Recently I was sitting across someone at a coffee shop, and he shared with me about a friend who had recently committed suicide. This is a topic that I am well acquainted with, but have never talked about on social media.
I came from what I've coined as a "suicide high school". It was like clockwork: every year, there was a suicide. I lived in a small town where it felt like everyone knew everyone. If you didn't know the person who died, you knew their friends, or their siblings, or their families. You knew the faces of the people who committed suicide, and you knew the faces of the people who knew them.
Once a year, my beautiful city would become a ghost town. We would mourn the loss of someone who died too young, and we would remember how powerful our community was. We would come together in silence, wondering why this kept happening.
The first time I lost someone to suicide, I was 14. I remember hearing the news at school, and feeling this tangible silence wash over everyone. The weather that day was gorgeous. Many of us sat outside in the grass, some quiet, some sobbing, and I distinctly remember noting how blue the sky was. It felt wrong for such a mourning event to plague such a beautiful May day. Some of us walked off to a local fast food restaurant afterwards, and again, I distinctly remember noting that while our worlds fell apart, the people sitting in the booths around us looked perfectly fine. It seems obvious, when you put it into perspective, but this was the first time I truly understood how ordinary death was. While the structure of my perfectly laid 14 year old world came apart, others were totally unaffected. Such is life.
14 year old me got angry: angry at him, angry at the world, angry at religion, angry at myself. And then 5 months later, another suicide happened. I was still angry. And then another year passed, and another suicide happened. Being angry got exhausting.
I got used to living in a ghost town: the deaths were like clockwork. It sounds insensitive, but the news started to become monotonous. I am no longer surprised when a suicide occurs; we had one gap year where no one committed suicide, and I was more surprised by that than any of the deaths. Such is life.
Here is one liberating piece of information that helped me cope with suicide loss, and I hope it can help some of you:
Someone who is determined to kill themselves, is going to kill themselves.
This does not mean we stop trying: we never stop trying. We must do everything in our power to make mental health accessible, we must be kind to one another, we must give each other every opportunity to talk about our struggles. We must be transparent about suicide. We must never let another person feel like a burden.
But the inevitable truth is that when a person is determined to die, they will find a way to die. As much as we might like to believe that we can stop every death, people are the choosers of their fate. We cannot change free will. If a person has resigned themselves to that fate, we cannot always change their mind. But again, we never stop trying.
So for all of those sites sharing information like "suicide is 100% preventable", that is not true. What that does, is it creates survivor's guilt. That puts young, impressionable 14 year old kids into therapy because they believed the death was their fault. My friend who passed at 15 did not die because of bullying, he died because of a religious choice, but that did not stop me from blaming myself, from thinking that he died because we were having the wrong conversations. Like if I had known what was in his head, I could have changed his perspective on it. It fucked me up as a kid.
So what can we do? We can be kind to each other. Maybe we cannot stop someone from standing at the edge, but we sure as hell can avoid pushing them. We can spend as much time as possible with the people we care about. We can say "I love you" more often. We can ask "how are you?" and mean it. While we cannot stop someone from jumping, we can make sure that they know someone is waiting for them to come home.