I dreamt about Stephen last night, my dearest friend from high school. He came to visit–back from the dead, but just for a little while, he said. In my dream, it seemed normal, but also very significant and powerful that he was allowed this quick visit with me. I cried as I hugged him and touched his face. He was back in the flesh, looking like his grinning, strawberry-blonde, 17-year-old self. He was wearing the red Bad Religion hoody that he always wore, the one I wear right now as I type this, the one I inherited, as an 18-year-old, after his suicide and have kept since to wear in my home.
Waking up from that dream was really hard. Today is really hard. While I am grateful for this dream visit (I haven’t had such a dream in years), I am also shocked by his presence, his absence. It’s been 11 years since his suicide, and most of my days go by just fine. We learn to cope with loss and have healthy lives. But today I am shaken, sad, vulnerable. I’ve been re-experiencing my grief all day. The wound is freshly re-opened and it feels like I’ve lost him yet again.
During the day, I couldn’t quite put words to this vulnerability that I was experiencing that made it hard to concentrate at work until that Adele song “Someone Like You” came on the radio and she sang:
“I had hoped you’d see my face and you’d be reminded
That for me it isn’t over.”
As tears poured down my cheeks I thought, “That’s it. Suicide is NEVER over.”
It’s never over for the survivors. Yes, it gets farther into the past, and if we are allowed to grieve, then we can continue to live our lives well (and if we aren’t, then it has even more serious long-term consequences). But a dream like this makes us grieve all over again. Or another suicide in our community sets us back into hurt and guilt. Or a song transports us to a deep sadness, like the way “I See a Darkness” by Johnny Cash did for me two months ago when I first heard it.
Most importantly, suicide is never over because we can never ever have that person back.
I write this not just for my own processing. I write this to tell you, if you are considering suicide, to understand this fact of suicide. It may be quick to kill yourself, but the pain is never over for the rest of us. You leave great scars behind you that never quite close. Forever, there is someone missing who is supposed to be here. We always feel that absence. We always hurt from that absence. You are supposed to be here.
Please, if you are in pain, if you see no light in life, if you have been abused and mistreated and see no other way out, please call the suicide hotline (# below). Or please tell a counselor or teacher or friend and if they can’t get you help, tell someone else until you find someone who can. You do not deserve abuse and you do not deserve to die.
And to the friends, family, teachers, and counselors: Please ask. Notice that they are sad. Invite them, with compassion and a non-judgmental tone, to talk. Show them love. And please ask them if they are considering suicide. I wish so much that they had taught us this when we were in high school. I wish I had had some tools to keep Stephen alive. I wish our high school teachers had brought in suicide prevention experts after the first suicide in our school. Or, better, before it. Silence won’t keep your loved ones alive. TALK. ASK. Be there.
I keep hearing in my head Adele’s song:
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”
Love is supposed to hurt sometimes, but not like this. Never like this.
Alaska Careline (Suicide Hotline): 1-877-266-HELP
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK