Life and death go hand in hand. As with life, death is unavoidable, cruel and spares no-one.
Last summer, I lost a close friend to suicide. It’s not the first time someone close to me has taken their own life, but nothing will ever prepare you for the news of such tragic news about a loved one. N died when I was 15, K died when I was 22. Seven years in between the two, but more or less identical feelings.
So many unanswered questions, which to this day remain unanswered.
I will never know exactly how N felt, although I, along with others, firmly believe that her death was the result of a huge cry for help, gone very very wrong. There had been no indication of her levels of despair and inner-most turmoil, but even as I write this, I end up thinking that there must have been signs or manifestations in her behaviour which could have suggested how unhappy she was. As one of her closest friends, I still feel that I should have noticed something; was she shorter in her texts, less willing or open about her life, dismissive or changing the subject to talk about something other than her? I read and re-read texts, emails and saved instant messenger conversations that we had had in the weeks and months in the lead up to her death no matter how much evaluation and analysis I did over her words, I couldn’t find a single word which suggested what she was planning. Like most other sixteen year olds in the final run up to GCSE examinations, she was stressed and preoccupied by revision and the need, want and desire to achieve. Talking about my disgust in academic expectations and the stress they unfairly place on young minds is a whole other post, but I will say this: N was predicted 11 A* grades in her GCSEs. She went to a very good independent school, whereby anything less than a B (if you’re being generous) was treated as a fail. N felt the pressure, we did know that much. She wasn’t stupid, anything but and she worked damn hard…but she was realistic and knew that chances of achieving a straight set of A* grades was unlikely. So, by the age of sixteen, in the eyes of education and the government, she had already failed. A harsh lesson to have learnt, by the age of sixteen. There is a small mercy that N’s school made changes after her death. I’m told that their pastoral and support network within the school improved drastically and that students are now given emotional and mental support as part of the GCSE package.
But other than that, we won’t ever know how N felt. I hope to this day that she was at peace with herself, that she wasn’t lonely or scared. We’re told that she didn’t feel anything and wasn’t in pain, but as my medical knowledge and awareness has improved with age, I doubt that was the case. And that makes me sad. At a time when she needed us most, we weren’t there.
Unlike with N, the death of K wasn’t so out of the blue. She had been struggling with her mental health badly in the months leading up to her death. I had sat in numerous crisis team meetings with her and had spoken as her advocate, at times when she reached a stage of being utterly catatonic. I knew the ins and outs of previous traumas, I knew how to calm her down and get her to an emotionally safer place. I sat and held her when she cried and screamed and I took implements away that she could harm herself with. I begged her mental health team to hospitalise her because I/we were scared about K’s safety. They stated that until she did something which could put her life at risk, she did not fit the criteria for hospitalisation. When she did something, that something ended her life. But I wasn’t there. Rationally, I know that I’m not psychic, I could not have known her plans and if/when she would carry them out. Irrationally, I feel that I should have just known. I should have had a feeling or inkling.
During a recent conversation I was having with someone, they said that there isn’t a hierarchy for grief and that all feelings and emotions are valid. I agree, to an extent, but I also recognise that however upsetting a death may be, it is not about me. Nor should it be about me.
Today I said “The Last Goodbye” to a wonderful lady, who I admired and loved so much as I was growing up. So many fond memories were shared and amongst the tears, there was laughter, as we remembered her funny, witty, caring, loyal character. I could continue. With her own beautiful voice, she reminded us that no one is alone.
That’s a powerful message. Whether in life or death, I don’t think that we are ever truly alone. People hold their own views on what happens after life and in death, I’m not going to preach my own views because that isn’t the purpose of this post. Shortly after N’s death, I read a fabulous book by Gabrielle Zevin, called Elsewhere, suggesting that after we die, we are reunited with loved ones (and pets!) and live our lives backwards from the day we die. I don’t know if that is true, but it gave me comfort to think that when N died, in just sixteen and a half years, she would be back offering love and joy to more people on Earth, and hopefully have a happier and more fulfilled live. Every single person lives and changes lives, some more, some less. They leave behind families, heartbreak and sorrow. But maybe, just maybe, in time, they will change someone else’s life and so on. A legacy, on one way or another.
In life after death, you’re never alone either. Grief is a lonely, isolating experience. It doesn’t matter if the person you have lost is 5, 45 or 85. The loss of a person close to you feels a bit like part of you has been ripped out; the severity and healing time depends on the individual. There isn’t a right or wrong way to feel. Your feelings are more than valid.
It is okay to be hurting. It’s also okay to not feeling anything. It’s okay to feel intense anger or endless calm. The sadness will lessen, it won’t ever fully go, I don’t think it should. That sadness is a sign of the love that was had and that will carry on forever. The love, memories and honour of the person will always remain.
Goodbye isn’t forever, but for now, here is my last goodbye to those lost but eternally loved.