If you’re in your 40’s, I’m pretty sure you grew up watching M*A*S*H, a medical dramedy about a medical surgical unit situated in the middle of the Korean war. It wasn’t a life-altering experience for me, just part of the background noise of my growing up. 28(!) years after the series finale, I can only remember a few things – Hot Lips Houlihan and her boob of a boyfriend, feeling indignant at the non-Korean actors portraying Koreans and embarrassed at their laughable attempts at speaking Korean, among other things. But mostly I recall the show’s opening theme song, a hauntingly beautiful instrumental version of “Suicide is Painless.” I once knew all the grim words to this song (as a moody teenager with strict parents, I’m horrified to admit that I had given some thought to how miserable I could make my parents by killing myself), but the only words that still stick in my mind today are it’s provocative title.
I share this because a friend of mine committed suicide a few weeks ago. A beautiful, generous, caring woman, who had been battling depression for a number of years. I’ve been out of touch with her since our university days, but occasionally our circles would intercept and we would reconnect for an event with mutual friends. We’d hug and talk about how “we must get together!” for coffee or lunch, but neither of us ever took the time to make anything happen.
Back in university, she was smart, beautiful and drove a Volkswagen Cabriolet. Navy with a white top. She had an older boyfriend who took her to fancy dinners while I was struggling with acne and midterm exams. If I’m being honest, I probably envied her more than befriended her, and that makes me hang my head in shame now. So what the fuck happened? Her life now was not all that different from mine – a daughter, a job, family, friends – except she was saddled with a disease that people don’t really talk about much. Since hearing about her lonely death, I’ve been struggling with my emotions – shock, sorrow, guilt and anger among them and that sad melody floated back into my consciousness.
At her funeral, the guilt in the room was palpable. Suicide is not painless, and most definitely not painless for those you leave behind. I don’t profess to know anything about mental illness, except to say that it really frightens me. Mental illness robbed my friend of her capacity to think logically and act accordingly. Despite all external appearances, she felt powerless and alone. Sadly I heard she reached out to several people from her life in the week before she died, quite probably to say goodbye, but no one clued in until it was too late.
Someone once told me, with every interaction you have the opportunity to start/grow or diminish/end a relationship.
May you grow some friendships today and everyday.
Rest in peace sweet friend.
PS. With every comment on this post, I will make a $20 donation to the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC. Thanks for reading and call an old friend today xo