Slowly she arrives at her destination.
Just before reaching for the door, she adjusts the glasses over her thinning grey hair. The doors today seem as heavy as her weary heart.
She hits the large wheelchair button instead and waits as it slowly opens, welcoming her, one last time. A bittersweet smile paints her lips as she recalls days long ago.
Across the field, Mother is calling, waving her kerchief out the window. “Anne, Philip, dinner is ready.”
Her older brother, now long gone, would always challenge her to a race. “Last one to the door is a rotten egg.”
Oh, how she’d run – as fast her little legs allowed her. But no matter what, Philip always got there first.
“See, you’re a baby,” he’d tease and she would run sobbing, straight into Daddy’s arms. Dad would scold Philip for upsetting her, and she’d gloat in triumphant revenge.
Oh, how they fought.
Things did take a different turn after she had her tonsils out, Philip demonstrated a completely different side, one that surprised her. She was in bed, miserable, for most of the week, drinking warm soups of one kind or another. Philip would sneak in with all sorts of treats and tried to amuse her. He was lonely without her, though he’d never admit it.
She was first to the door many times after that.
Now standing at the front entrance, she felt no one two steps behind her, no one was chasing.
Gosh she missed him so.
She walks in, her attention immediately shifting to the young couple sitting in the lobby. The man, no older than Sal was when they first met, cups the woman’s face tenderly in his hands. Her loose ponytail swings and lets strands of stray hair onto her face, blocking her crystal blue eyes. Oh, how they remind her of Sal. The young man gently tucks them behind her ear.
As if sensing her stare, they turn their heads and acknowledge her look of content with a smile.
She walks on. For a second she thinks she sees Sal, standing at the end of the corridor, open arms calling her once more.
Is that you, Sal? Her eyes widen. The figure comes closer.
“Good day, Anne”, the security guard offers cheerfully. Her polite bow hello deftly masks her heartache.
What she wouldn’t do, what she wouldn’t give to hear Sal once more say, “Anne, them brown eyes are melting me away”. Then he would hold her, promising to never let go.
Oh Sal, you promised.
She calls for the elevators. An elderly woman excuses herself as she passes by, pushing along a walker. “Did you remember to pack your sun hat, Ma?” The woman next to her asks.
The reply gets lost as her thoughts drift back to her mother’s old house again. A frail woman sits by the window, looking out at the life that has left her behind. She comes closer. Her mother is weeping, silent tears confessing her deep sorrow. She reaches for her mother’s hand.
She holds it still as they clean out her father’s dresser, as they go through their albums, as they slowly bid the love of her life, her best friend, goodbye.
She didn’t let mother live alone after that.
What is this wetness coming down her cheeks? She quickly wipes the tears away.
The metalic rattle of the elevator doors jolt her spinning mind. She stands there, unable to move. “Are you coming?” a voice calls from inside. The man seems concerned. Can he tell? Surely, he must not.
She continues inside while the nice man holds open the door.
She is greeted by the sound of playful children, “Rock, paper, scissors, match”. A beautiful little girl, no older than 6, covers her younger opponent’s hand. Her hair is braided, just as Rebecca’s used to be.
She conjures snapshot of her kids in her delicate mind. The days they were born were among the happiest in her life. Time seemed to pass so slowly then, feedings and diapers, homework and chores. How impatient she had been. Where did all those years go?
“I win,” the little girl twirls with delight, hitting her mother’s dress in just the right curves to expose a growing belly. A new soul on its way. Every winter is followed by spring. The irony sets in.
“Have a good evening,” the man says on his way out. She had barely noticed them leaving. A cracked goodbye was all she could manage.
Onward, alone, up to the eighth floor.
The doors open, a step closer to the freedom she seeks. She looks at the walls and wonders if they’d always been this shade of green. Music is playing in the adjacent hall, perhaps from the unit of the young couple who recently moved in.
She reaches for her keys, fingers trembling as she hears the door unlock.
Inside all is still, just as she had left it. Dishes untouched. Bed neatly kept. Not a crumb. Not a sound.
She picks up the bourbon and fills the glass. Every swallow warms her body with the courage she needs. The rigid sofa assaults her waning body, still, she prefers it to the bleak hospital beds. She closes her eyes and lets the numbing taste bathe her. If only it was just as easy to cauterize her pain. She lies, immobile, and stares at the ceiling.
Now. She needs to go now, before nerves hold her back again. Before fear takes over and imprisons her. She arranges the pillows neatly back into place and begins her passage.
Outside in her balcony, the gentle evening breeze brushes against her face. Someone is barbecuing. Someone is singing. Someone is listening to the evening news. She looks at the view, at the sun in its final throes. No one can see her. No one is looking.
She steps closer, and closer. Memories are all she has. She is taking them with her.
Then there is darkness.
Two weeks ago, I was shaken by the news of an 83-year-old woman who chose to end her life by jumping out of an eighth floor balcony. This incident kept me up many nights as I tried to piece together what could’ve led this woman to do something so drastic, so final. Who was she? What was her story? What put her on this path? Could anyone have done anything to help? Was anyone privy to the plague of her heart? And what about those she left mourning behind?
