Since 2006, maybe even a little before, suicide has shown up in my life. There have been three which have touched me and at least one other where I knew the person who chose to leave this world by their own hand. Two of these were friends. One was someone I knew of, but never met. All three impacted me in some way.
The first happened, as I’ve said, in late 2006. This was a man I’d only recently gotten to know. We had been in the same men’s group together for a while. I’d originally known him from this perspective, but was able to know him much better when he became a part of a regular group of men I met with on a weekly basis. I got to know him even better when he and I carpooled together to a men’s weekend about two-and-one-half hours from where we live; so, I spent five hours alone with this guy just getting to know him and allowing him to know me. I liked and a had a great deal of respect for this man. He was someone from my industry, information technology, and he really knew his stuff. He’d begun an online group for the men from my Warrior community (I’ve written about that before.) For several years before his suicide, he’d had quite a bit of tsuris, as we say in Yiddish, or trouble or distress as Merriam-Webster defines it. He’d gone through a divorce and his ex had custody of their child. He had developed a fairly serious illness where his body was fighting against him – almost all the time. And, he battled some other inner demons. Sitting together with him in our group, I had no idea how serious this all was affecting him. Not until one of my best friends, whom he had been living with, came home and found him dead. Like so many things in his life, this man had carefully thought out how we do it, then, he did. I was shocked, sad and on one level glad for him to have ended his pain. I went to his funeral. I don’t really remember if I shed any tears that day. What I do remember is being sad I would no longer see my friend again. I’m not really aware of much in the way of aftermath to me from his suicide. I do know, the man had made a drum to use in the work we do in Warriors. His roommate’s decision was to place this drum in the room where the staff meets during a Warrior weekend. I thought this was appropriate and fully supported the ceremony we put together to commemorate this man. On a subsequent staffing, I found the drum was gone, not in the place of honor we had left it. That, disturbed me. So on yet another staffing, when I found the drum back, my fear, anger and sadness all came into play such that I removed the drum to give it a place in my home. It sits there today. I asked for and received the blessing of my friend, this man’s roommate, to do so. I often think about this man, this friend, and I miss him. I understand and accept his choice, but there is a hole inside me for him. If I were to use one feeling word about this suicide, it would be sad. I’m sad, Jim, I miss you.
The second time I was impacted by suicide was five years later in late 2011. This, too, was a shock – but not as much as the first as that was totally unexpected. At least a few years before, this second man had called me, either very late at night or early in the morning depending on your perspective, to ask me to come to his house. He said he had been out with a bicycle in traffic and had been suicidal. Of course, I got dressed and went over to his place as quickly as I could. Once there, I found him, his wife and another close friend of his and mine there. We talked. Drank coffee. Decided it would be best for the man if he checked into the hospital psychiatric ward, at least overnight, to get a professional evaluation of his state of mind. We drove him to the hospital. When we left, we were convinced the right decision had been made. Ultimately, the man left without ever having checked in. I was sad, and scared, but I also was able to trust he knew what was best for him. Men who knew him, kept watchful eyes on him, and I have to admit, he seemed OK. Better. Not so troubled. I relaxed. This man was also a Warrior. I staffed a few times with him after this event. During two of those staffings, there is a time on Saturday evening when a ritual elder asks men of the staff to bless another man if he feels so compelled. Twice, this man came to offer a blessing to me, done through the cleansing of the man being blessed with a scented, warm wash cloth. Both times he looked directly at me and said, “I owe you my life. You saved me.” I cried hard, both times. It was difficult for me to accept the blessing of another man. I thought I had done what any reasonable person would do, so why should I be blessed for that? It’s part of that “Not good enough” shadow I carry. Then, in 2011 I received another phone call. My friend had accomplished what he’d set out to do several years before. He took his own life. I was shocked, again. I was sad, again. I was angry. This time, he hadn’t called and asked for help, he just ended his life. I went to a tribute for him, and I spoke about him, his life and what he’d meant to me. So did many others. I don’t remember going to his funeral, or if there was a funeral.
This second man had been responsible for an annual sort of picnic in our community. He was from Louisiana and he was the cook for our annual crawfish boil. He was very good at it. He enjoyed it. And, dare I say, many came because they enjoyed the food – and the man who prepared it. A decision was made to continue the tradition and to name it after him. I’ve been angry about that for the last several years. While I don’t think it’s a sin to end your own life, I didn’t think it was correct to name an event for a man who had committed suicide. As I’ve said, at every new annual occurrence, I became angry, and confused, when I saw his name attached to the event. How dare someone honor a man who had taken his own life by commemorating the event with his name. How dare they!
It wasn’t until the most recent suicide, that of Robin Williams, I allowed myself the gift of looking behind what was driving this anger in me about the second man. I never balked at any of the tributes bestowed upon Mr. Williams. Not once. So what was driving this anger about my friend? It was my old pal/nemesis, sadness. I was sad the second man hadn’t reached out to me a second time. I was sad he had chosen what, in my judgment, was a terrible way to die. I was sad he would never prepare the crawfish at our annual gathering again. I was sad I wouldn’t get a chance to tell him I thought he was a good man. A good father. A man who brought blessing to others. I was sad. And, I had covered it up the way I’ve covered sadness before in my life – I camouflaged it with anger. I felt a big weight lifted from me with that realization. I’m good, no great, with the idea we as a community, have an annual event with this man’s name associated with an event he began. I bless you, Raymond, for the joy you brought to so many others, but mostly, I bless you for the joy and blessings you brought to me. I hope you are at peace. That is my blessing for you, this day, my friend.
I think it’s so important for me to remember all the persons who’ve somehow touched my life. As a Jew, I was taught, “We Shall Never Forget” about the Holocaust. While that may well apply to the way in which the Jewish people were annihilated by the Nazis, it also means to not forget the six million who were lost. In my mind, it’s one of the reasons Yom HaShoah, or the Holocaust Remembrance Day came into being. Whether it’s six million or just a handful, the memories will be forever embedded in my soul. I shall not forget.
How Am I Changing?: It’s incredibly important for me to feel the pain of loss and more especially the sadness of loss. To camouflage that pain, serves no one, least of all me.