Her Suffering is Over. Ours has just begun.
The US has one of the highest rates of suicide among wealthy nations with about 123 people killing themselves each day. It’s a national health crisis. How could we not have saved her?
I want to scream at her to take it back. I want to run to her house as if that will put me back with her. I want a rewind. I want her not to have murdered herself. Maybe another chance to talk to her would make it better, lessen her pain, convince her that outside of her mind life wasn’t so bad. But as if the twisted thinking of mental illness wasn’t bad enough she had physical ailments too. She spent years going to doctors trying to find out why her body hurt, why she was so exhausted, but couldn’t sleep. Fibromyalgia. Chronic Fatigue. They didn’t know but they landed on these diagnoses when all other tests and treatments failed. It was better than the doctors telling her it was all in her head or that she was a hypochondriac. Yes, they did this.
She went to every medical center in a 100-mile radius, saw holistic practitioners, acupuncturists, reiki masters, biofeedback, naturopathy — everything she or someone else thought might work. Some treatments gave some temporary relief. However, as time went on she became sicker and had fewer “good days”. She was put on many different medications, initially for depression, then mood disorders, and then she stopped bothering to mention what she was on. Some of them made her worse. There were periods in the last year when she didn’t leave her bed or eat for several days. Those of us closest to her took turns sitting with her, bringing her smoothies, trying to get her to get up. The last time I saw her I was able to convince her to sit on the front porch with me. After five minutes she went back to bed.
I first met Beth when I was running an animal rescue that began after Hurricane Katrina. The very first dog I pulled from the side of the highway in Mississippi was a little black Border Collie mix. He was as sweet and happy as any dog I’ve ever met. I wanted to keep him but already had three of my own. Beth responded to my adoption post. They loved each other immediately. Beth and I hit it off just as well. We found it difficult to stop talking and get back to our lives.
Beth was very athletic and we often walked our dogs together. I had a hard time keeping up with her. She was tiny, almost frail in appearance but was strong and muscular. She taught P90x. We were the same age, both divorced and both with two elementary-aged kids at home. She had two boys and I had two girls. She had an older son also who was on his own.
Our kids played together some and later, when they became teenagers, they dated each other briefly. We consoled and advised each other when dealing with particular parenting difficulties: sex, drugs, bad attitudes, school problems. We spent many hours at her house engrossed in conversation. She was my best friend. I could tell her anything. She always made me laugh. Beth had the sharpest sense of humor of anyone I knew. I was convinced she was a genius.
Her mental health began to deteriorate first. She got on some medication and was fine for a couple more years. Then she wasn’t. We all thought she would get better. I kept expecting, for a couple of years, that doctors would discover what was wrong and she would be cured. Two months ago we had our last phone conversation. She was mostly silent.
“How are you feeling today?” I asked as always.
“Same,” was her dulled response.
“Have you had any good days lately?” I was reaching for something — anything good.
She was silent then slowly said, “I’m not sure what that is anymore.”
“Are you getting out?”
“Trying to. Niki took me to the grocery store.” She referred to her neighbor.
“That’s great!” To me that sounded like a huge accomplishment.
We were silent. There wasn’t much to say anymore.
“I wish there was something I could say or do that would make it better for you. I wish that more than anything.” I told her.
“Yeah, me too.”
Then she stopped answering her phone or responding to texts.
Five days ago I got the phone call from our friend Luis that she was dead. We consoled each other with staccato conversations about how we couldn’t have done more, we needed breaks, it was difficult to be around her this last year, she did what she was determined to do, she is free from her pain now. . .
The last two people to see her both said they thought she was doing better and that she even seemed happy. This is common in suicide. Once someone has made the decision they often feel such relief they seem happy.
I have missed her, for the last few years especially. I missed my brilliant, funny, compassionate, athletic friend. Now I miss her much more deeply because now it’s forever. She wasn’t herself anymore, but she was there. She fought hard to come back to herself. Harder than I think I would have had the strength for.
Her three sons are wanting family only at the service. They can’t bear to hear stories about her yet. Beth was all about stories. We traded novels. We both loved to write. We loved The Art of Racing in the Rain because we agreed it had the only truly reliable narrator. We agreed there was no such thing as a reliable narrator because humans are never truly reliable.
I went to her house yesterday hoping for some closure, whatever that is. She had been selling her home and was two weeks away from closing. I found her sister removing clothing from closets. I had never met her before as they had not been close. Beth and I had talked at length about our families and our struggles with them. She loved her sister and was frustrated by a lack of understanding of how differently each sibling had been treated, by unfair alliances between family members and perceived scapegoating. Her sister had spent last Saturday with Beth and said that Beth’s pain had abated the walls between them. There was no energy for anger or argument. They hugged, talked, loved each other. She told me she was grateful for that time with her.
I felt at ease in the house that was now nearly empty. It had always been a very comfortable place for me. I could see her son sitting on the stairs; the dogs laying on the couch and floor; books on the coffee table. Yoda, the dog she adopted from me, passed away six months ago. I felt his absence. He always greeted me with great lyrical enthusiasm. I saw Beth watering her many plants; her precious orchids. She once took me on a tour of the private farm of a fellow orchid lover. I had never seen such incredible shapes and colors of flowers before. I felt like I was looking into the faces of extraordinary small animals rarely seen. We wandered in silence looking at the rows and rows of orchids, stopping to study one here or there. It was art by a mysterious artist.
I see Beth smiling. I see the sparkle in her mischievous brown eyes. I hear her low, feathery voice making a joke, a wave of her reddish-brown hair falling in front of an eye. She was beautiful, inside and out. She was my friend; my soul sister. My heart aches with her absence.