Tragedy, loss and survival
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you
be of good cheer.”
Well, it should have been, but just five weeks before Christmas, I received a phone call that a friend of mine had died by suicide. For her, the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were not the most wonderful time of the year.
Shirley had a wonderful family and group of friends that adored her. She was well respected in her position as a nurse. She believed in God and frequently advised me when I was dealing with some issues of my own, to turn to God and he would help me. (She knew I didn’t believe in God).
In the end though, that God in which that she believed so strongly and felt had helped her through numerous difficulties during her life, did not save her.
I don’t blame God. (How can I blame someone I don’t believe in?) I realize some people find peace and comfort in a belief in a divine being, but I also believe they think that he will fix anything and everything in their life that is broken.
Shirley was broken and didn’t know how to fix herself. She had taken time off work to try to get better and during that time I talked to her on several occasions.
She struggled every morning to get out of bed. She had to force herself to do anything and when or if she did get up and go somewhere, she felt even more anxious and depressed. She told me she felt no joy in anything anymore. Her beautiful family, husband, children and grandchildren (that I had listened to her brag about on numerous occasions, having worked closely with her for years) only brought on more anxiety and depression. I knew she loved them more than anything, but she felt she was failing them.
As we talked, it brought back the struggle that I had with depression. It killed me that she hurt so much (I knew and felt her pain). She told me she would never hurt herself, (something I never felt I could have promised anyone) and I believed her.
I’m at SeaTac airport right now waiting for my flight home and am reminded of one of the last two calls I received from Shirley. She called me while I was waiting for my flight back to Sacramento a couple of months ago after having just visited my grandchildren (three of the biggest joys in my life). She said her primary care doctor had put her on medication, but she did not feel any different. She wanted to know what I had done to get over my struggles with depression. We talked for a while and I gave her the name of a really good therapist. I mentioned she needed to be seen urgently, even if it meant she had to go to the ER.
I talked to Shirley on Friday before that fateful Tuesday when she took her life. She had just seen her primary care doctor who had told her that since the medication she had put Shirley on wasn’t working, she could go off of it if she wished. Shirley told me that the doctor didn’t put her on anything else. I wasn’t there to hear what was said in the doctor’s office, so I can’t judge the doctor. Shirley never liked taking any medications and believed a natural healthy diet would make her feel better. I’m not sure if she went off her medication or not (she told me she wasn’t going to because she knew that those type of meds were generally not safe to just stop cold turkey).
Tuesday evening I felt I should call her and see how she was doing. I was tired, however, and figured I would just wait and call her the next day, but then I received the phone call. Shirley had committed suicide.
Some people would call her selfish for giving up. How could she leave her family, friends and her grandchildren, one of whom she was helping to raise and knew her as a second mom?
When people say that, I have to wonder if they have ever felt the deep despair that one feels when they have a disabling depression? They are not being selfish. They can’t just snap out it, get out and go to a movie or shopping and feel better as they feel others expect them to do. Their mind has done a number on them, telling them all kinds of negative things; They are burden to those around them. Their friends and family would be better off without them. They are not a good person.
Even though I knew and completely understood all that Shirley was going through, I found myself getting angry at my friend. Why did she lie to me? Why didn’t she tell me she was feeling like she wanted to end her life? Why did she do this to me and to her family and friends that loved her?
Then I become angry at myself for thinking and feeling any anger towards her. I knew I couldn’t blame her. Depression is an illness that many don’t really understand nor can they empathize with unless they have been there themselves. I had been there and I knew that she absolutely did not deserve my anger. Her sickness had convinced her there was no other way to end her pain.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is extremely difficult. Dealing with the suicide of a loved one adds another level to the sorrow. There is the guilt and the what if’s, (what could I have said or done differently that could have perhaps saved her life).
And for me, having been where Shirley was and survived after months of therapy and medication and having finally reached a point where I was really, really happy, this has really taken a huge toll and knocked me back several hundred steps. The despair and sadness I feel right now due to the loss of a dear friend hurts so much, but I feel I have the necessary tools to get through it.
I just wish she had had them too.