[Trigger Warning: This post talks about suicidal thoughts/ideation and the act itself as well as referring to one author’s utter lack of tact with regards to same. If you’re not comfortable reading, that is completely okay and I understand—I’m only semi-comfortable writing it.
If you do continue reading, for context, please read the following post by V.E. Schwab. It explains and links to the things I’m going to refer to.]
I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I learned that suicide was a word, and that it was an act, and what the act meant. My first experience with it was when an elementary school classmate’s father committed suicide, and we as a class attended the afternoon wake to support our classmate. This was, as best as I can recall, around grade 6-8, so I was anywhere from eleven to thirteen years old, and this classmate was a year younger.
The thing I remember most, to this day, is my utter confusion at the closed casket. All funerals, if any, I’d attended up to that point had been for—usually distant, and usually elderly—family members, and the casket had been open, and I suppose I’d already formed the idea that caskets were always open at wakes. I remember eventually finding out that this classmate’s father had hanged himself, and feeling horrible as I suddenly understood why the casket had been closed.
Roughly five years later, my next experience with suicide would be my own. I was overwhelmed at home and at school, I didn’t feel capable of discussing these issues with anyone, and suicidal thoughts came creeping in. They were insidious and cruel, and for a long time while they lived in my head, I was confident in telling myself that I wouldn’t commit the act itself—but had there been some way for me to not exist, I would have been all right with that.
Things didn’t change, and I got worse, until I remember lying on the bathroom floor one night, with the fan on and the shower running so that my brothers wouldn’t hear me crying, and thinking that if I could just stand up, I could walk to the medicine cabinet and take whatever I found. I remember thinking that it would be clean, that there would be no mess left behind, and that my casket could be left open.
This is how suicide lies to you.
I didn’t—and don’t, for the record—want to die. I just wanted the way things were to change, and I couldn’t see a means for that to happen. I know now and think I knew then that whatever I found in my dad’s medicine cabinet wouldn’t have been enough. It would have gotten me help, which I needed, but it wouldn’t have been clean. It would have been hard and painful for me and for my family.
There is no such thing as a clean suicide. No matter the means, it is a violent act, and those left behind will always have a mess to clean up, and that mess will be their lives without the person who is now gone. The casket being open or closed—that means nothing. What matters is that there’s a casket at all.
The one truth suicide tells you is that it would be easier to go. For some people that proves to be true. It is damn hard to stay when you’re in the kind of place that makes ending your own life seem like the only solution. Some manage to hang on. Others don’t. They deserve no less of our sympathy, no less of our love.
I stayed, and I know now that I am much better able to handle what life throws at me. Right now, it seems impossible that those factors pushed me to the place I was in, but they did. I didn’t push back. I just stayed and held on and waited until things changed, and gradually, they did.
A few years later, a cousin committed suicide. She left behind a partner, a toddler, her parents, and her brother. I have known her parents and brother, as members of my family, all my life. I have seen how losing this cousin, this daughter and sister whose name meant “friend,” has affected them. The jokes are fewer, the smiles come more slowly, and there is a weariness that was never there before. I think of how that could have been my parents, my brothers. It hurts, that “could have been,” but not as much as the loss does. I know that now.
Suicide lies to the person it takes, and it changes the people left behind. It takes away the people we love in more ways than one. It takes some of the pieces of that lost person from the people who loved them, and creates more than one kind of loss to deal with.
There is nothing clean, nothing kind, about suicide. It will always hurt someone, whether there is a death or not. To this day I haven’t told my parents about my own brush with it because I don’t know how to do it without breaking their hearts. Suicide lies and hurts. Always.
So to see Tommy Wallach, a bestselling YA author, make a joke about it when revealing the cover for his newest novel… it was a punch to the gut that reminded me all over again of who I was and how I felt back then. To then see that two years ago he wrote up an entertainment-style list detailing his ranking of the “Top Ten Literary Suicides,” organized by “Emo-ness,” was the follow-up hit to the face while I was still doubled over from the blow to my gut. That his list featured fictional people he only wished would commit suicide for no other reason than that he finds them annoying, and had as number one a real, non-fictional human being, breaks my heart and boils my blood in a way I don’t have words for, though I’m trying to set them down here as best I can.
The message Wallach sends with this behaviour says that suicide is something to be made light of, that depression and the struggles that lead to suicide can be made entertaining. The message he sends to any teen who is now in the same dark place as I was is that they too may be remembered only for how dramatic their suffering was or wasn’t. The message he sends is that if their lives were quiet and so are their deaths, they won’t be remembered, and therefore their loss is no big deal. The message he sends is that since other people think so little about it, maybe they should go from thinking about it to attempting it, or from attempting it to actually doing it this time.
That’s the message I would have received if I’d seen this ten years ago. If I’d seen this ten years ago, maybe I wouldn’t be here to write this today. Maybe I would have remembered that some people think like this, that suicide is something to joke about, and maybe I would have gone from lying on the floor thinking about walking to the medicine cabinet to standing up and doing it.
I remember how I felt when no longer existing seemed like the only option. I remember watching my classmate standing by her father’s casket, fingers touching the wood of the closed lid, while others whispered behind me. I remember my cousin’s two-year-old son staring at his mother’s casket, too young to understand, and my entire family with our heads bowed while the sound of crying filled that small church.
None of it was funny. It never will be. It never should be.