Have you ever been stopped in your tracks? Stopped frozen in your tracks? You’re moving along, day to day, in your predictable life and suddenly you hear or see something that rocks you so deeply and feels so shocking, that you actually put your hand on your heart because it feels like it might pound right out of your chest.
Last night, after an uneventful and predictable routine, I put the kids to bed and turned on the tube in my bedroom. Comfortable in my sweatpants, I sat in front of the laptop on my bed and clicked on Facebook, much like I do every other night after the house begins to wind down. Expecting to see much of the same… links to interesting articles, updates from friends, funny or inspiring quotes, pictures from friends afar, and sometimes messages sent privately. Upon my first click, I began to read, and my heart skipped a beat, maybe two beats. Surely I was misunderstanding something. This Facebook friend (who happens to be a classmate from high school) had passed away. My mind, my gut, and my heart set out quickly and frantically to absorb and integrate their varying voices in an attempt to piece together what may have happened. My gut spoke the loudest and came forward as the leader. “Something terrible happened. She was so depressed. She posted daily about her pain and her inner struggles, day to day, through life.” My mind chimed in, “Yes, but she also had physical health issues and perhaps the doctors just couldn’t help her.” My gut won this fight and was later confirmed by the note she left on Facebook the night before she passed away. She was saying goodbye to this world as she knew it and asking that God take her soul for a long and peaceful rest. She thanked her friends in this post and let them know that she appreciated their support.
This is the moment that was frozen in time, where I stopped in my tracks, my bones shook, and somehow everything changed. I learned a lesson, in an instant, more quickly than any other lesson I can remember. I reflected on my own reactions to her outcries for help and support. I looked back to see when I reached out to her and found a message I sent to her on November 30th that was never met with any reply. I remembered an update she posted in December that evoked enough fear and worry in me, I responded with some supportive and caring words. She later deleted the entire update after she saw the fear and anxiety it produced in her friends, and posted an apology. I never had a close relationship with her. I have not seen or spoken with her since 1993. I had a couple of classes with her but never saw her or spoke with her outside of school either. None of these factors, these thoughts, these reflections changed the fact that a young woman had taken her own life. Perhaps it was the posts she made, day after day, either attempting to brighten her own day or attempting to reach out for help. All of it, the minimal number of times I tried to reach out to her, the desperation in her outcries, the sadness I feel for her family and close friends, all of it completely jolted me, rocked me.
A young life taken too soon, a group of family and friends left to feel the guilt and horror of experiencing a suicide. Taken with all the weight that it bears, it seems too much to carry. What are we left with, as onlookers? What are her family and friends left with? What was the lesson for me, the lesson that zapped me like a lightning bolt?
In the last 18 hours, this is what I’ve gleaned. When she passed from this human experience, a part of me passed along with her. Instead of disappearing, though, the part that passed along with her, the assumptions and judgments, evolved into something more compassionate, more aware, and more connected to all humans. I didn’t know her and I had no idea what might be going on in her life that led her to the desperation she felt. What I do know, though, is that sadness was oozing from her being on a daily basis. What could I have done to reach out, maybe even just one extra time? I’m not implying it would have changed the outcome at all, but perhaps it might have given a tiny sliver of light, however dull it may have been, even if for only 15 seconds, during a time where she felt deeply depressed.
I will continue to reflect on the ways that I can share my light with people. The effort, however small it may be, could bring a smile to someone’s face, light a glimmer of hope in someone’s heart, or just convey a message that their life is important.
We are like an ocean. When one part of the ocean changes, it inadvertently affects every organism in the system. The tide in our ocean changed on Saturday night when she made a choice to stop fighting those powerful demons. Through the grief that her family and friends are experiencing, let us send out love and light, and encourage people to look outside themselves to nurture the WHOLE.