrassed. Should I, a “suicide survivor” myself, have a stance on whether or not suicide is selfish? Should I have had some kind of an epiphany by now? Am I hopelessly cynical for not finding encouragement in these comment sections?
As deeply as it has impacted me, I can’t bring myself to make broad generalizations or accept others’ explanations of suicide. I have no answers. I don’t know if it’s a selfish act, or if I am selfish for occasionally feeling abandoned. I don’t know if it speaks to the fragile human condition or if it’s a product of our society.
I only know that it breaks your heart.