Today is a beautiful fall day in Lafayette, Indiana. The sky is blue, the clouds are white and fluffy, the yellow, orange, and red leaves brilliant against the mid-afternoon sky. The air is crisp and there is a breeze blowing through the trees. But right outside my backdoor is a black cloud of sadness and despair.
Yesterday afternoon I returned home after having lunch with several good friends to find my apartment house surrounded by police cars and two large utility vans with "Aftermath" written on the sides. They were from a hazardous materials clean-up service. My neighbor from apartment 1 was standing on the sidewalk and came over to me and asked if I had heard what had happened in apartment 3. She then told me that the 26 year old college student who was living in the apartment above mine had put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger, killing himself early Saturday morning. I didn't know what to say. I had just spoken to him earlier that day and now she's telling me he is gone. All that came out of my mouth was "How sad". But thoughts were racing around in my head faster than I could process them.
I wondered why, what had led him to make the decision to end his life. And then I realized that all it really boiled down to was that he had to have been in a pain deeper than he thought he could bear. I know this because I too have been to that place. I have attempted suicide on more than one occasion. One particular attempt landed me in a coma on a ventilator for several days. When I reflect back on those times in my life, all that comes to mind was that I was hurting and wanted the pain to stop. Nothing else mattered. A pain that deep is hard to describe to someone who has not felt it.
I did not know him well but he always spoke to me on the way to the mailbox. He offered to carry my 35 pound tubs of cat litter up the steps and into my apartment. He was kind and considerate, frequently checking with me to make sure that his music was not too loud. He talked about his cats and listened to me talk about mine. He always had a smile on his face. When we spoke on Friday afternoon we wondered whether or not Purdue would beat Michigan on Saturday. I wonder if he was thinking about what he was going to do 12 hours later that night. Was he having second thoughts or was he relieved at having made the decision to end his life? I do not know if he struggled with depression or drugs or alcohol or strained family relationships or financial difficulties. I do believe that he felt alone in his pain and that he must have felt there was no other option to ease whatever was tormenting his soul. This was true for me and it is what I have heard from many others who have attempted to take their own lives. No one makes this decision lightly and without great despair.
I am grateful that I am not in that place today. It is a very lonely, sad place to be. I am grateful that I have been given another chance at life and that I had friends, family, doctors, and therapists to help me get through those times when I felt I could not go on and when I did not want to go on. I think about all I would have missed out on and what my family has gone through watching me struggle. I don't want to visit that place again. And so I will pray for all those who loved C. and who will miss him greatly. As I am writing this I have a copy of his obituary with his picture next to me and looking at the picture with his big smile would not have guessed his heart was filled with darkness. I'm saddened to think that he was hurting so deeply inside. There is so much joy to be experienced in living. I know that now. I wish he could have seen that too. I'm going to miss him.