Coming Full Circle and Saying Good-bye
This is a follow-up to a painful experience which has left wounds still trying to heal in my heart, my mind, and my deepest essence. The death of my dear friend is described here and now I would like to update what has occurred since she passed away.
Since I initially received word that my friend passed away. I have heard from her sister who informed me that the official cause of death was stated as suicide. The family did not feel there was any valid reason to discredit the finding, given my friend's past experiences and the current difficulties she was enduring.
I suppose that makes perfect sense if a life is measured strictly by medical reports and mental evaluations. However in my mind, my friend's life was measured by more than her depression. She was courageous and brave, she was also without equal in her efforts to heal her broken spirit and lay the foundation for a brighter and happier future.
It was her heart of gold that I now remember so I wish to share my thoughts on our once-in-a-lifetime-friendship, appreciated for its uniqueness and its longevity.
Our Beginning Was Also Our Ending
It is cruelly ironic that what brought us together is what ended our friendship some 25 years later – a suicide attempt.
You see, I was riding along with a good friend in my car when I saw her sitting outside on her front steps, looking extremely unhappy and depressed. My heart went out to her right away, as I wondered how someone so young could be so unhappy. I asked the friend I was riding with if she was OK. My friend told me her sister-in-law (the sad young lady sitting on the steps) had just tried to commit suicide. I wondered out loud if I should write her a brief note because she looked so sad. My friend thought it was a good idea and might just help her sister-in-law.
So that is what I did. I reached out to this sad, beautiful, young woman and even wrote her about my feeble attempt at suicide during my early teenage years, hoping to establish some common ground.
How I would wait until I was alone then go in my parent’s bedroom and pull out the metal case that contained the gun my father said we were not to touch. I would go in the bathroom and while looking at myself in the mirror, try to force myself to pull the trigger, as I kept my mouth opened with the gun barrel pointed inside. I wrote that I was always too scared though, and I would get so angry with myself for being such a chicken. My father said the gun wasn’t loaded, so why couldn’t I just pull the trigger, wanting to see how it felt to hear the click of the empty gun if nothing else.
I shared the fact that I never did pull the trigger and eventually found spiritual reasons to not think about taking my life. I extended a hand of friendship to my soon-to-be friend and invited her to write me back and “talk” if she so desired.
It didn’t take long for her answer to arrive and it was the beginning of our long and fulfilling friendship. I would soon learn about Bi-Polar Disorder, although back then we called it manic depression. I would learn that some with this disorder have a very difficult time finding the right medication, at the right dosage that would actually helped with the severe mood swings. I was to gain firsthand experience of what it would be like to watch someone struggle for years, while the search for the right medication continued. I found out all about therapy, psychology and psychiatrists, mental hospitals, and failed suicide attempts.
During all the drama and distress would come periods of peace which gave me the opportunity to know my friend when she wasn’t riding an incredible high or a devastating low. I liked the real person underneath the disorder and tried very hard to always remember that person when the disorder took control.
I am amazed by the amount of memories my mind has retrieved now that I realize I will not be talking to my friend any more.
I think death by suicide interferes with the normal grieving process because the shock of someone being found dead takes precedent over the mental awareness that a loved one is gone.
It has been difficult just accepting the fact that she killed herself!
Time I would have normally spent on mourning her death was time I spent coming to terms with the finality of suicide in and of itself. Losing someone to sickness or an accident involves shock too, but it seems the shock part of the grief cycle is prolonged when dealing with the decision someone made to end her life by her own hands.
Slowly but surely, the shock does subside and gives way to grief.
It was then that I was hit by this dire need to find anything she ever wrote me or gave me as a gift. Knowing I have countless e-mails stored on an old computer is small comfort right now. However finding a few tangible items saved over the years now gives me much comfort.
I have a card that was saved in a scrap book collection. I went through the container hoping to find something written in her own hand writing and needless to say felt great relief and joy to have stumbled on a special card.
In her typical style, although it was a thank you card, she dated it and wrote an additional note on the card. It is from 2001 and evidently she had a tough year because the only other hand-written letter I still have is also from 2001, so I am assuming 2000 was a year we lost contact due to one of her very low periods. The pre printed message on the card says the following:
“Your thoughtfulness knows no end! And there is no end to how grateful I am, how thankful for all you’ve give me, especially now.
I know of no better way to say thank you, than to treat someone in my life the same way you’ve treated me – and so I shall!”
On the other side of the card was a personal note of thanks which she concluded by writing, “it’s like, when I run out of gas, your love is part of the fuel that keeps me going.”
Two months before I received that card, I received a 10 paged letter which summarized what she had been through the previous year we spent out of contact. Evidently she reached out to me and expected me to respond with harshness. Instead I wrote her back with encouragement and friendship and it meant so much to her that she spent much of 2001 expressing her gratitude. Of course I have no memory of what I wrote to her that made her feel so much better, but I'm glad my words helped her to heal and didn't add to her emotional pain.
While a part of me is saddened that I couldn’t continue to play that role during her final time of anguish and hopelessness; another part of me feels happy that I never failed to be the one person she thought would always be there for her.
I feel as if she tested me at times, just to see how far my love for her would extend. Every time I passed one of her tests, she found out I truly cared about her and would always be there to the best of my capabilities. I think those were the times our friendship served as a strengthening aid to her and was one of the positives in her life that encouraged her to keep up the good fight for so many years.
In one of our more recent telephone conversations, she told me of a friendship that recently ended on bad terms. I was shocked of course because I encouraged her to make friends with someone in her new location. Once I heard the details of how the friendship ended I suggested that perhaps her new friend just couldn’t handle the magnitude of my friends problems coupled with her own.
She agreed and laughingly confessed, “I know I’m not supposed to do this, but whenever someone does something to me, I always say: ‘Dar would never do that!’ “
I laughed and reminded her that we had been friends a long time which gave us a special understanding of each other.
I then tried to ease the sting of her new friendship coming to an abrupt end by telling her something I often repeated to her when she was feeling isolated. . .
While some people have no one who readily comes to mind when they asked themselves who their best friend is, or how many people really care about them. She could never say that about herself because she could always list me as her best friend and someone who really cared about her and loved her. She would never have to feel she had to face her problems alone as long as she had at least one person on her go-to list.
I did come to believe she truly accepted that I loved her unconditionally. Her sister wrote me that I was one of the few people who ever reached her heart.
In retrospect I suppose that is what defines a true friend, whether you were there for the long haul, not just one isolated time when she didn’t reach out for a life preserver. I'm sure as time passes, I will accept this statement as fact and take more comfort from knowing it applied in our specific friendship.
She gave me a gold bracelet with the words “Someone Special” engraved on it. We didn’t agree about that of course, as I didn’t think being her friend made me special. I regarded her as someone special because of all she dealt with from the time she was a youngster onward.
"Specialness" aside, I am glad I have this token of our friendship still. I never imagined a time when she would suddenly no longer be an active part of my life. Yet here I am.
When I go through those times of wishing I could relive that day she called so that I could do something differently, I take solace in her many expressions of thanks to me for being there so often over the past 25 years. That will have to suffice for now . . .
I can't see Atlanta without thinking about her. Remembering how we both kept track of the other friend's weather and would make it a point to tease or laugh about it, weather conditions permitting, makes me smile for a minute.
Then I think about the fact that she's no longer there and I realize how often my thoughts extended to her just because of a weather map on a television channel. My smile disappears but the warmness lingers on as a pleasing afterthought.