A Friend Just Died By Suicide
The National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is just a call away, at 988 (call or text), or 988lifeline.org.
Happy New Year to those who are feeling happy. I want nothing but the best for you and yours in the new year.
But let’s remember that many aren’t feeling happy, and are in fact struggling. Statistics tell us that a disproportionate number of us have a hard time during this time of year, and find holidays, generally, difficult to manage.
Some are dealing with mental health challenges, like depression or anxiety, while others are managing substance use challenges. Many people will make an irrevocable decision and die by suicide, leaving many others in the wake.
I’m one of those people, caught up in the tempest that followed the Christmas Day death by suicide of a close friend and colleague. I got a text from one of his family members with that news on December 26, Santa cap proudly atop my head, as I was on a train to San Francisco to see the stage production of The Lion King, for the first time. I’d wanted to see it for years, and it was a Christmas present to myself.
I’ll remember that detail for the rest of my life. “The Circle Of Life.”
I can tell you what I was wearing, the exact time of day, what the weather was like, and the specifics of what I ate and drank during those ensuing minutes, hours, and days. I have involuntarily revisited receiving that text often throughout each day, every day since.
After that, I don’t see celebrating the seasonal holidays in quite the same way again. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am.
I’ve always loved Christmas. Each year, I can hardly wait until Halloween is behind us and I can get started with my Christmas music, easing into things with instrumental favorite like Kenny G before I get into full on Johnny Mathis mode. My all time favorite Christmas album is Andrea Bocelli’s My Christmas. I played it all day yesterday. Today, on January 4, it’s Mathis’ Christmas catalog. “Sleigh Ride,” right now.
I just realized earlier this morning that in extended my celebration of Christmas, I’m trying to reclaim my holiday time. (Thanks for that one, Rep. Maxine Waters.)
Suicide is a leading cause of death for people aged 10-34. In the United States, in 2020, there was one death by suicide every 11 minutes. So my friend was in good company, so to speak. I just did the math. Over 130 people died by suicide on Christmas Day, in this country alone.
Due to my work with Mental Health California and a program called Brother Be Well, I know that there’s nothing more that I could have done. My friend confirmed that in the final note he left for friends and loved ones. I felt like the note’s final paragraph was written directly to me. While I never wanted to get the text I got from his family member, a part of me was honored to have been on the “loved ones” list that they used to share the news.
But I’d much rather he hated me and was still here to tell me that himself.
As I slowly work through the stages of grief, I feel a bit guilty because as painful as the last few days have been, I know that they were even more painful for the friend who I’ll call J-Dog. That was my nickname for him. I have a habit of giving nicknames to people I love. Sometimes, the nickname is born from an attribute that I like. I call one of my friends “Tattoo,” for example. I call another “Miss Ross,” because her mane is as voluminous as that of my favorite hometown diva, in her heyday.
But sometimes, the nickname just rolls off of my tongue and sticks, like “J-Dog” did just a few weeks ago, right after Thanksgiving, when I last talked to him. He told me that he was honored to get a nickname from me, as he’d heard me call other people by shortened names or nicknames. It was a very personal, FaceTime conversation, which we ended by telling each other that we loved each other. I’m glad that my last conversation with him was such a good one.
Days after that talk, J-Dog’s family suffered a catastrophic loss. He and I traded texts over the ensuing weeks, while I left voicemail messages that he didn’t return. That caused me to worry further, because that just wasn’t like him. I gave all of the support I could muster from a distance as I got caught up in my own pre-holiday maelstrom. My last text with him was early Christmas Day. He died hours later.
I still can’t quite wrap my brain around that absolute fact. J-Dog is dead, and he’s never coming back.
Since my friend’s death, my emotions have been all over the place. I have been so angry at J-Dog that I couldn’t see straight. Literally, my vision began to blur out at one point. Maybe it was the tears, because I’ve also cried my eyes out several times over the last few days. I’ve skipped meals, and I’ve also eaten so much fried food and sweets that I almost threw up, like I almost did when I got that text message.
I can’t imagine the grief that members of his family are going through. My only solace has been in the fact that he had to have been in intolerable pain, that now the pain’s gone, and that maybe — hopefully — his soul is at peace.
If you’re one of the people I mentioned earlier, one of the ones who’s struggling during this time of year, or someone who’s dealing with the grief of having lost a loved one to suicide, know that I’m thinking of you and that you make a difference.
Also know that someone is waiting to talk or chat with you, and to help, at the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Just call or text 988, or visit 988lifeline.org. The service is free and 100% confidential. Every day, the Lifeline helps thousands of people overcome crisis situations.
If you don’t need the Lifeline, please hang on to their number and website, and share them with someone who might.
Doing that would help me have a happy new year.
And J-Dog, I miss you today and I will for a long time, I think. Please rest in peace. At least one of us should. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in well over a week.
If you, or a friend or loved one, is having suicidal thoughts, call or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, or go to 988lifeline.org.
Connect with Brother Be Well, a resource for boys and men of color, at BrotherBeWell.com.
Connect with freelance content creator and event host Michael P Coleman at MichaelPColeman.com.