One day in January I was at work when my father called.
“Joyce…” he said when I answered.
“Well hi, Dad.”
“Hold on,” he whispered, “I’m trying to collect myself…”
Several deep breaths later, he told me, “Ronnie has had a massive heart attack.”
Ronnie. Ronnie had been my father’s dear friend for years, and the father of Stace, who had been my best friend for years. We had met in high school and become close friends before realizing that our fathers had become fast friends as well.
I reached out to her, my once best friend, tentatively. Checked in on her as her father clung to life. Gave her my words of support. And when her father succumbed to death, I offered more support, mindful of my place in her life now, but there for her to the extent that was fitting, and offering the love that has always been there no matter our status.
I was there at the funeral and hugged her mother, Carole.
“I’m so lost,” Carole said, her face against my shoulder and her voice slightly muffled.
“I know,” I told her. “I just can’t believe it. I am sorry. I am so sorry.”
And when the funeral was over, we all went about our lives, but I could see by Carole’s Facebook posts that she was suffering greatly.
“I’m going to give her some time, and then bake something and go see her,” I told Stace.
But the visit was never to be. Five weeks after laying Ronnie to rest, Carole followed him. Her heart couldn’t take it, and she chose to join him. It was a suicide.
At the funeral my father, stepmother, and I sat in the same row where we had sat the month before. We listened to the same message from the funeral director that he had delivered for Ronnie. We hugged Stace as we had before. There was little of meaning that I could think of to say.
In the weeks that followed, I turned to my blog to compose a tribute to Ronnie and Carole. I worked and toiled. I wanted to convey the closeness that we once shared. The fact that they had called me their other daughter. The time spent in their home. Special visits to Carole on Mother’s Day. The fact that, although I was no longer close to their daughter, they understood, and still loved me, and I them.
The weeks turned into a month, and then several months passed. I felt that I could not and should not write until I wrote about them, and yet the job was so big. How could the words I close ever convey what they meant to me and the ache that their passing had created in me, and how their passing had devastated their daughter?
The answer was, I couldn’t. I can only say, they were once a big part of my life, I think I meant a lot to them, and their loss is a shock even now.
Writing about them was something that I let go of, until now.
I wonder if I will ever hear of a suicide without thinking of Carole.
I don’t know what I can say about Robin Williams that has not already been said. He was beloved by all, myself included. The world being what it is, now matter how beloved a person is, they wear a target. Even in death they are fair game, and apparently, so are their children and families.
When people criticize a suicide, they are doing so from the framework of their own experience. What they fail to understand is that one who considers suicide, attempts it, or succeeds at it is doing so from a place where few of us have gone. And if we had, perhaps we would understand better.
After the funeral, Stace shared with me her mother’s notes from her final weeks on earth. They were filled with despair and loneliness, the final thoughts of a good woman out of her mind with grief. These were emotions that are unfamiliar to most of us. We all carry the pain from wounds large and small, but it remains a mystery why some of us are crushed by that pain, while others make our way out, inch by inch. Or, perhaps some of us never make our way out, but can somehow bear it from one day to the next. Why are we different in that way? I don’t really know.
I do not advocate suicide or even defend it. When you commit suicide, you increase the chances that someone who was close to you will some day follow suit. Carole’s brother, troubled, addicted, and nothing like her, took his own life ten years ago. Stace is in turmoil and always will be. She is hurt, angry, and guilty.
No, I don’t defend it, but I defend the person behind the act. I wish that Carole had not committed this act. I wish that Robin hadn’t either. But more than anything, I am profoundly sorry for the pain that they were in. I am sorry too for their families. This life can be hard, even when it’s good. So please be kind and don’t judge too much.