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Mary Kennedy's Suicide Stirs a Memory

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When I read of the apparent suicide of Robert Kennedy Jr.'s wife Mary Richardson Kennedy, I thought of my best friend Delia, who took her life at 37. Like Mary Kennedy, Delia was a privileged and beloved mother who lived in Westchester County, N.Y. Like Mary Kennedy she was in her prime, and she was clinically depressed. And like Mary Kennedy, she had talked of suicide previously.

Delia was the girl with everything: a loving husband, two adorable and adoring young daughters, an 18th-century farmhouse filled with antiques, set on lush grounds. She was smart, kind, beautiful, active in the community and revered in our New York village. Hundreds of people crammed the sanctuary and grounds at her funeral.

Nine years before her death, when I moved to my nearby house with my first husband and two young sons, Delia came over with a bouquet of garden flowers to welcome us. I was charmed by her grace and warmth, and we soon became best friends.

Our families celebrated New Years at each others' homes, we took our children trick-or-treating along the back roads of Westchester. We traded books, we started a monthly dinner where we prepared foods of the world. Delia and I supported each other, talked every day, shared dreams, confided about our fears.

Seven years before she succeeded, Delia attempted to take her life with an overdose of pills. Her husband called our house in a panic and we rushed over and threw her in the front seat of our van and speeded to the nearby hospital. She was in a deep coma, but came out of it. People were told she had an allergic reaction.

I didn't see that attempt coming, and for the next years I could never really forget it or completely trust her mood. She was fragile but seemed happy enough. She completed her master's at Teachers College Columbia, and became a popular elementary school teacher.

About a year before she died, Delia became gaunt, her eyes haunted. She was seeing a psychiatrist, and on meds, but appeared lost and frightened. She told me she felt like she was in "a dark hole." She said there was nothing I could do. She doubted everything she did.

I felt we were losing her, but I didn't know what to do. And then in May, when the air was filled with the scent of lilacs -- the weekend before Mother's Day-- she became overly happy, camping out with her daughters by her pond. Strange behavior for Delia.

And then the call from her housekeeper on a weekday morning. The police had already arrived. I was two blocks away, and ran over to see my best friend removed from her house in a body bag. The door to her car was still open from when she had rushed home from teaching.

She had overdosed, but Delia's husband, a lawyer who worked in the city, couldn't bear to hear the details. He had to commute back to Westchester, knowing she was gone, but not knowing much more. I was with him when he told his daughters, who were 10 and 12. They cried, and then went out to play. And then I called her friends, who didn't believe me. "She had everything," they said. "Why would she take her life?"

What did her husband do to her that they didn't know? They were trying to find a reason. But depression can be a terminal disease. There does not have to be a "reason," any more than getting a heart attack or cancer has a reason.

Delia did leave a note. I never found out what it said. I know that she loved her family more than anyone I knew, and would not have left them if she could have endured her suffering.

Years later William Styron, the author of Sophie's Choice who suffered from depression, came out with a thin book titled Darkness Visible. I read it and learned as best possible, but too late, the terror of my friend.

Delia's husband never remarried. Her daughters grew up to be lovely women, like their mother. Delia's photo is the only one on my living room table who is not a relative. She remains forever 37.

Like Mary Richardson Kennedy appears to have been, Delia was a beloved person who died too young from terminal depression. It can happen to anyone. Even those who seem to have it all.

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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.