This past year I lost two dear friends who were also two of the great loves of my life to suicide. Like most suicides, they came as a complete shock to all of us who loved them. There were no warning signs, no drugs involved, no indications of unhappiness, let alone depression or other mental illness.
“I can’t believe this,” I just kept saying over and over again. “No, not Sam, not Raf, they were so happy. They loved life. They had so much to live for. They were so close to their families, had so many friends. I can’t believe this. This can’t be real.”
But according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are almost always warning signs. Research shows that 90% of people who die by suicide suffer from mental disorders or substance abuse. In most cases the condition is untreated.
I believe these two men, like most men, were taught not to express their deepest fears or emotions, and keep their pain hidden inside. And up until now, people like me, who were close to them and loved them, don’t know what signs and symptoms to look for.
What is clear is how much these men were loved and adored by family, friends and co-workers. Both had pure, gentle hearts, life of the party personalities and kind dispositions. I never heard either of them say one bad thing about another person.
Despite not being romantically involved with either of them at the times of their untimely deaths, they always occupied a special place in my heart. They are in my bones. They quite literally are a part of me.
I am haunted by the way they chose to end their lives, leaving me and many others with questions that will never be answered, heartache that will forever be part of our existence and pain that we must accept will never fully go away. In a way, I don’t want it to. It reminds me of how much they meant to me, how their love and presence in my life affected me in such a profound way.
I’ve learned that surviving the suicide of a loved one means accepting a new normal—the normal being your heart is always a little heavy—it’s raw, it bleeds, and that’s ok.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 40,000 Americans die by suicide every year. Globally the number is one million, with suicide taking more lives than war, murder and natural disaster combined. It is something with which we are all familiar, yet very few of us actually talk about.
The media speaks of the actual event itself, especially in cases like my friend Sam who was a public figure. But I’m finding most people don’t want to speak of suicide at all. It’s unfortunately a taboo subject, leaving the people left behind, like me, feeling isolated, angry, alone. Even mentioning that someone incredibly close to me jumped off a bridge out of nowhere caused some people to completely shut down, some even walking away from me, unable to give me even a simple hug—something I craved and still crave every day.
When I returned home from Sam’s funeral in Los Angeles, my mom told me she was happy I could go to the service for closure. But I didn’t feel any closure after the funeral. All I felt was more confusion, sadness, anger and guilt. My mind still couldn’t comprehend that he was gone.
It’s hard to celebrate the life of someone who chose to end theirs, right? But the thing is, I don’t think Sam or Raf killed themselves. I think whatever demons they were silently battling killed them. They clearly weren’t in their right minds when they decided to leave us so soon. How could they be? These are the questions I’m learning to let go of. When I am overwhelmed with grief, I tell myself, “I surrender it all.”
I think one of the hardest things about losing a loved one to suicide, is that I will never truly know why they chose to end their lives. It hurts me to accept that I couldn’t heal, help or solve their problems and prevent the act itself—none of us could.
Some days I begin to feel a bit better, remembering all the good times we shared together. But just when I think I am over the hump, I realize there will always be another hump.
I will experience waves of uncontrollable anger and sadness, or I will hear a song, see a photo or have a dream about them. Sometimes during a meditation or even walking down the street, they will come to me and hold my hand. It is comforting, but also makes miss them terribly, desperately wanting to see and talk to them again, and remind them how much I love them. They let me know that they know. They are always with me now.
As many gifts, lessons and memories they gave me in life, they continue to send me gifts and blessings in their deaths—sending people and circumstances to help me heal and grow. I smile and say, thank you.
Suicide is viewed as a selfish act. I don’t think these men were selfish, and they definitely didn’t want to cause any of us pain. They just needed to escape their own suffering. At Sam’s funeral, we were given a message from him from heaven, that came to his father in a dream. Sam said, “I’m sorry I didn’t give you more notice I was leaving. I just couldn’t stay another day.”
Sam and Raf may be gone from this earth, but they will never leave my heart or my side. I take them with me everywhere I go. In that way, I don’t have to get over their deaths, because I’ve accepted I never will, but I get to be with them in spirit for the rest of my life here and beyond.
My hope is that sharing my story will bring awareness to suicide and suicide prevention, and others will feel more comfortable talking about the subject. I hope my broken heart can help others heal theirs as well. It’s time we start talking about it and taking care of each other before we lose the chance.
If you are in a crisis, please call a friend or family member—we want to listen and help! Or you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.