Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sad End to a Promising Life

 Last Friday evening Jo and I had to make a funeral visitation. A close college friend of our older son ended her life a few days before. She was an intelligent , talented, beautiful, even vivacious young woman. Without getting all clinical, which is beyond me, suffice to say she was troubled. It all came down to a moment, a flash of darkness and she was gone. The darkness. What does it take to take that last step? I know volumes have been written about it, but we still just don't know. If we knew, we could prevent it - at least more often, anyhow.

When we arrived at the funeral home there was a line out the door. It took the better part of an hour and a half to finally address her parents standing a few feet from the open casket. I've no doubt they had been living in shock for the previous three or four days. Yet, they were almost convivial. They also knew our son, and were pleased that we came. They smiled, and we engaged in small talk, then we moved on to approach the casket. As with most people who have passed, she looked like the girl we knew and yet didn't.

There were literally hundreds of people who passed through that funeral home that evening. There were no doubt many more the following morning. Some were probably family friends, people who worked for and with her father and mother, neighbors and so on, but the great majority of the people we saw were this girl's friends, her contemporaries. Friends from her childhood, from high school, from college, from graduate school, from various places she had worked. She had been a singer and actress and later a fitness trainer, among other things. People who had performed with her and seen her perform. People with whom she had trained. All these people. All these friends. All this family. Yet no one had been able to get at her core, to recognize her pain, to realize how close to the edge she had come. I don't write this as any kind of finger pointing or condemnation. It's just the terrible conundrum of mental illness.

When I first met her back in the late 1990s, she was about eighteen, a college freshman, and full of life, had a flashing smile and didn't seem to know a stranger. The intervening years obviously took a heavy toll on her. How the world failed her, and how she ultimately failed herself was hidden in the chemical imbalance that plagued her mind.

 Jo and I have now known three young people who took their own lives. One a high school classmate of our kids, one a family member, and now this young woman. We also lost a young family member to the ravages of drug abuse a couple years ago. Life doles out some hard shots. Fortunately, we manage to dodge a lot of them, but never all. I wish these four young people had managed to dodge one more.

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