By Larry Pattison
Published March 31, 2011
It was a picturesque, blue-sky, no clouds, sunny Monday morning.
The skies had been bright for the better part of a week. It was the kind of day that if I was dying, I imagine I would think about how I'd miss beautiful days like this. The freshness in the air, the sounds of spring songbirds, the happiness that this time of year brings to the faces on our streets, the curious little noses coming out of winters hibernation; creatures and humans alike. The kind of days when the once sleeping winter world, seemed so alive and free again.
I had noticed the previous night that a friend had sent me a Facebook request, suggesting that I join a group dedicated to helping find someone who had gone missing. These kinds of group invitations happen all too frequently. Not to take away from their importance, but up until that moment, those missing person requests had not been anyone I had known personally.
It wasn't until the next morning that I had a chance to login to read the message. All I had seen on my mobile device the night before was 'MISSING PERSON: PLEASE HELP...'. This time, I knew who the missing person was.
She was more of a friend-of-a-friend sort of acquaintance. I had known her in this manner since high school. I always thought that she was as an attractive, fun, and charming girl. A bit of a rebel, but loved by all who knew her.
I had talked to her briefly in recent months, as we re-connected through Facebook. It was more of a Hi, good to see you on here, how has it been kind of catch up, typical of many Facebook re-acquaintances' between those we never really knew all that well. You browse through some photographs, and laugh in remembrance at the old photos from back in the days when they weaved more frequently in and out of your life.
Fast forward to just a few weeks prior, when this friend added me to Facebook again. I hadn't noticed she had left and I didn't get a chance to say hello again, before I realized I would never get another opportunity.
I started chatting with the creator of the Facebook group that morning, a close friend of the missing woman. I shared a few back-and-forth messages with her, explained how I knew her friend, and that I was thinking of her family and friends during this difficult time.
She was understandably upset, yet optimistic of finding her friend and for her safe return home.
I received a call later that morning, however, informing me that the search was over. This acquaintance had ended her life. Her child, her family, and her friends, were all left with an empty space and a grief I can only begin to imagine. She had not known the happiness and hope that this spring-like Monday morning would offer us.
It makes you think of your own life: how far down you have been or currently are. How close you may have come to something in your own life pushing you over that edge.
You look at groups such as the one dedicated to your friend, browse the old photos posted by friends and family, read the heartfelt messages on the wall, the poetry, the song dedications, and you think to yourself: How does someone surrounded by so much love end up in a mental place that makes them feel like there is no way out, but up? That life is not worth living? That the only ending is an out of body beginning?
The sun is shining brightly. It's warm. My jacket is unbuttoned. No gloves. No toque. No more long, dark, cold winter days. A new season. A new beginning. New inspiration.
For one beautiful yet troubled soul, however, even all of nature's hope was not enough to continue in this life. Humans desire to hide much of their lives, to keep so much of who they are to themselves - their thoughts, their fears, dreams, hopes, heartaches, financial and relationship woes.
I just don't understand it. Not that I am always the most open person, but why do we allow ourselves to feel like we are alone amongst these thoughts?
What is wrong with acknowledging: My wife and I had a really bad fight last night. I wanted to say it was over. I was so mad, but then I went for a long walk with the dog. When I returned home, the anger was gone, I said I was sorry (even though I wasn't totally convinced that I had done anything wrong), we hugged, and all was good in the world for another day.
Or: I broke up with my girlfriend last night. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I am lost and lonely. I hate this feeling, although a large part of me knows it was the right thing to do. Why does this hurt so much?
How would those words be received by your friends or your readers? How would it feel to someone who was lost in a loneliness similar to yours to know that there was at least one other person in the world, feeling as poignant as they were at that moment?
If you are a fan of the weekly night time drama House, there was one episode where his patient of focus, played by Laura (Jackie) Prepon of That 70's Show fame, was a blogger. Much to her husband's disapproval, there were few aspects of her life (their lives), that weren't open for all the world to read. She felt no reason to hide her life. To her, there was much more to be gained and learned from others and in turn, so much she could offer her readers from her own life's experiences.
As it turned out, it was actually those blog posts that helped House's team of doctors determine what was wrong with her. Yet, it was the one thing she hid about her health that meant the difference between a cancer diagnosis with a few days to live, to some medication and a valve transplant, and the rest of her life ahead of her.
You can understand why bowel movements wouldn't be a topic many of us would jump to share, but it was obviously one thing above everything else that she should have at least communicated with her husband or doctor.
In recent years, I too have found that life is much more rewarding and more fulfilling, when you aren't afraid to share who you truly are deep inside with the world. Good or bad.
Communication has never been my strong suit. I won't beat around the bush, but as I learn to open up and surround myself with souls willing to share all of themselves with me, I have learned so much about myself. Most importantly, I heave learned that I am not alone.
I know my wife and I are not alone in the day-to-day troubles we face as a young family. How many people who seem, from the smiles they paint on each day, to have everything going for them on the outside, are actually in a similar or possibly even worse situation than you or I?
What does hiding the truth about our relationship and financial issues truly gain us? What is so embarrassing about hitting rock bottom? Why do we need to feel like we have failed the ones we love, that there is no way out, that we are alone in the loneliness of our secret lives. Is failure actually losing your house, a broken marriage, or getting fired from your job, or is failure going through these difficult times alone?
What can we teach other, from the hard lessons we have learned? Nothing if we keep our lives a secret.
Standing outside the viewing room door, visitors lined up down the hall. Family, friends, and acquaintances, waiting to pay their respects. On her coffin, flowers and a few photos. Pictures ranging from youth, to more recent photos, including one of her young child. All of them memories of a life no more.
Crying. Laughter. Stories of past times together. Old friends. The old gang. Not the reunion any of them had envisioned.
She was the third person I had personally known to take her own life. One was a family member, and the second one was also a friend of a friend. Both of them had ended their lives in their own homes for their children to discover their lifeless bodies.
If there was ever any consolation to suicide, it could be that at least this last friend went away to end her life. That still doesn't take away from the fact that all of them left children behind. In all their innocence, left with the haunting, lifetime memories, that their mother or father had killed themselves.
That parent would not be there to watch them graduate, see them off to college, walk them down the aisle or cry in the front row when they get married. They will never hold their grandchildren, or be there to enjoy sleepovers with kids you get to give back, or so many of the other firsts that watching a child through a grandparents eyes offers.
These children will never know what it feels like, to share in the moments a child longs to one day enjoy with their parents - especially watching them interact with their own children.
BANG! SNAP! SLICE! Three lives gone.
You are not alone is the message we need to share with one another, desperately. Money, material things, broken romance: there is nothing you cannot get over with the help of a friend, family member, and the admission as a society that it's not only okay to share your dreams and fears with the world around you, but it's the key to a healthier, happier, life more fulfilled.
For my friend, there is no happy ending. Nothing can bring her back, and there should be no feelings of guilt felt by anyone. If there is blame to be dealt, it should be directed at society as a whole: the realization that, with all that we know about life and the world and with all of the technology we have at our disposal to share that knowledge, there are still broken souls out there, lost and alone.
I am afraid. You are not alone.
It is the message we need to send.
This was first published a year ago on Larry's personal website.