Monday, August 11, 2014

How we meet death...

     We all know death is coming but some are far more acutely aware than others. Take my grandfather did instance, 86 years old and his health steadily declining, he had to know his time was dwindling fast. My friend Adam on the other hand, I'm sure saw a long and happy life charted out before him. Then in an instant he was gone. My own experience had me very much looking far out into the future. Then cancer came and death following fast on its heels. Though I knew not if my life would indeed be over soon, or when, it suddenly became an all too real possibility. 

     I wrote the above words late last night after waking from a dream about my late grandfather. As with most dreams, we never really get to see them through to the end. I wasn’t there when my grandfather passed, but other members of my family were, and I’m at least glad that he wasn’t alone but in the company of his loved ones. When we got the news that Adam had passed in a horrible car accident we had, just weeks before, been back in Michigan on vacation and almost passed on the opportunity to visit with him and his family. I’m glad we ultimately made the decision that we would go visit them. As for me… my hematologist is quite certain that I’ll live at least as long as my late grandfather, and I’m holding her to it!

     As I finished writing that first paragraph, so I wouldn’t forget it come morning, I lay there in bed trying to quiet my mind and drift back off to sleep. I couldn’t help but think of the ways in which we face death, each in our own way as the stories of our lives are all our own. I finally decided there were basically three ways we meet death. We never see it coming, like Adam. We see it approaching as we grow into old age and our bodies start to fail, and we know the eventual end is near. Or, like me, we see it trying to come for us, the Grim Reaper stretching out a shadowy cloaked and bony hand reaching for us and we do what must needs be done, as is our nature. Turns out I was wrong, and here’s how…

     I sat down this afternoon to check some emails and scroll through my newsfeed on Facebook when I learned that just hours before Robin Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide. Enter the fourth way we meet death… For far too many of us life gets complicated, messy, dirty, incomprehensible and we can’t seem to find our way through it any longer. Far too many of those that can’t see a way out turn to suicide as a last resort. It was reported that Robin’s publicist said he had battled severe depression leading up to his death. I’ve been there, sort of. I dealt with depression for some time, both before and after my transplant, so I have some idea. You feel like you’re cut off from the world, like no one understands how you feel, like you’re broken and no one can fix you. Often these feelings are mixed with anger and those who deal with depression lash out and turn away those who try to help. Then there are those who suffer in silence, not wanting their family and friends to know there’s “something wrong with them”. What these people need, what I needed, was for someone to not give up when everyone gets turned away. We need to start a very open and honest discussion in this country about how we deal with and treat mental illness. It can no longer carry the stigma that it has, that those who deal with it must suffer alone, in silence. People need to know there’s help out there BEFORE it’s time to call the suicide prevention hotline. Frankly it should never get that far…

     As I sit here writing this I have a friend who is dealing with severe depression, who feels he’s at the end of his rope and honestly I can understand why. That worries me. He’s been in this dark place feeling very much alone for quite some time and several years ago I was beyond worried, I was scared that I was on the verge of losing my friend. That left me at a fork in the road when it came to our relationship, one in which a very real and serious decision needed to be made. I felt that I had to give him some information about suicide prevention, but in doing so that it might irreparably hurt our friendship. Should I talk to him about suicide prevention and risk losing my friend, or carry on like he was fine and just pray that he didn’t sink that low…? Well, I chose the former. I contacted another friend who lived in the same city, and asked him to dig up any and all information about local suicide prevention resources. Once I had that, I called my depressed friend and danced around the topic, unsure how to broach it without him hanging up. I casually touched on how he was feeling and then I asked him to write down something for me, a telephone number. I didn’t tell him at first what it was for, I just made him write it down and repeat it back to me, twice. I distinctly remember thinking that if he hung up on me after I told him what it was for, and even if he threw away the number and never spoke to me again, well at least I had done all I could do from a thousand miles away. I can tell you he wasn’t happy when I told him what the number was for, but I think I convinced him to at least keep the number for a while, just in case. That was over three years ago and despite my repeated attempts to get back in touch with him he kept ignoring me. It hurt, thinking that my actions might’ve ended our friendship but so long as I knew he was still alive and fighting the good fight then I’d done some kind of good. 

     I’m happy to say that he has once again opened the lines of communication, but sad to say that his situation has not improved, and in fact may have deteriorated. At least he is once again talking to me and letting me help in whatever way I can, and it pains me that I can’t do very much. But I will not EVER give up on him, nor will I give up on anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation. Years ago, I had another friend who was in a really nasty car accident and was housebound after his release from the hospital. At the time I drove past his house on my way to and from work every day and most days I would stop in on my way home and talk to him. Everything seemed fine (doesn’t it always?) until one day I could see in his eyes that something was wrong. I can’t tell you what it was, perhaps a distant stare as though he was there but at the same time he was in a far off place. Maybe his eyes looked like he was on the verge of tears… Whatever it was, I knew immediately that something was wrong and when I pressed him for answers his eyes met mine and with an expressionless face he told me that he’d almost eaten a bullet earlier… When someone you care for says something like that there is a flood of emotions that engulfs you. Fear. Anger. Shock. (for the purposes of this I’m considering shock an emotion, not sure how else to describe it…) I wasn’t prepared for this. I wasn’t QUALIFIED for this! There have been very few moments in my life where I have felt that the words I was about to chose would have very real and lasting consequences, this was one. I can’t recall what I said, but I do remember the two of us hugging and crying on each others shoulders for a very long time… 

     I hope in reading this that you, the reader, will gain some insight into the reality of this type of mental illness. I’m certainly no professional counselor, though I have talked to a number of them, and I am grateful for every minute spent with them. My genuine hope is that you will take something constructive away from this. That perhaps if you know someone who is depressed or even just feeling down, or if you know someone that you have not heard from in a while that’s been dealing with some “heavy” life issues, you might find cause to take time out of your busy schedule and reach out to them. You never know if that line you cast out to them may just be the lifeline they need. Be honest (I encourage this in ANY and ALL communication!) because you can’t BS your way through that conversation, they’ll see right through it. Be open, don’t hold something back because you might be afraid of losing a friend. The bone jarring, gut wrenching reality is that if you do hold back and they are gone tomorrow you’ll never forgive yourself, you’ll never get a second chance. If you don’t know someone who you think might be in a bad place mentally then just pick up the phone and call someone you have not spoken to in a long time and tell them that you miss them. Then the next time you have some time to kill do a little research on the warning signs of depression and suicide and let’s start an honest heartfelt conversation on how to help these folks. Whatever you do PLEASE take this seriously, because it is serious. DEADLY serious!!!

     If you’re in a dark place, know that someone out there really does care about you and that ending your life doesn’t solve your problems, it only transfers them to those who love you. Your life IS WORTH LIVING! Never forget that. You are NOT the first to experience what you’re going through, or to think the thoughts you’re thinking. Please, not for me but for yourself, reach out and talk to someone, anyone. 

     May you find a light in the dark, peace in the storm, and know that you ARE loved.

     Blessings, T.

To learn more I encourage you to watch the following video: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/learn/video.aspx
Visit these websites as well- 
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org