Up until recently, my life has only been affected by suicide through other people’s losses. In high school, a good friend’s mother took her own life. I was young enough to understand the tragic impact, but was far enough removed from the long lasting effects. As a teacher, I have had students whose parents or siblings have committed suicide. That is very difficult because I always want to be sensitive to their emotions with the literature I teach. All of these untimely deaths affected me in that I felt sympathy for the families and tried to support my friend and students the best I could at the time.
A good friend of mine, who was also a colleague, recently committed suicide. He and I were VERY close about ten years ago. I considered him one of my best friends at that time and we joked that I was his “work wife”. After my divorce, we had a very short-lived romantic affair, but ultimately decided we were better off as friends. Over the years, he got married and I got involved in a long-term relationship. He was moved to another classroom on the other side of the school and we just gradually grew apart. But, it was always fun to run into him in the hallway from time to time (we have a VERY large school building). We always maintained a funny, flirty friendship. He was the most self-deprecating person I ever met. He was by far the most hilarious person I have ever known. He also had a very sweet side. After getting divorced, I was crying to him about never going on a date again because I didn’t know “how” to date. He said, “I will pick you up tomorrow at 7:00pm”. He arrived at my house, all dressed up, with flowers, and took me out to dinner. He opened the car door for me, he treated me to a meal and then he drove me home. Afterwards, he walked me to my front door, kissed my cheek like a gentleman and said, “now you don’t need to be nervous because you know what a date is like.” This will always be my favorite memory of him.
A few months ago he was out of work for several weeks. At first I didn’t even know because I do not see him at school regularly. Then other teachers started asking me if he was okay. I texted him and got no response. Overlapping his absence, I was out for three weeks on FMLA when my boyfriend was in ICU. During my last week out of work, he returned to school and texted me. He said he heard I was out and asked if I needed anything. This led to a lengthy text conversation about what we both had been going through. Looking back on it now, I realize he was lying to me about why the reason he was out, but it doesn’t matter because I will always be grateful for that last communication we had. Once I returned to work, I was so busy getting caught up, I never had an opportunity to go see him in his classroom.
I awoke on a Sunday morning to a mass email to all of the teachers from our principal. He stated we had suddenly and tragically lost a member of our staff and I had to read it over and over to make sure that I was seeing the name correctly. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. How? How could he be gone? The email was very vague and did not mention the cause of death, but I just instinctively knew it was suicide. I contacted his best friend, another colleague, who confirmed this to be true.
The loss was overwhelming. He was so full of life. But he was always a sad clown…he used humor to cover up anything that hurt him. When he got divorced years after I did, he even acted like it was a joke. I tried to get him to talk seriously about it, but it was his form of a coping mechanism.
I think when someone commits suicide, the first thing people do is think about what they “could have done”. I know that there was probably nothing I could have done to save him. I didn’t even really know how bad things were for him. I just wish I had seen him one more time. One more hug. One more joke.
Something weird has been happening to me. I will be walking in the hall and I will think I see him out of the corner of my eye. I will jerk my head to look and instead it is a tall, lanky student. Or I will be pulling out of the parking lot and will see a small, white car and will glance at the driver to see if it’s him. I am just so heartbroken- for myself and his other friends and colleagues, for his family, for his exwife and current fiancee, and for his students. We had a memorial at school and it was so nice to hear former students explain how much he impacted their lives. I wish there was a way for him to have known how much he would be missed and how many people would grieve for him. I know he must have been in so much pain- that’s the most heartbreaking part of it. His particular method of suicide was so devastating…I just cannot imagine how hopeless and helpless he must have felt.
I still feel frightened that my exboyfriend could make the same tragic, horrible decision. My world was turned upside down when my friend died- I did not see it coming at all. Everyone, including my therapist, tells me that I am not responsible for what my ex does, but that is easy for people to say. If he ever did something to hurt himself, I don’t know what I would do.