Those They Leave Behind

There’s a list.

Warning signs. Things to look out for. Common misconceptions.

Such as this: if a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop them.

It’s listed under false. As in: this is a false statement. You can do something. If you know what to look for. If you find the list in time. If you are aware of it.


I’ve imagined it often since she died. Night after night playing out alternative scenarios in my head. Magical tricks of the imagination where there is always a happy ending.

She lives. She does not die. Because I am there, hyper-alert and sensitive to every signal. I catch her before she falls. Before she steps off the bridge.

But the reality cannot be imagined away. There is no magic cure. No retrospective re-writing to any of this.
What there is, in reality, is a knock on the door. A stranger with news. Terrible news. And when he left there were questions and a niggling doubt, an unconfirmed suspicion which both of us thought but neither dared utter.

“She has done this herself.”

I have thought about that often. How could I be so sure, and so soon? The news of her death and the unconfirmed certainty she had done it herself, merging to become one moment.

I must have noticed something. Without realising it I had picked up on cues and stored them away without acting upon them.

Which is just another way to play out the “what if” line of thinking. I know that. But still, I do not stop myself from doing it.

The last time I saw her she was pale, tired looking. She had not applied her make-up which was unusual, memorable. Chanel red lipstick was always a given with her. And I had registered it. I must have. No red lipstick. My brain filing it away under “odd”, then forgetting it, not following through on it, not wondering what it signified.

I had nodded a quick hello but had to rush, perhaps we could catch up later?

Life with all its distractions got in the way.

So we parted, very casually, we’d see one another again. There was plenty of time.


Did she think this? I have no way of knowing. Perhaps she turned and looked at me when I walked away, by then already knowing more than I did. That this was the last time.

And it’s this moment I long to return to. The moment when things were so normal. Because I don’t want her suicide to be a part of my story.

It has taken me months to realise this. To understand, at last, where the wellspring of my anger lay.

There’s a part of my life that now contains the messiness of suicide. I did not ask for this to be written into my story. I did not expect it but I can do nothing about it. It is there now. Done with.

I had not expected this anger.

It had puzzled me in the beginning. Why should I be angry, I wondered. And at whom? Her? Myself? Everyone?

The literature on grief is quite specific about it though.

The five stages of grief.


Quite where I am in this process is still a mystery to me. Some days I feel I have reached some sort of acceptance, other times it feels as if I am right back at the beginning, denying it has ever happened.

Little mental tricks occur without warning, and are all the more cruel for it. Such as walking down the street and remembering, very suddenly, a day, long ago when we’d sauntered along discussing the change of season. Winter falling into spring at last.

The simple joy of it.

And here it is again, the turn of the season, and here I am again having that conversation with her, only this time in my head, and wondering how it is possible for a person to switch like that. To move away from simple wonderment and joy and choose instead the unthinkable. How can the ending of it all be the preferable option?

And once again the anger comes. Anger that I am forced to think of such things. That I am left to stand in the street impotent and tear-filled.

Crying, not only because she is gone but because there are things I did not do. Interventions  I did not make.
And if a bargaining does take place, then it is this. The plea to some higher power that time be turned back, just a little, no more than a tweak of some cosmological dial. Just enough that I could notice things this time, pick up on those tell-tale signs and know what to do.

Sit her down and talk.

I will always wonder now what such a conversation could have entailed. More than a simple hello in any case. More than simply “see you later”. More, no doubt, than a joyful appreciation of spring. Although perhaps this latter conversation would have helped. For it is in the day-to-day appreciation of these tiny things that life derives its meaning, is it not?

Which leaves depression and acceptance.

Well yes, death, when it comes, will always bring sadness in its wake. Though I would hesitate to call it depression. This is not a debilitating grief. An all-consuming grief.

Rather, it is that general sadness that always comes with the realisation that something is over. That life is irretrievable. My own included.

It is the melancholy of time passing. And it can come not just from grief. If you watch your own child grow it is an all too familiar pang.

A “where did all the time go?” understanding that is so bitter sweet, containing as it does not only the sadness of things that have now passed into memory, but the comfort of being aware of it, of understanding such moments are precious, are worth standing still for.

Acceptance will come and go. I think I understand this much. Days when you no longer think of it. And more and more of them. The gaps in between extending.

She is gone. It is something we can all learn to accept. But it is not the same as saying it had to be this way.

It was a choice. The choice she made.

The right choice? No. Not for me.

But hers. This is the thing to remember.

Her choice and nobody else’s.

And though this is perhaps all the comfort that can ever be achieved after such a death, it is a comfort nonetheless, and I will take it.

Because spring is in the air once more. And that matters.

It always matters.

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