"I can't hear a word you're saying!" I called to my friend as I opened
the bathroom door. The vent fan was whirring noisily behind me. Then
I realized from the tone of my friend's voice that she was talking on
the phone, not to me. "Ooops! Sorry!" I staged whispered, and I
commenced to tiptoe around the hotel room. As I unavoidably
eavesdropped, I determined that she was talking to an answering
machine, and leaving what sounded like a quite serious message.
"Is something wrong?" I asked when she clicked off the cell phone.
"Yes, actually," my friend said. "Do you remember me telling you
about ____? The friend I met on my trip? I just got a message that
she died. She and her mother committed suicide."
"Oh my god!" I exclaimed. "I'm so sorry. Did you say her AND her mother?"
"Yes," my friend said, and I could tell that she was quite shaken up.
"Her mother was the dearest, most supportive mom in the world. I can't
believe it. I just can't believe it."
My friend had recently returned from a couple of weeks overseas, a trip
which combined business and pleasure. During her travels she met a lot
of people and made some new friends. This girl, the one who committed
suicide, was the best. They had spent several nights together on the
town, and having long soul-felt conversations. The girl was young, in
her early twenties, and had been through tough times. Was still going
through some, obviously. My friend had been through similar trials,
and she tried to give the younger girl the benefit of her experience.
The young girl was an artist, so talented, so pretty, had so much to
live for and so much to contribute to the world. My friend could tell
she was troubled with depression and what-have-you, but she hadn't
realized the depth of her condition. Not at all, at the time. Somewhat
more a bit later, when she compared notes with another friend. But still,
it didn't seem that bad. Especially not with such a darling, loving,
supportive mother, whom my friend had also had the opportunity to meet
and spend some time with.
I, of course, had not met the girl, and only knew of all this second-hand.
But I knew my friend is a deeply caring person, a care-giver, a protector
by nature. This was hitting her hard. My heart opened for her immediately,
and I began to think about how I could best support her at this moment.
I felt bad about the deceased women, of course, but I did not feel it as
a deep personal hurt. I wondered, "Is that natural?" After all, I didn't
know them, had never met them, had only heard about them a time or two.
Was I heartless person for not feeling it more deeply? I did not know.
But I would not worry about that just then. My friend was hurting, and
that demanded my immediate attention.
I asked if there was any other information about what happened. There
was not. My friend had just received a short voice message, and it was
too late to call anybody at that hour.
We hugged and I asked her how she felt. She said, "Horrible, of course!"
I imagined that she must be saying this to herself: "If only I had
stayed with her. If only I had talked to her more. Perhaps I could have
done something to save her. Why wasn't I perceptive enough to see that
she was suicidal? Why didn't I see that and do more? Why didn't I prevent
this tragedy?" Surely this must have been what my friend was thinking.
Why wouldn't she say these things out loud to me? Then I could say,
"There, there, it's not your fault. You did the best you could. No one
can know when someone is suicidal. No one can stop someone who is bent
on taking their life. Surely this girl's troubles were so deep that a
no new friend, no matter how wonderful, could make a difference." But
my friend is a very smart person. She knows this script. I have no doubt
she was playing both sides of it out in her mind. She knew the argument,
she knew the counter-argument, and she didn't need me to volley back the
But do you know what? I think she would have felt better if she had
played out the script with me. I would have felt better too. This is
one of those situations that is just too horrible to contemplate. When
we find ourselves plunged into such a situation, maybe the right thing
to do is to simply fall back on the scripts we've heard so many times,
the horrible scripts we know so well. They're trite, they're banal,
they're illogical, or they're overly logical. But none of that is
important. What is important is that they express some of what we're
feeling, and we all feel pretty much the same trite, banal, horrible
feelings. You know the lines. Like, "I'm sorry for your loss." "Let
me know if there's anything I can do to help." "They've gone to a better
place." All these words really mean is, "I love you, I share your pain,
I'm here for you." There is no need for creativity or originality. Only
But my friend would only say she felt horrible. Well, I would not try
to force her into the script. But I would try tiptoeing around the edge
of it a bit. I told her, "I'm sure that your friend valued the time
she spent with you. I'm sure that if anything could have helped her
through her hard times, it would have been getting the opportunity to
know you." I was not just being flattering. My friend had been a
tremendous role model and supporter for me at a very important time
in my life. And to many others as well, I knew. And I knew that she
knew that, too.
