Sunday, March 06, 2011

Thinking aloud

This Friday I'll be missing the funeral of a friend of mine. Not because I can't make it, although it would be difficult to get there all things are possible if you put your mind to them, but because I don't think I could bear it. Possibly cowardice, but more likely because I feel like I'd explode with hypocrisy if I attended.

He was a kind and generous man, softly spoken and cautious with his emotions. A real pleasure to be around and, in the intimacy of a one on one conversation, thoughtful and gently funny. He was also ready to talk about wrestling with his mental health issues in a self deprecating and darkly humorous way that always blunted the sharp edges of the topic.

We enjoyed each others' company and, once we lived in separate cities, would occasionally keep in touch with the odd text here or email there. But no more than that. Frankly we drifted apart. He wasn't even on Facebook or Twitter for goodness sake!

One drawback of being an emotionally self-sufficient introvert, which I am, and not requiring much from my friends is that, of course, those friendships can so easily remain at arms length and detach into nothingness. The upside is that if I never saw another human being in my life I'm not sure I'd be that bothered (as long as the shops still opened obviously).

If it's emotional sustenance you need I'm really not your man. Although I'm happy to discuss personal and emotional subjects, like right now, even then it will be in a cool analytic way without the visceral rawness of the hormonal tide that might actually be sweeping through me.

When I heard that my friend had killed himself last week I found myself gasping for breath. It was a moment we'd explicitly talked over and how his (then potential) suicide would effect his friends and family. I know I was pretty hard on him about it at the time, that it was his decision and his responsibility, no-one else's. Now it's real I'm less sure.

My thoughts soon turned to the friendship we'd shared and, well, the inadequacy of what he received from me. I'll be honest, those feelings of indirect culpability have been troubling me over the last few days.

Although I'd told him he alone was responsible for this decision, that he had yet to make, the fact is we are our brothers' keepers. We can make a choice as a society of individuals how much we're going to look out for one another, how connected we're going to be, and that decision has a real consequence.

I didn't put a rope around his neck, but I might as well have watched and done nothing. At least those closer to him tried, at least they were there for him and let him be there for them. I know in his heart he felt he was unneeded in the world and, as one of those who did not need him, in any real sense, I let him drown and he didn't even know I wasn't there.

We can't be there for everyone, but we can let people be there for us. The greatest thing you can do for another person is to let them help you. Their self-worth depends upon it.

4 comments:

BobFromBrockley said...

A very brave and moving post Jim.

I had a very close friend who committed suicide about 15 years ago, and I still find myself rehearsing very similar thoughts to the ones you express here.

Thank you for posting.

Jessica Goldfinch said...

I remember a friend's last phone call to me, we were supposed to hook up "in the New Year" (2009). He didn't make it through February.

You got me crying, but I think I needed it, it was good to remember him. Be kind to yourself.

Thank you Jim.

HarpyMarx said...

I agree with Bob this is a moving and v. brave post.

"I know in his heart he felt he was unneeded in the world and, as one of those who did not need him, in any real sense, I let him drown and he didn't even know I wasn't there."

I know you possibly won't accept this (easier said than done) but stop blaming yourself. From a perspective where I have been the one trying to do myself in, it was about my own responsibility and choice. Certainly, I encountered different responses. Some guilt tripped and made me feel worse, pushed me ever nearer to harming myself. In many cases some people don't say anything about committing suicide. They just do it.

When I look back I wonder what was it what pulled me back (obviously I am still here), many times it was more based on my own fear than other people's responses. Sometimes, it doesn't matter what people say you can be determined enough to ignore what you're hearing. Sometimes you just do over the edge, you can't turn back. What I am trying to say is that you can say the most insightful and thoughtful thing but it may not be enough as it has gone too far for the person to respond in a positive way.

Hope this makes sense... as trying to formulate what I am thinking while typing...

Despairing said...

Jim, I spent today, my girlfriend's birthday, listening to her tell me she was better off dead and speculating on how she could do it. It's not a new thing - she has bipolar.

The only thing that stops her is her daughter, but even that grip seems to be loosening as her daughter turns 18 this year. My gf reckons her work is done.

The thing is, I realised years ago that trying to live our lives as if each day was either our last, or the last we would see someone else, is unsustainable. It's not a real situation. Friendships blossom and wither, love is renewed and lost, and that's just normal life.

Living your life "normally" doesn't mean you don't care for those you haven't seen or heard from for a while, or may never meet again. It just means that you're getting on with things.