“Angela* killed herself yesterday.”
When someone calls, late on a Saturday night, with terrible news about a friend and colleague, it’s hard to know how to react. I sat down in a quiet space and took a deep breath.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Yesterday morning, she jumped off the Skyway Bridge.”
I know a few people whose suicide wouldn’t at all surprise me. Angry, bitter people who always seem to be drowning in a sea of sadness. Angela was not one of those people. Kind and funny, she always seemed to see the good in everyone. I felt shocked, to my core, and inquired about mutual friends and her family, especially her kids, my heart breaking for them.
Yes, that’s right. Angela was a devoted mom.
Here’s where a few people might get judgmental. “How could a mother do such a thing?” they might ask.
This is what I know.
Moms, as a rule, are fiercely protective of their children. There is no greater love. There is no greater devotion. We have a voice, an all-encompassing and compelling urge, calling on most of us to shelter, love and support these little beings with all our might.
I’d seen Angela in action. She was one of those moms.
But for some, especially those who suffer from overwhelming stress, anxiety, depression and other ills, there is another voice, urging or overwhelming emotion telling us we are not worthy of this love. It lies and deceives, telling us that our children, our loved ones, are better off without us. It tells us that this suffocating feeling of hopelessness and despair will only get worse.
It tells us to jump.
Just for one moment, imagine how loud that voice must be, how overwhelming that pain must feel, to drown out everything else?
That’s the voice that haunts. And sometimes it wins.
It won last week.
Where does that leave the rest of us? I’m not self-centered enough to believe that if Angela’s husband, children, friends and loved ones couldn’t make a difference, that somehow I could. No. But it did compel me to reach out, in various ways, to those with whom I might make a difference. My special people. And tell them how much I love them. Tell them how I’d do anything, drop everything, to be there for them in their time of need.
All the while, wondering: how do I make this sound as sincere as I feel?
Just about everybody says, “Let me know if you need anything!” Often times we don’t necessarily mean it. How do I get across that I really mean it?
I don’t know.
Maybe finding a time to say it in person? Even then I’m not sure it comes across the way it should. I want my loved ones to know that our connection is more powerful than anything else. Our connection is real. I hugged my children and reminded them, yet again, that there isn’t anything we can’t overcome together.
We believe that allowing someone to help us is a mitzvah. A good deed. When we allow that, the helper feels good reaching out and making a difference. They feel better about themselves and the world around them. We feel better too. We feel loved and cared for. That’s what’s called a win-win situation.
Allow us to do that, I told my boys. Allow us to help each other.
But how do we know our loved ones are listening? Or will remember during their darkest hour?
Angela was surrounded by love, of that there is little doubt. And yet, she still left us.
I have friends who suffer from depression and they tell me all the time: We can do what we can do, but in the end, some people cannot be saved.
I looked around at Angela’s funeral yesterday. This was a kind woman, a compassionate and powerful force for good. She would never want anyone to feel guilt, shame or anger on her behalf. Unfortunately, that’s what suicide brings, along with sorrow and grief. It takes a long time to work through. Closure is a myth.
Those of us who work in fields of service, do so because we believe, to our core, that we can make a difference. That our voices count. We *can* change the world. Then one day we are confronted by the ugly reality that sometimes we cannot make a difference. Sometimes the bad voice wins.
*Name changed to protect privacy