*Trigger Warning: This article contains a story and information about suicide which may be upsetting*
The article is purely written for people who have lost their dear ones to suicide. I was completely shattered when I found one of my close friends hanging from a ceiling fan. Witnessing the rush and anxiety is probably my first memory from that unfortunate night. All the doors and windows were closed from inside as if he did not want us to enter and find him, very opposite of how he was.
All I could sense at that point in time was my heartbeat as there was no other sound I could hear. The visuals are still very fresh in my memory and although everything was fast-forwarding, I still remember every detail of it — that saree he used for making the knot, the green t-shirt he was wearing, his face, the fan, chair, everything.
For days, I couldn’t talk to people who did not share the same memory or love for him. It was suffocating for me to the extent that I preferred crying and howling in public spaces instead of asking for shoulders. Some close friends gave some space and some were constantly trying to be there. Both kinds were concerned, sympathetic and supportive, and gave love beyond their capacity.
My only reaction to every call or conversation was, “Do you remember him? You came home and he told you about that new pastry recipe he learned a few days back.” The same day I was visiting a dentist, I asked myself should I ask him if he’d like to accompany me, but then I had another thought, “Chal ya! Let him study. I can see him in the evening.” My very first thought after the whole incident was, “What if I would have asked him? Would he be alive today?”
I could not wrap my head around the fact that we had a great chat a day before. I told him while having tea-toast that I lost my job recently and might not have work for a month or two. For the first time, he did not share his part of the problems and I thought, “Woah boy! Does it mean life is going well?” He responded, “Yes, going okay, but I am excited about this new cake recipe that you’re gonna have.” And with this, we buried the problems under the tombstone of little pleasures of life.
He was happy and excited about this new recipe, showing me pictures on his phone. We always knew that there are times when he shares everything and sometimes he just doesn’t know how to express what he is going through. And we never used to nudge him, thinking pressuring him would burden him. We were aware of how hard he had worked on his close relationships and friendships. No matter how few friends he had, they were always around him — physically, digitally and emotionally.
But did he ever share about the suicidal thoughts? Yes, he did, many times. And that too, as clear as it can get.
“Sometimes, I don’t feel like waking up at all. I feel I am at peace when I am asleep.”
“I go through ‘episodes’. I cannot handle them at times, and sometimes I feel things are under control. What do I do with them?”
“I blame myself for this and actually everything. It becomes very heavy on me. How do I release this burden?”
After he left, I received a message that he wanted me to read, just right after his departure. The message reads, “I am sorry. I will always remember each and every moment I have spent with you.”
Losing appetite and sleep became a part of this process. For the first few days and even months, I pushed away people who had not met or known him. Later, the people who experienced a similar kind of loss were allowed in life. I knew this complete isolation was forcing me into a burning hell of a world.
In this complex situation, the most heartbreaking thought that was screaming inside my head was, “Did we not love and support him enough?” Maybe if I would have asked him to accompany me for the dentist appointment that day, he’d come with me and be alive today. Why didn’t we understand those indications and if we did, why didn’t we respond or help him through? And the next immediate yet obvious thought was, “Maybe we could have saved him.”
Is this how people are supposed to respond to their loss? Do they experience the same burning questions, thoughts and self-blaming?
Many of my friends have gone through the same process and shared their stages of grief and loss. I don’t really remember the correct order of those stages, but I surely know my emotions were more than anger, denial, guilt and depression. They were all there in place, sometimes together and separated at the other times.
Gradually, with time, with the help of my therapist and friends, I realised the following pointers that I thought were worth sharing with the wider public:
Trust me, I am still in the process of coping and absorbing what has happened. But it feels that it will get better with time and acceptance. Now, as a survivor of loss, what’s left behind are those beautiful memories and legacy. As part of it, I thought writing some of my understanding could help people who face a similar situation.
Setting the right discourse around mental health for survivors of loss becomes the crucial step more now than ever when the COVID-19 pandemic is consuming the lives we know or love. The stress of this illness, isolation, news, social media, and most importantly, loss is neglected in the tsunami of this pandemic. All we can do right now is connect the survivors of loss with the professionals who are out there supporting via online mediums.
Secondly, let’s try to be there for each other. There are already beautiful examples of community mobilisation, calling and checking in with friends who are living alone, trying to send across food to Covid patients, running errands for older people locked in, etc. There’s much strength to be drawn from nurturing communities of care.
Finally, let’s be careful of how we talk about people who have died by suicide. Let’s not speculate the reasons, and most importantly, be gentle and kind to everyone. I hope that one day we all will be able to give weightage to the impact and intensity of mental health in our practices instead of limiting the discourse to just theory.