4 Things I Wish I Could Say To My Friend Who Took His Own Life
To my guardian angel,
It's been five years, but I still remember that night like it was yesterday.
We had just finished running the 400-meter relay race under the bright lights of another Friday track and field meet.
I remember being excited about hitting my personal best on the second leg of the girls' race, and being even more excited after learning the boys beat the other schools by a large margin.
Then, I remember noticing that my friend Jordan was crumpled into a ball on the track, right there in lane three, about 20 meters from the finish line.
My joy turned to worry when I realized he wasn't wearing an expression of triumph or celebration. His face was twisted in pain.
Had he caught a cramp? Had he sprained an ankle on the last sprint?
Why was no one running to his side?
By the time I got on the rubber track, others were there, wearing the same pained expression.
I remember being confused when I heard your name between gasps and sobs.
Why were they talking about you?
You were a mutual friend to all of us, sure. But you didn't run track with us.
Then, I heard those two words: “committed suicide.”
I realized everyone was wearing this expression due to something far worse than simple muscle cramp pain.
My memories of the night from that point forward are blurred, like my vision was as soon as those tears started flowing.
I remember that night through snapshots: Jordan lying on the track, Malcolm punching the metal bleachers out of frustration and my mom somehow ending up by my side with her face scrunched up in sadness.
Our families were friends. We'd been in school together since our 10-person kindergarten class.
The news about you touched every person on our side of the track that night.
The only thing I remember thinking again and again as the night progressed — as more and more people showed up in our little town to be together, and as I hugged my friends more tightly than I've ever hugged them before — was, “This can't be happening for real.”
It's our mind's natural defense. Our first instinct to protect ourselves from the hurt is to think it's all just a bad dream.
I've thought about you more than you'd ever think I would since that night over five years ago.
My feelings surrounding your death have ranged from anger to sadness and from guilt to absolute frustration.
The emotional and logical sides of me have been at war ever since you left us, and I've tried so hard to make sense of it all.
After five years, I've drawn four conclusions about what it feels like to be left behind as the product of a loved one's suicide.
I can't say I've come to terms with what you did, but at least I know these four things are true:
1. You've left your mark on me.
I've worn my heart on my sleeve since you've left us.
I've been over-emotional, I've said “I love you” too soon and too often, and I've cared for people who haven't cared for me quite as much.
Since you've left, I've always regretted not telling you how much I cared about you.
I regret not telling you I was glad your mom would bring you by our house on Halloween to trick-or-treat when we were little.
Even if I hated being forced to play Mary in our elementary school float, I regret not telling you I was happy you were forced to play Joseph.
I regret not telling you that even though we weren't two peas in a pod in high school, I enjoyed the teasing comments we shared whenever we ran into each other.
I may be overcompensating my relationships now, due to the things I never got to tell you. But I'd rather get hurt for loving someone too much than miss my chance to tell him or her how much I love him or her.
Who I am today is, in part, because of you, and I'm glad to always carry you with me.
2. I will never completely understand why you did it.
I've thought through the “why” question, and I've obsessed over it more than I want to admit.
I know I will never know why you left us and how you decided that was the best option for you.
This knowledge won't stop me from analyzing everything I knew about you and every single interaction we had up to that night.
When the world is silent, I always find my thoughts drifting to you. I wonder why it had to be like this.
I want more than anything to have you here to help me understand why.
3. Guilt will always gnaw at me, no matter how much I know it's not my fault.
My feelings of guilt always come hand-in-hand with “I wish” statements.
I wish I never missed those phone calls from you. I wish I took the time to ask how you were doing: how you were really doing.
I wish you could have told me how difficult things were getting for you. I wish I could have been there to talk you out of it.
I wish I had stopped you.
It's not my fault.
Everyone has told me this. I have told myself this.
The reality is, though, I will always feel guilty.
4. Time doesn't heal all wounds.
The old adage isn't true. I miss you today just as much — if not even more — than I missed you the instant I knew you became our guardian angel.
It hurts today just as much — if not even more — than it did five years ago when I first found out.
I'll never get to tease you between classes again.
November is your birthday month, and April is when you went to heaven. Those months have never impacted me more than when you first chose to go.
When I sat down to do this, I thought I was in a good place after all these years.
I thought I could write you a letter without completely losing it.
But here I am: blurred vision, salty tears and trembling fingers.
Conclusion number four is certainly true, and I'm glad it is.
I never want to forget about you.
I hope this letter finds its way to someone who is thinking about committing suicide.
I hope it makes that person realize everyone has someone who cares about him or her.
As much as life may seem unbearable and unfair, there are people who want to help you get through it.
Suicide will hurt people.
I hope this letter finds its way to those whose survivor's guilt is fresh and stabbing.
I hope knowing they're not the only ones hurting, grieving and regretting will help with the pain.
I hope they know they aren't alone.
I hope this letter somehow finds its way to you.
I hope you know I loved — and will always love — you so, so much.
You left too soon, but we were all so lucky to have known you.
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