I awoke this morning to news of the second celebrity this week to die by his or her own hand. When news of Kate Spade’s death broke, and now with Anthony Bourdain’s passing, newsfeeds and Twitter are flooded with images of the people and their work, as well as tributes by people who knew them, who were touched by them, or who simply enjoyed or admired what they put out into the world.
But there have been others. Too many others. The ones who depart not with fanfare, but with a whisper. The ones whose pain led them to slip quietly out the door of life, leaving only a handful of devastated mourners.
There was a man I’ll call Brian. He was married to a dear friend of mine. For a time, it was good. They had a child, a home, a life. But he was a complicated man, more so than I knew. Eventually, he and my friend parted ways. His relationship with their child was that of two passionate, intelligent, stubborn people with differing views and thoughts and priorities.
Eventually, Brian found love again. In the end, though, she could not save him from himself, because no person can do that for another. When he departed, he did so in as considerate a manner as one could. He left a note in which he expressed sorrow, regret, and love. It is unknown, and always will be, why he did as he did. What is known is that his loved one is bereaved, his adult child is fatherless, and those of us who knew him in other, happier times find ourselves culling through the memories for missed clues that it would end this way.
There was a woman I’ll call Cynthia. She taught for a time at my high school. She was willowy and vibrant, with a ready smile and lively curiosity. As a teacher, she created interesting assignments and provided insightful feedback. One project I recall involved watching a television program with the sound off and attempting to discern the plot without hearing the dialogue. A few years later, she left teaching to work as a reference librarian at the town library. It was the pre-Google era, when reference librarians held the key to obscure information; Cynthia delighted in ferreting out answers to a thousand bizarre questions.
In our decorous town, details were kept quiet. I learned of Cynthia’s unexpected passing as one would, with a phone call asking, “Have you heard?” But the rest revealed itself in an innocent comment at a Thanksgiving service the day before the funeral, when I sat in the front row of the choir and heard the woman two rows behind me, who also worked at the library, speak of a coworker who had taken her own life. The next day, I listened to the priest attempt to say something, anything, to comfort the husband and grown sons who sat in the pew before him awaiting answers. At the reception, these well-ordered men accepted condolences, their ties straight, their eyes empty. I told them she had been my teacher. They shook my hand and thanked me for coming, for remembering that part of her life.
There was a young man I’ll call Paul. I never met Paul. I know his mother only by her screen name, as a fellow writer on a website where she and I have posted work over the years. She wrote a short story about a character who was hiding a secret and how this ultimately led him end to his life. She then revealed that the story had its genesis in Paul’s passing. Many years have gone by since she lost Paul, but it is clear from her story, made all the more heart-wrenching by its understated elegance, that the devastation and anguish remain.
Our lives touch countless others, many of whom we will never know.
So also do our deaths.
May we be remembered well.
If you need help, or you even just think you might, or if you think that someone you know may need help, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.