Suicide is a tricky thing to try to understand.
This year, I’ve unfortunately experienced a lot of suicide in my life. The suicide that sticks out to me the most is that of my friend, L, because hers was the first suicide I experienced firsthand, and because she was so damn similar to me.
In September, L took her life. It was incredibly shocking, as she was one of the strongest, fiercest individuals I have ever met. She was a role model of who and what I wanted to be in life, and we shared a lot of similarities. She was a strong advocate in our queer community at school, and many people looked up to her. She was a phenomenal artist in many senses, but she especially found beauty in the simplest of moments behind her camera lens. Her photography made emotions come alive on film. She was also an incredible writer, and an English major. She was a year ahead of me in the Graduate program I’m in, and I would often go to her for advice on my education classes, being an out and proud queer woman, and the power of being a queer educator. Her ferocious love for others and being an advocate for the underdogs taught me more about myself and about making a difference through what I love doing. L’s death ultimately changed me for the better, and gave me more confidence in being myself and doing what I love (writing!) to make a difference.
I found myself writing a lot of poetry following L’s death, reflecting on not just the despair and sadness of suicide, but, in an odd sort of way, reflecting on the strength it must’ve taken to end it all by taking her life. There’s a certain bravery associated with suicide that is never addressed. People say “Oh, what a terrible waste” or “how sad.” Yes, suicide can be considered those things. However, most times, the reputations of people who kill themselves are lost in the transition from “my amazing friend” to “my friend who killed herself.” The things someone does with his or her life before committing suicide shouldn’t be lost to a “tragic” or “sad” title of “suicide victim.” Maybe, just maybe, being a suicide committer is a title of bravery in finding the courage and strength to find a solution, albeit drastic, to one’s problems when nobody else will. It’s important to remember a deceased friend for who they were and the amazing things they accomplished, not how they died.
Oddly enough, I found out yesterday that L’s partner, R, attempted suicide and was in a coma. A lot of people have blamed R for L’s death, and although I never felt blame towards R, I felt a lot of anger towards R for the way R told people about L’s suicide and the actions R took afterwards, and how they affected all of L’s friends. I didn’t feel anger towards R, only towards the way R treated everyone so deeply affected by L’s death. I was never particularly close to R when L was alive, so when I found out R had attempted suicide, I felt indifferent. It wasn’t until I was sitting alone today that I really had time to contemplate my feelings.
I may not have known R well, or been particularly fond of R all of the time, but one thing is for sure: R made a difference in the lives of everyone who met R. R was an activist, a rabble-rouser, and a passionate human being. Losing L devastated R in an extremely powerful way, and, from what I know, R’s last few months were troubled and painful, both emotionally and physically. However, as I found many of my friends reminiscing about R on Facebook, one post in particular stood out to me. My one friend had once asked R how R felt so comfortable being the individual that R was, and R replied, “Being okay with yourself is a process. A process is different than a state of being. Being happy and loving yourself is something you have to work at, something you have to put time and effort into and, most importantly, something you engage in daily. As with any process, it has its ups and downs.”
I think that’s a really powerful message, and that’s what I’m going to end my reflections with. I hope that somehow, somewhere, R & L are reunited, and that both of them are happy, healthy, and (finally) at peace with themselves. Oftentimes, suicide leaves the people and loved ones left behind with saddened hearts and more questions than answers. In this case, I hope both L&R have found less heavy hearts and the answers to their own questions. Rest easy.
Until next time, I leave you with this photo of a tree in my favorite park. The Hope Tree has special meaning to me, and I hope you’ll find meaning in it for you.