Like most, I was heartbroken when I heard of Robin Williams' suicide, a year ago yesterday.
And like many, the one year anniversary of his death pulled out emotions and memories and an overwhelming anguish that I'd rather keep buried.
It's hard to explain to those that don't know, what it is like to lose a friend to suicide. It's hard to quantify that kind of loss or describe the unavoidable hole that's left behind. It's hard to express the lingering sadness that transforms itself over time, attaching to your ribs so it can breath with you; never truly leaving the insides you try so desperately to protect.
But I can try.
When you lose a friend to suicide you feel guilty. My friend called me the night he died by suicide, asking me for a ride, and companionship, and my time. They were the simplest of requests, yet ones I could not fulfill. I had been drinking, celebrating Cinco de Mayo and unable to operate any machinery responsibly. We promised we'd talk the next day. We made plans to see one another soon.
We never spoke again.
So you rationalize endlessly, telling yourself that so much was out of your control and there was nothing you could have done and -- in the end -- it was his or her decision, but there will never be a day that doesn't pass by that you don't feel responsible. The guilt is palpable. It attaches itself to your spine and pushes you, ever so slightly, towards the ground you sometimes want to lay on. It tells you that things could have been different. It whispers situations where they're still alive. It pokes at you, promising you that if I had done something, anything, they would be here.
When you lose a friend to suicide you hear words like "coward" and "weak" and "selfish," and the pieces of you that haven't broken yet, begin to crumble. The people who didn't know him told me that what he did was wrong. They told me that he was self-centered and feeble and unworthy of the grief so many of his friends and family were feeling. They didn't understand that he felt lost. They didn't understand that he felt lonely. He had a hopelessness I can't clarify. He had a mourning I couldn't possibly fathom.
And it won.
So you become defensive and angry and even violent, defending your friend who is no longer here to defend themselves. They become another sibling you never had; because you're angry and maybe, just maybe, even a small piece of yourself, fueled by that rage, begins to think the same but you won't allow anyone else to say it. You can't let someone think that they only cared about themselves because you know that isn't true. You won't allow someone to say they were weak because you know they were strong and steadfast and powerful.
When you lose a friend to suicide you feel lost yourself. You begin to look inward, wondering what is wrong with you that you couldn't have seen such an insurmountable death coming. You contemplate your abilities as a friend. You wonder if they had tried to speak with you but you were too busy to really listen. You wonder if you had declined a drink around them, they would have been inclined to tone down their drinking themselves. You tell yourself that if you didn't leave town when they stayed or had gone to college when they didn't or had done the things that pulled your lives in different directions, they wouldn't have made the choices they did.
You just can't stop wondering.
But most of all, when you lose a friend to suicide you miss them. You miss them as much as you would if they had died any other way. A loss is a loss and a death is a death and while we like to quantify them, in the end, the pain and heartache and guilt and questions and rationality and wanting, all come from the same place.
In the end, they're just gone. And how they left this earth doesn't make their absence any more or less painful.
And while losing a friend to suicide can make you feel so horribly alone -- as if you are the only person on the planet who knows what this loss feels like -- I can assure you, you're not. Every day, approximately 105 Americans lose their life to suicide.
105 Americans. Every day.
So while we remember Robin Williams and the loss we felt a year ago, remember that it's OK to struggle explaining how it feels to lose a friend to suicide.
Remember that it's OK if you can't explain how it all feels because, the sad truth is, so many of us already understand.