I’d be remiss in talking about being upbeat and positive if I didn’t touch on the subject caused by recent celebrities who have taken their lives. One late night a few years ago, an acquaintance seemed perilously close to taking her life. I thought about that night a lot afterward. Here’s what came out of it.
When you said you’d hit your limit that you had had enough, you couldn’t take anymore, even though it was Facebook, my husband and I took you at your word. He knew you. To me it sounded suicidal.
“Have her call you,” I urged. He gave out his private number. The minutes following I can’t take this anymore were painfully long, loaded with questions. Will she call? How long has she been feeling this way? How serious is this? That night, it seemed weeks passed until his phone chimed. He didn’t know what to say except to verify that it was really you and handed the phone off to me. I knew what to say, what to ask. Were you surprised to find someone listening?
“What’s going on right now?” I asked.
It hurts to tell you how many times I’d seen, heard and recognized I can’t take it anymore or similar words. Enough times to learn the signs of brewing suicide. You don’t know the real reason why I took your call. The words, I have had enough were still not what motivated me to talk with you.
There were other phone calls. After the fact calls. Shaky voices on the other end of the line, Duane shot himself, Joey drank rubbing alcohol, Kenny hung himself, Virginia stepped right off the curb in front of a bus, Larry suffocated, your mother took a bottle of pills…
Those words thundered like shockwaves and made it impossible to immediately absorb the message. The pain in those voices haunts me. The words come like birds on the wind, you hear them can’t believe them and they’re gone. The ideas hover like birds coasting in flight. Then, their wings flap through my mind in a thousand directions and not a single reason for ending a life makes sense.
Once you’ve been through that, you begin realizing how thin the tether is that holds some people to this planet. When people say they’ve had it, you sit up. You take notice. Your heart lurches left and your stomach drops. Your nerves turn to needles and you want God or Jesus or some Higher Power to throw down the Heavenly playbook for the big questions like this. But the playbook doesn’t fall through the sky and land at your feet. Even that, isn’t why I took your call.
I discovered that you can love someone, and that might not be enough. You can be their friend, or lover, best friend, husband, wife, mother, father, daughter, son or sister or brother. When someone says they’re thinking about taking their life or have attempted to take their life, they’ve shown intent to kill. After that, you may never see them the same way. It’s almost like you can see something different in their eyes and they can see it in yours. The knowing.
You’ve entered a sort of waiting game. They’re going to wait and see if things get better. And they could get better. For a while, they likely will. But in the back of my mind, I’m not thinking about those days when it all finally goes right. I’m running farther down the road. I’m thinking about the next down day. When it all hits the fan. When it all goes south. I’m already wondering, what event will be their undoing? A bully? A break-up? The loss of a job? Being ignored? Minimized? The death of a close relative? Several relatives? A string of unfortunate events? Since they’ve already waved the red flag in front of me, I’m officially on notice. And as long as they’re alive, I’m on notice. Responsible, if you will, to check in.
If you’re like me, you could drive yourself crazy with worry, especially if you’re close to them in any way. Every time they’re late, depressed, or gone away too long, you will wonder, is it today? Every time they don’t post on social media, or won’t answer their phone, or fail to show up, you will wonder, is it today?
Somehow, to preserve my wits, I came to the realization that I cannot stand guard over anyone every waking minute. I had to turn off the control. I had to decide that even though I love them, I have to let go. If they want to leave, nothing I do is going to make them stay. Hear me: Nothing. You. Do. Will. Make. Them. Stay. But kindness and caring could buy more time.
This I already knew when I took your call. I didn’t fully expect that I would “save your life” that night. The best I could hope for in that period of time was to buy more time. Why? I could say because my husband knew you. But that wouldn’t be entirely true.
If I had been driving a car and saw you on a bridge, I would’ve slammed on the brakes to stop you. Maybe to redeem myself for failing all of the people who died before this night. Or to assuage the guilt I feel for not seeing the signs, for not realizing how close to the end of the razor’s edge they were walking.
Also, I confess to being a bit of a “fixer”. Not wholeheartedly. I’m a once in a blue moon if the stars align just so kind of fixer. And my average is pretty bad as fixing people goes. But you didn’t know that when you phoned us. Because in that minute, when we connected, you were my mother, my best friend; You were every person I had ever lost, or nearly lost and I was getting a do-over. You were getting every come-back line, every hopeful thought, every I-wish-I-had-said, and I-wish-I-had-thought-to-say remark.
You couldn’t possibly have known that just one year before, one of my dearest friends had perfectly, cleanly, thoughtfully—so as not to leave any mess—ended her journey on this planet. When I heard about her passing, I knew before being given the details, that she had punched her own ticket. I only wanted to know how. I could tell by the style of exit that she’d been planning it for years. I was grateful, however, for those 3 extra decades. She staved it off longer than I thought she would. But we’d fallen out of regular contact.
So when your call came, I was well-versed in what attempting/approaching suicide looks like. And you honored our conversation by coming down off the ledge.
I was surprised when you wanted to meet “the person who had saved your life.” A strange title I felt uncomfortable wearing. But thank God, you’re still here. Only time will tell if you‘ve been impacted enough to stick around for the long haul, stick around until the Creator calls you home or you perish or kick the bucket or go to a better place than this by some other means than your own hand. I’m glad you’re still alive, I truly am.
Whatever brought you to the point where you thought ending your life was the best option, I hope all such days are behind you. I’m old enough to know how hard and treacherous life can be. I deeply hope that you value life and cherish those who love you. I hope you have grabbed a hold of something bigger than yourself to see you through. But it isn’t me. I hope you’ll stick around despite the darker days it seems we must all endure.
If you’re reading this and thinking you can’t or don’t want to go on, please, I implore you to call this National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number: 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours every day.
What does this mean for you?
If you happen to be reading this, do you know the signs? Maybe you’re wondering what you might do if someone makes you the recipient of such a desperate call, consider this.
Imagine that it’s the next day and the caller is dead. Think of all the people who will be affected. Think about the tears and pain and suffering. Think about the funeral. Can you imagine all the remarks?
“I didn’t know they were hurting so bad.”
“I didn’t realize when they said________ that this is what they meant. If I had just stayed on the phone longer. If I had it to do over, I would _________.”
Then, do that thing. Do all you can. Treat every single one as if they could die tomorrow and today is your last chance to tell them how much they mean to you and how much they mean to others. Every life is precious. Just know, that sometimes it still may not work. But you will have done all you could. For me, it will always be because I want to save the ones I lost. Fortunately, I can always celebrate with the ones who stick around.~