THE BLOG
09/29/2014 04:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Make Sense of Suicide

Last week, my friend Lila committed suicide.

I feel like writing that sentence a dozen times to try to understand it better.

I've turned the words over and over in my head for 24 hours, since receiving the news.

I've tried adding language, conjecturing details, but the most I could do was adjust the order a bit, because it's a bare fact:

My friend Lila committed suicide last week.

The last week part is important, because she was in the world, persisting through all of its loneliness and pain and terrors like the rest of us, and then at a certain moment she wasn't.

That she was my friend matters, because the truth is she had many friends. I don't mean to eulogize, but she was among that rare class of people beloved by everyone they meet. When I was depressed -- and I was depressed many times throughout our friendship -- she would hug me with a kind of knowing, as if she understood that life could feel so hopeless, but also that she believed all the songs and adages: At the end of the day, living was beautiful, and worthwhile.

Beautiful, even when people "die suddenly."

Which is how I first heard about Lila. Either because that term has become the euphemism for suicide, or because I sensed she experienced depression herself, I knew what it meant. I wanted to believe she died suddenly from something else, her brakes failing or one of those surprise heart attacks that kill people in their prime, but I knew.

She killed herself, almost certainly alone, though spatially very close to hundreds of people who loved her, and now grieve her, trying to make sense of it all.

I don't think there's any way to make sense of suicide.

My mother used to call it the most selfish act a person can do. I don't believe that, because I know you don't think about yourself in the midst of the despair that prompts suicide. The whole world feels barren. You imagine you could sink into the earth and no one would notice. I've never attempted it myself, but I assume suicide is when you decide to stop treading, stop grasping for something that keeps you afloat, and just sink.

The act isn't selfish, but it's impenetrably dark. I find myself wanting to call Lila to tell her how much she means to me and so many others, to comfort her how she used to comfort me. I know even the lightest words might not pierce the darkness, but it startles me every time I realize I can't even try, because she's gone.

"Gone" implies Lila went somewhere, like the word "departed." I'm a skeptic about religion, especially the afterlife, but death makes me believe in souls, because it's when I can feel their absence. There's a psychological explanation, I know, but there's also the reality that I and all of Lila's friends feel somehow left behind, like she took a train earlier than she was supposed to, like she hopped on a freight car, moving quickly, and we're left a little stunned on the platform, and we miss her.

I don't know that she went anywhere.

I don't know that train metaphors and analogies about floating mean anything.

I know my friend Lila committed suicide last week.

I know I'm shocked, and sad, and I know that her life, as long as she lived it, made mine better and more beautiful. I know that if I could tell her that, I would.

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