I am remembering my friend Andy. He would have been 55 in August. I almost can’t imagine him at that age as my fondest memories of him when he was in his late 20s and early 30s. He isn’t celebrating his birthday today because at 33 years old, he committed suicide.
It is difficult to write these words because whenever I think about it, it really upsets me, it happened 22 years ago, in March 1999 but it is still so painful to think about. Indeed the older I have become, the sadder I feel.
I always think about Andy on his Birthday and I am always overwhelmed with emotions. I try to think of happy times, I try to remember his face, his voice and his smile, how we had a joint birthday celebration a couple of times at the Scouting activity centre we both volunteered at (my birthday was just three days earlier than his). But is so hard, I can’t disentangle the memories linked to his birthday with those linked to the day on which he died. I always end up asking myself why?
In 2001, two years after his death I wrote about it. Part of me trying to make sense of what happened I suppose. And if I may I would like to share that piece of writing with you. The editor in me always wants to change it, sharpen it up here and there but I have never allowed myself to do that. It is the thoughts of a young man trying to make sense of a tragedy, he doesn’t quite understand, so they should remain as raw and unchanged as the day they were written:
Sometimes the weight of the world bears down upon the shoulders of those who do not have the capacity to take its inexhaustible strain. Some wake each day in a habitual twilight, troubles brood like angry ghosts in the gloom. In their minds the light never breaks over the horizon, the sun has gone down and it will never return. It will always be down.
Each day seems like a rain-soaked battle of which the generals have decided to abandon; it is unremitting, pointless and totally un-winnable. They sink into a mire of which they believe there is no escape. It always seems to be raining, it will never stop. One day they decide to make the ultimate decision – self-apocalypse, for them the end of the world draws near. They hope that they can just disappear into a crowd, feeling they have become so infinitesimal that no one will notice them in passing. Self-delusion fuels desire, it limits the ability to think rationally the program is set, there is no override, no return. They step off. Escape awaits them on the other side.
Are you happy? Did you lie back and feel content? Your life was washed away with the rain, surrounded by the dark that you thought was such a part of your life; you left. Did you leave in silence or screaming as you first arrived? I cannot speak to you now, I will never know.
I look at life in all its vibrant colour, I see the night turn to day. Surrounded by this light I ask myself why? My words fade, but the memories do not. Two years have passed since that dark day in March. I still remain to ponder this un-answerable question. No answer can or will ever be reached. I have to make do with this vindication. For whom it is for I do not know, its purpose is also unclear yet I have felt compelled to carry it out.
It is my testament to you. I see the benches, the plaques that the people who loved you have dedicated to your life; they are all well and good. The chances are, that they will last for a long time, probably a great deal longer than these words. Yet to me they seem cold, devoid of any form of emotion, they are just things they do not seem to express anything about you, about who you were.
Emotion is the essence of memory without which my memories are nothing more than stark images, faded old black and white photographs lying transposed on the tin plates of my mind. This is how I feel and though at the time I may seem and act as if I have forgotten yet somewhere in the recesses there will ever be a part of me that will forever feel as I did on that day.
Suicide is no longer just a word to me, it has a face, a name, it is a person. Whenever it is mentioned I think of you, I meet you in my mind.
I have not read that for a long time and I now cry as I write these last few words. It is so very hard for me to read, yet so important. For suicide is one of the biggest causes of death for men under the age of forty and I and every one of us needs to both acknowledge and remember that fact.
It does not have to be we can all play a role in stopping this from happening again. In the end, I could not help Andy but maybe I could help someone else by raising awareness of this truly devastating issue?