I asked my friend to tell me more about the women who had passed on,
and she repeated her stories of their short time together. I wished I
had had a chance to become friends with these ladies also. They seemed
to have been wonderful people.
"I've lost friends before," my friend moaned. "It's always so sad. We
all have difficult times, and some of us just don't make it. I thought
this girl would make it. I had hoped these two women would be my friends
for the rest of my life."
"For the rest of their lives, anyway," I murmured, and immediately bit
my tongue for making such a totally inappropriate observation.
My friend asked me if I had experienced the loss of people close to me.
I thought about, and said, "No, not really." It was a long time since I
had lost any family or friends--to death, anyway. There was one girl I
had known slightly who died last year, but she had never been on my "A"
list, and I wasn't much affected by it.
My friend and I have known each other for only about a year, but we've
become very close in that time. I told her that before I knew her, I
had spent most of my life in a serious funk, a clinical depression.
(When my therapist scored my MMPI, she practically took away my belt
and shoelaces.) I had never been close to actively committing suicide,
but I had pretty much lost the will to live and was simply waiting to
die--drinking myself to death probably--or waiting for the odd chance
of miracle. The miracle had happened, thank goodness, and I am doing
great now. But I could certainly see how someone could get so down they
would kill themselves. And I could see too that it was no matter of
moral uprightness, or strength of character, or innate goodness or
badness. It's just chemicals, and chromosomes, and circumstances, and
support systems, and the luck of the draw, and, well, as the sayings
goes, "There, but for the grace of god, go I." I shared these feelings
with my friend because I felt the need to express them. It was my way
to connect with the situation. Also I hoped it would help broaden my
friend's focus beyond just the immediate tragedy.
After a while we retired for the night. I knew my friend would be
churning the sad events over in her mind all night. But hopefully
she would sleep eventually. I could not think of anything else I
could say or do that might help.
As I lay sleepless in my bed, I pondered whether there was something
wrong with me, that I did not feel a personal sense of grief for the
two poor souls who had taken their lives. Do I have some huge emotional
block that prevents my soul from connecting truly with my sisters? Is
there something lurking deep inside me that I'm still afraid to bring
to light? On the other hand, I worried that my friend might be reacting
over much for friends she had just barely met. As admirable as I found
her love to be, did it perhaps resonate too closely with something dark
and dangerous buried deep within my friend's psyche? "Some of us just
don't make it," she had said. I hope and pray that my friend will never
be the subject of a terrible phone call like the one she received that
In the morning I tried to draw my friend out some more, but she would
only say she still felt terrible about losing her friends. (And she
thanked me for being a good friend to her, many times.) She wanted to
spend some time alone during the day, and she had a good cry or two
while I was gone. That was a good thing.
So why am I writing this essay? I've never been good about being in
touch with my own feelings, much less connecting emotionally with
others. This is something I want to get better at, because I've come
to believe it is a big part of what makes life worth living. I wanted
to write this essay, at least in part, to examine my own feelings, to
touch them another time. I ask myself if I reacted well in the situation,
if there was anything I would or should have done differently. I think I
did pretty good. Maybe I should have worked harder to draw my friend's
feelings out. I'm just so afraid of being a pain in the ass. Probably I
should have hugged her more and held her hand. Physical contact is very
comforting at such times. But I think was scared of it, like I would be
nervous about touching a sick person--it might make them uncomfortable,
and I might catch something.
My friend will see this essay. It will scratch the wound, and make it
hurt again. But the wound will not have healed, and the scar will be
there for a long time. I hope this essay may have some slight
disinfectant effect--a sting, but also help the healing. And it is
my chance to say to you, "I wish I had done more for you that night."
As for the rest of you who read this.. I'm not a religious person. I
don't believe in God in the anthropomorphic sense. But I do believe
there is good in the world, and that goodness begets goodness. So maybe
if you all think some good thoughts or even do some good deeds as a
result of reading this essay, that too may help my friend to heal. And
it may help some of the many others who are in that awful dark place
where it seems like ending it all is the best answer. It is not the best
answer. Miracles do happen. This I know.