I will never forget where I was when I got the call. My breath was labored and I held on to my stomach tightly as if it were going to escape out of my body, my hand serving as the last line of defense. The voice on the phone, a female police officer, filled me in on procedural matters since I was the one who made the initial report. As she talked, I searched for hope in her voice. I yearned for her to use the word “attempt” or “false alarm”. I didn’t know if it actually happened, only that it could have. I prayed it didn’t, but deep down, I knew. The officer was talking with such sterility and dispassion, even annoyance. Just another day at the office, I thought. I needed to hear her say the words.
I mustered up the courage to interrupt her detached protocol and interject the question I never wanted to ask. “Wait. I just… Are you saying she’s dead?” My voice was filled with a desperation I could not mask despite my efforts at remaining professional. “Oh, I’m sorry.” she replied in an embarrassed tone. “I should have… Yes, her attempt was successful. She’s dead.” I doubled over in pain, my hand once again trying to push my insides back in my stomach. I wanted to fall down. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to disappear. This can’t be a real, I repeated to myself over and over again.
Wake me from this nightmare.
But I wasn’t sleeping. It was real. And it was excruciating. Everything felt like a fog, but one thought rang out through the haze. I will never be the same again. I never wanted to be the same.
There are moments in life- frozen seconds of time- that define and change us. Experiences that cause life to be divided into two parts: before and after. The day my client committed suicide was one of those days for me. As the three-year anniversary came and went a few weeks ago, my body remembered the feelings I felt that day. So much has changed since the day when everything changed. The memory of it feels like an old friend I haven’t seen in a while, but once reunited, we fall right back in step with each other. Familiar, but aged and weathered. Comforting and excruciating simultaneously. Grief is like that. Unwelcome and painful, yet sacred and intimate. I long to forget, but I fear forgetting because I need to remember. To feel. To honor.
I imagine the person I knew. I picture her standing on the cement wall by my old counseling office, looking into the stream below and swaying slightly to the music blaring through her headphones. No more. I hear her voice greeting everyone in the waiting area as she enters, eager to connect. Desperate to be heard. No more. I see the other side of this person, the darker side, sitting on my couch unable to pretend any longer. Broken. No more.
As a counselor, I witness the desperation and grief of others often. I find myself asking, “How could this happen? Why would a good God allow people to suffer to the point that death feels like the only relief? Is there anything anyone can really do to help in the presence of such hopelessness?” I don’t know the answers, but I do know this. There is no time when I feel more dependent on God and more desperate for a Savior than in the face of grief and tragedy. I don’t want to avoid pain because that would mean I am avoiding connection and relationship. And it would mean missing out on an opportunity to participate in the most powerful collective experience that exists- human suffering.
In light of our nation’s recent collective grief experience as we mourn the death of Robin Williams, I hold my own grief tightly and remember. Suicide impacts so many, and this very public grief of a legend and dear friend from afar connects millions to the grief of losing someone to suicide and dealing with the aftermath and the questions and the confusion. I pray for his family, his friends, his fans, his counselor if he had one, and all those who feel hopeless and trapped. There is a psalm (34:18) that says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those that are crushed in spirit.” I can’t understand why things happen the way they do, but I take comfort in believing that in our darkest moments, the Lord is close. And there are people who care and want to walk beside you.
Thanks for letting me walk beside you, C. It was an honor.