The questions kept pouring, but answers were scarce. No matter what I learned, nothing added up. Essentially nothing ever will.
Feeling uneasy and needing a way to put it behind me, I sat down and started to write (a comfort of sorts). I did not know her at all, yet I grieved her loss. Filling the blanks with this parable was simply a way to fiddle in the dark.
My heart aches for those she left behind. I pray that they find strength in this trying time. And to the troubled soul who fought her silent war, I pray that you have finally found your peace.
Prologue: I wrote this piece many weeks ago and for some reason never felt quite right about publishing it. Maybe I’ll post it next week, I kept telling myself. Yet before long, next week turned into two weeks, two into three, until the thought of it was entirely swept under the rug. Suicide is, after all, a very difficult subject to broach.
With the recent tragic passing of a beloved American comic, actor and iconic star, Robin Williams, the topic of suicide resurfaced. At the age of 63, this man who left a legacy of laughter and generosity behind, took his own life, after battling depression for many years. The news came with such a profound sense of loss that I could no longer avoid the sensitive subject. More than anything, it spoke volumes about the need for understanding depression and the severity of the illness.
Depression is suffered by millions of people worldwide and its toxic effects permeate regardless of age, race, sex, family and fortune. Ultimately, depression spares no one and should not go untreated. Sadly, many people who suffer from mental health issues often mask their condition to avoid the stigma attached to mental health disorders. According to The Mental Health Commission of Canada, 60% of people with a mental health problem or illness won’t seek help for fear of being labeled. That is a staggering statistic. We must come together to break the silence and shed light on Mental Health issues that prevail all around us. Ignorance is not an excuse. Depression hurts everyone. If you know anyone that is suffering from depression, or experience it yourself, please seek help by contacting your healthcare provider or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
You are not alone.
With permission from the Canadian Mental Health Association, I would like to re-post the following on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
RIP Robin Williams. You will be dearly missed.
What is suicide?
Suicide means that someone ends their life on purpose. However, people who die by suicide or attempt suicide may not really want to end their life. Suicide may seem like the only way to deal with difficult feelings or situations.
Who does it affect?
About 4000 Canadians die by suicide every year. Suicide is the second-most common cause of death among young people, but men in their 40s and 50s have the highest rate of suicide. While women are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide than men, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women.
Suicide is a complicated issue. People who die by suicide or attempt suicide usually feel overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless, desperate, and alone. In some rare cases, people who experience psychosis (losing touch with reality) may hear voices that tell them to end their life.
Many different situations and experiences can lead someone to consider suicide. Known risk factors for suicide include:
- A previous suicide attempt
- Family history of suicidal behaviour
- A serious physical or mental illness
- Problems with drugs or alcohol
- A major loss, such as the death of a loved one, unemployment, or divorce
- Major life changes or transitions, like those experienced by teenagers and seniors
- Social isolation or lack of a support network
- Family violence
- Access to the means of suicide
While we often think of suicide in relation to depression, anxiety, and substance use problems, any mental illness may increase the risk of suicide. It’s also important to remember that suicide may not be related to any mental illness.
What are the warning signs?
Major warning signs of suicide spell IS PATH WARM:
I—Ideation: thinking about suicide
S—Substance use: problems with drugs or alcohol
P—Purposelessness: feeling like there is no purpose in life or reason for living
A—Anxiety: feeling intense anxiety or feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
T—Trapped: feeling trapped or feeling like there is no way out of a situation
H—Hopelessness or Helplessness: feeling no hope for the future, feeling like things will never get better
W—Withdrawal: avoiding family, friends, or activities
A—Anger: feeling unreasonable anger
R—Recklessness: engaging in risky or harmful activities normally avoided
M—Mood change: a significant change in mood
How can I reduce the risk of suicide?
Though not all suicides can be prevented, some strategies can help reduce the risk. All of these factors are linked to well-being. These strategies include:
- Seeking treatment, care and support for mental health concerns—and building a good relationship with a doctor or other health professionals
- Building social support networks, such as family, friends, a peer support or support group, or connections with a cultural or faith community
- Learning good coping skills to deal with problems, and trusting in coping abilities
When a person receives treatment for a mental illness, it can still take time for thoughts of suicide to become manageable and stop. Good treatment is very important, but it may not immediately eliminate the risk of suicide. It’s important to stay connected with a care team, monitor for thoughts of suicide, and seek extra help if it’s needed. Community-based programs that help people manage stress or other daily challenges can also be very helpful.
What can I do if I experience thoughts of suicide?
Thoughts of suicide are distressing. It’s important to talk about your experiences with your doctor, mental health care team, or any other person you trust. They can help you learn skills to cope and connect you to useful groups or resources. Some people find it helpful to schedule frequent appointments with care providers or request phone support. Other things that you can do include:
- Calling a crisis telephone support line
- Connecting with family, friends, or a support group. It can be helpful to talk with others who have experienced thoughts of suicide to learn about their coping strategies
If you’re in crisis and aren’t sure what to do, you can always call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency room.
