Of the last gasps of the dying: we wait for them to exhale.
Save for my grandmother, I’ve never seen anyone die. I just check obituaries, or I hear the bad, sad news from a friend or an acquaintance that someone I know passed away. Yet those are for sick and old relatives. Over the years, I’ve grown used to the idea that my friends and acquaintances would probably die by suicide. Many of them already have.
There’s a friend who hanged herself. There’s a friend who overdosed on drugs. I know someone who died from a vehicular accident because he was piss-drunk racing on the highways. A couple of acquaintances shot themselves. Someone sliced the flesh of her arm too deep, and died from hemorrhage. One jumped off a bridge. One by one, they died before they knew what it’s like – what it’s really like – to live. I stopped counting at 20: either my memory fails me, or that the idea of counting every single dead friend and acquaintance is too much to bear. I could have counted more, and I could probably count more as time passes by.
It’s particularly difficult to deal with it at funerals and wakes, where you’re supposed to remember the life and times of that friend in the coffin. Yet no round of tong-its or mystery of the Rosary will ever change the fact that this particular person’s last memory is that they died by their own hands. Somehow, I can’t stand that thought.
I’ve always thought of suicide in terms of cowardice and epiphanies. There’s the cowardice that comes with escaping life’s harshest challenges, but there’s the epiphany that life’s only direction is death. My only misgiving is that their deaths didn’t give me the chance to know them more, much less have enough memories to carry them through except for a few good ones and suicide notes.
Most of those notes were excuses for death; apology letters that only made things even more vague and confusing. That girl smiled a lot. That boy was a very talented ballplayer. Yet the blades and makeshift nooses and pillboxes kept coming, and one by one, their lives were taken away. Why him? Why her? We’ll never know, but the everlasting memory would be that he killed himself, she killed herself. We, the living, bear that memory.
I didn’t go to all of their funerals, nor have I attended every one of their last Masses. I paid a visit to their places, offered my condolences, and went my own way with a bit of guilt about living. Guilt that I wasn’t able to stop them. Guilt that I ddidn’t know them enough to make them appreciate life. Guilt that I didn’t appreciate life enough for me to be an inspiration for them to continue to live. Maybe it’s because I was suicidal as they were.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t contemplate taking that same turn at that same crossroad. Yet the same kinds of cowardice and epiphanies take me off the edge of the bridge, the edge of the knife, and the edge of the road. I cannot take away my own life for fear of the material and moral consequences that come with suicide: things that my folks, friends, and acquaintances cannot bear. Yet if the only direction of life is death, then what’s in between birth and demise should only be made more meaningful. Not that my friends were wrong to take their own lives – and certainly, they were not right, either – but suicide accommodates life’s greatest regrets. “What could have been…” “If only…” “He/she would have been…”
So far, I’ve been the chronicler of over a dozen deaths. There are the memorable ones that have really affected me, and then there are the ones that didn’t affect me as much but have saddened me. I have, in my young life, witnessed in so many ways, so many friends who have died in so many ways.
I don’t know why they died. What is there left to do but to live?
What I do know is that I’ll still be a witness and a chronicler to suicide, and I’m making that funny guess that a friend of mine will die by his or her own hand. Not because of fear or ignorance or cowardice, but because that’s just the way life is. Life, in more ways than one, is a journey to death. And whether like it or not, how we die can lie on our hands. That while suicide may be so unacceptable, but there’s no choice for the bereaved other than to accept it.
I wait for them – for each and every one of them – to inhale. There’s just that impossible hope that those corpses, over the years, could take one final breath, and to tell us all – and tell me – why they had to die.
I write this entry with yet another name added to the list… though for the pain of it all, I have stopped counting.