Losing a loved one to suicide
Apparently the other day was World Suicide Prevention Day. I had no idea such a day existed until I saw it being talked about all over the media. Campaigners are pushing for us to change the way we talk about it to encourage people to feel more comfortable sharing the fact they’re having suicidal thoughts so we can help them not commit the act.
As someone who lost a good friend to suicide a few years ago reading about this brought up a whole lotta memories and big feelings that I wanted the share….
I met my friend in Canada on a post-university ski season in Whistler. We immediately bonded because we were both ridiculously short, quite mouthy, from London, snowboarded and loved a good rave.
She had come over with her friends from uni. We quickly formed a crew with about 15 others and had the year of our lives. Once we all got home, our friendships continued, deepened and widened. We went on holidays together, to raves together and she even worked for my dad. More memories made.
She was a beacon of sunshine. A little spritely pocket-rocket from South London. She was small, with sparkly brown eyes and a smile as wide as her face. She was creative. She was a party girl. She was a traveller. She was a yogini. She was a daughter. She was a friend. She was kind. She was generous. She was thoughtful. She was someone who genuinely inspired people. She was seriously fucking special. Anyone who ever met her will tell you that.
She also had a history of mental illness in her family and was terrified she’d be taken down by it too. Something we’d talked about late into the night. She’d suffered from depression on/off but had seemed ok for years. She’d certainly not faced any big downers in the seven years I’d known her.
It was a normal weekday evening after work like any other. I was at home in my bedroom with my housemates downstairs when I got a phone call from my friend who never calls. We communicate mainly through text between actually seeing each other, so I immediately knew something was up. She was sobbing so hard she could barely get the words out of her mouth. When she did, she told me that our friend had “had an accident, and died”. That accident had involved a tube train. A few days later it was confirmed by CCTV and the police that it wasn’t an accident at all.
Earth shattering grief is what I felt for months after what happened. There is no other way to describe it. Losing a friend in this way generates a deep soul tearing sorrow like nothing I, or any of our friends, had felt before. Grandparents you expect to die. It’s sad but ultimately it’s what old people do. Sometimes physically sick people die. Sometimes people have terrible accidents. Sometimes people have heart attacks too soon. But the sadness of knowing one of your most beloved peers actively chose to end their own life is crushing. I was catatonic with grief struggling to function for a month. I had to call people to tell them what had happened. I had strangers message me to ask what had happened because other friends couldn’t bear to say it out loud. I had to take a week off work because I couldn’t keep my shit together. I had a very public break down in a cinema after accidentally going to see a film which explored life and death. The experience shook me to my very core in a way that I didn’t even know was possible.
The Coping Mechanisms
None of us really knew what to “do” after she’d died but what we did know is that it felt right to be together. We met together at each others houses. We sat in the pub together. We went to dinner together. It just felt important to be together with the people who shared our pain - even if we didn’t feel like talking about it. Just knowing that you were surrounded by people who “got it” made things more bearable. As time passed, some of us dealt with it by talking it out. Perhaps trying to rationalise her decision. Perhaps just trying to purge ourselves of the feelings by talking about them. Some of us felt silence was the best way to cope. Perhaps not wanting to utter the words because it is still considered such a shameful act by many. Sometimes the difference in approaches caused issues and we all had to learn to be mindful and sensitive to how each other wanted to process the experience. It wasn’t easy.
Guilt was of course a huge part of the early days after her death. Questioning how you as a friend couldn’t have noticed that things were quite this bad. We all knew that she’d struggled to keep herself mentally balanced before but she presented the world with such a bubbly, positive energy that it was hard to know what she was really feeling.
I only stopped feeling guilty when I realised that ultimately this was her decision. And that because I loved and cared for her, I had to trust that ultimately only she knew whether she could continue living with the dark feelings inside of her - which her act suggested she couldn’t. I like to think that wherever she is now, she is at peace and contented. Cheesy and trite as that sounds. It’s the only consolation.
As time passed, a new form of guilt came when I realised a day had gone past without crying over her. And on the last anniversary of her death when I couldn’t remember how long it had been since she’d died, I cried big, fat,guilty, shameful tears.
So what I am trying to say with this blog? I guess that suicide is far more common that you’d think. Particularly amongst men. Since her death I know a handful of people who’ve had similar experiences with friends or family. It’s just not something people talk about because they feel ashamed.
But as with everything in life, the things we feel most ashamed of are the things we should be talking about the most. Talking and sharing the darkest thoughts helps to shed light on them and stop them being quite so terrifying.
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts than please tell your friends and family. Don’t be ashamed. One in fifteen people in the UK has attempted to end their own life. That is a lot. It’s more normal than most of us realise. You’re not alone. People love you and will be there for you. Especially you boys. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK - which is simply horrifying. It is good for men to talk about their feelings. It makes you stronger men.
If you have a friend who’s been going through tough times - make time to regularly check in on them. If you’ve got a friend who’ve not spoken to for several months or years - check in on them. No matter how busy you are - pause and make time for people because you just never know when they might not be around.
And to my friend, wherever you are - we all still love and miss you. I think of you every time I see a butterfly or do any of the woo woo hippy things that we used to do together and wish I could share it with you in person ♡♡♡