Some people find a safety plan useful. A safety plan is a list of personal strategies to use if you think you are at risk of hurting or ending your life. You can create a plan on your own, with a loved one, or with your mental health care team. Your plan may include:
- Activities that calm you or take your mind off your thoughts
- Your own reasons for living
- Key people to call if you’re worried about your safety
- Phone numbers for local crisis or suicide prevention helplines
- A list of safe places to go if you don’t feel safe at home
How can I help a loved one?
If you’re concerned about someone else, talk with them. Ask them directly if they’re thinking about suicide. Talking about suicide won’t give them the idea. If someone is seriously considering suicide, they may be relieved that they can talk about it.
If someone you love says that they’re thinking about ending their life, it’s important to ask them if they have a plan. If they have a plan and intend to end their life soon, connect with crisis services or supports right away. Many areas have a crisis, distress, or suicide helpline, but you can always call 9-1-1 if you don’t know who to call. Stay with your loved one while you make the call, and don’t leave until the crisis line or emergency responders say you can leave.
The two most important things you can do are listen and help them connect with mental health services.
Here are tips for talking with a loved one:
- Find a private place and let your loved one take as much time as they need.
- Take your loved one seriously and listen without judgement—their feelings are very real.
- Keep your word—don’t make promise you can’t keep or don’t intend to keep.
- Tell your loved one that they are important and that you care about them.
If your loved one already sees a doctor or other mental health service provider, it’s important that they tell their service provider about any thoughts of suicide they may have been having. Depending on your relationship, you can offer to help—by helping your loved one schedule appointments or by taking them to their appointments, for example.
If your loved one doesn’t see a mental health service provider, you can give them the phone number for a local crisis line and encourage them to see their doctor. Your loved one may also be able to access services through their school, workplace, cultural or faith community.
Supporting a loved one can be a difficult experience for anyone, so it’s important to take care of your own mental health during this time and seek support if you need it.
Do you need more help?
Contact a community organization like the Canadian Mental Health Association to learn more about support and resources in your area.
Founded in 1918, The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is a national charity that helps maintain and improve mental health for all Canadians. As the nation-wide leader and champion for mental health, CMHA helps people access the community resources they need to build resilience and support recovery from mental illness.
Original source: Canadian Mental Health Association
Wishing everyone good health and inner peace.
Lora, this is so believable, so natural, so inevitable. I really appreciate the non-moralistic way you tell the tale.
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Thank you Howard. I appreciate your comments 🙂
Lora, what a moving piece. You told it so beautifully. So heartfelt. In a way that made sense. And all the info you posted here on suicide prevention is excellent!
I was shocked and deeply saddened last night when I first heard Robin died (I only get emotional over celebrities on occasion—this was emotional), possibly from suicide. When I searched, what I read was it was probably from asphyxia. This hit a deeper core because someone I love so dearly has attempted this using a plastic bag, so that was what came to mind. It’s been a very trying day emotionally, saddened by Robin’s pain and death, and heartwrenching again bringing to the forefront my worries about my love.
Medications don’t really help in his case, but without them it can be worse. They’ve also made him worse, so there’s no easy answer. He gets a tremendous amount of support from me, but many times the words of love and encouragement don’t penetrate a mind that insists he/she is worthless and they can’t take the pain of life anymore 😦 I pray regularly that he will never succeed when he attempts this.
One thing that didn’t sadden but angered me was the coroner’s office revealing—in explicit detail!—how Robin took his life. I consider this unforgivable, disrespectful, thoughtless and almost self-serving due to media. This was completely unnecessary for the public to know, and even the family should have a choice as to how much they want to know! This man was obviously tortured and that torture finally won out. What he did and how he went about it was as personal as you can get. OK, so reveal that he hung himself (vs. shot, etc.), but no one needed to know the steps he took, exactly how he achieved it and the precise position of his body. I find this disclosure more than abhorrent, but SO very much indicative of the world we live in. He and his family deserved more respect than that. Sorry about the rant, but my feelings about the entire situation are very strong.
Thanks for the beautiful, poignant post, Lora.
Oh Donna, it saddens me terribly to hear about your loved one. I pray for his well-being. I imagine that it is also an incredibly exhausting role for you to be in and wish you much strength. He is fortunate to have such a caring person in his life (I do hope that you are cared for as well).
The role of the media in the case of Robin Williams’ explicit depiction of death is quite disgusting. It is disturbing enough and the survivors certainly don’t need to have a detailed outline haunting them every day.
Thank you for your input and kind words regarding the piece. It is certainly one of the toughest subjects I’ve written about.
Sending you and your family well wishes!
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Thank you so much, Lora. Prayers are always welcome! 😀 It’s how I get through my life, along with my faith 🙂
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Wow. This is beautifully written Lora. I read the story several times and got chills each time.
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