It seems somehow wrong to write about all the things I’ve worked on and share fun cat gifs this week. There has been one central theme that really eclipsed everything else and made it all pale into insignificance. At the risk of being morbid, I wanted to take some time to discuss it and hopefully share some things that might help people in similar situations.
Jo. A wonderful friend, someone who cared about others and was cared about in return. Who would spend the night talking to you about whether you were OK, and if not why not, without making you feel at all guilty.
Jo went missing last Tuesday. An alert was put out by Thames Valley Police, and on Thursday she was found in the woods near her house. She’d killed herself (the terms for this are weird and fraught with strange emotions. “Taken her own life” sounds like she was taking something that wasn’t hers in the first place. “Committed suicide” sounds like a judgement. “Killed herself” sounds so brutal, but then it is a brutal thing to happen.)
I miss her.
She wouldn’t have believed that, though.
I know that in Jo’s mind, something would have told her that her friends would be better off if she wasn’t around. It would have said she wouldn’t be missed – or that, even if she’d be missed for a while, eventually we’d all get over it and life would be better. There is a grain of truth in that statement; time is a healer. Give it a couple of years, and referring to Jo in the past tense will feel normal. But it will never, never be better without her, because she was my friend and I love her. Present tense.
Jo was one of those people who got it, you know? She’d looked life in the eye and seen its gnarly bits. It haunted her sometimes, but it also made her understand other people’s ghosts. I first met her a few years ago, at my friend’s house where a group of us congregate every so often for good company, good fires and good food. We knew each other and got along well, but we didn’t really get a chance to talk enough to know each other properly until last summer. Long after everyone else had gone to bed, Jo and I sat around the dwindling fire with mugs of whisky, having one of those wonderful conversations where you discover just how much you have in common with someone. You know the ones. Where you’ve always got along well and hung out, but then you suddenly realise that you’re really really good friends, and probably have been for longer than you knew.
After that, it became a regular fixture at the parties that Jo and I, and often some of our other friends, would find a quiet spot and hang out. Talk about life, chew on the big questions. Discuss how hard things get sometimes and how it’s all so shit. How great friends are and how sometimes we felt unworthy of their time and attention. We’d create a ‘quiet room’ while everyone was downstairs dancing to Rage Against the Machine or AC/DC, where we’d sit and play board games, listen to Bazza playing the fiddle or just hang out.
There were no expectations, and that was one of the things that was so wonderful about Jo. You could just be together. That’s all.
The last time I saw her, she was definitely not OK. We talked about it at length, and she talked to other people about it, and she said a few things that made some of us quite worried. But by the time she left, she’d agreed that it might be worth talking to some health professionals about changing the type of help she was getting.
I hadn’t heard from her since, but this wasn’t unusual – Jo wasn’t a huge fan of phones or emailing. I was looking forward to seeing her in a couple of weeks. On Monday, I read an article which I thought she’d find interesting, and I was anticipating a long, meaty conversation. I was also hoping she was OK.
And then she was gone. Just like that.
She’s not the first friend I’ve lost. She’s not the first friend I’ve lost to suicide. But Jo’s death hit me hard, because I knew that, even though deep down part of her knew we cared, as evidenced by the fact that she’d show up to be with us and talk to us about what was going on with her; even though she knew this really, she didn’t know it as thorougly as I’d have liked. I knew that she would have rationalised her own death by deciding that we shouldn’t love her as much as we do. That she was more of a weight, of a burden, than a friend. That we wouldn’t miss having long conversations in the freezing cold for hours and hours about her state of mind, and our own.
It’s not true, Jo. I’d give almost anything to be sitting shivering on the bench with you, smoking Vogues to your roll-ups and discussing how we both are. I’d love to be watching the final smouldering remains of the fire turn to ash, to suddenly look up and laugh as we realise that oh shit, it’s dawn, everyone else will be up in an hour and we should probably get some sleep. I wish we could have spent more time sitting on logs freezing our arses off, dancing badly and falling over, sharing whisky and stories.
It never bothered me that you talked about how you were feeling. I know you didn’t mind when I shared my stuff too.
It bothers me that you’re gone, though. It bothers me a hell of a lot.
I miss you.
If you’re feeling like this – if you’ve decided that your life isn’t worth living, that your friends will be better off without you, that no one will really miss you, not properly – please take a moment to call someone and talk to them before you do anything about it.
There is a list of international suicide helplines here. You could call one of those.
You could call one of your friends. You might think they’d rather not talk to you, that you’ve already called them too much. And perhaps they really are busy, or in the middle of some of their own shit. But I guarantee that they’d rather be having a conversation with you about whether you’re OK, than with their other friends about when your funeral will be.
You could call your GP, or your therapist, or a nearby centre.
You could talk to your teacher.
Just please talk to someone. Because missing someone this much hurts. A lot. Try to remember that next time your mind turns against you and tells you otherwise.