Letter to Anyone Contemplating Suicide
Don't Give Up
Don't Use a Permanent Solution for a Temporary Problem
To Those Who Are Running Out of Hope
I received a phone call at 10:57 p.m. on February 17, 2016. It was the mother of one of my Taekwondo students. My student, teammate, assistant-instructor, and friend, whom I'm going to call Rachel out of respect for her privacy, had killed herself in a moment of despair earlier that evening. Words were entirely inadequate as I tried to express my shock, sorrow, and sympathy to this grieving mother, who is also a dear friend.
I was numb. It took several days before the idea that I would never receive another Facebook message from, or teach another class with, this young woman sunk in. The grief came in waves. I stayed up all night doing the work I usually do on Thursday evenings so I could go to the Taekwondo studio and be with other grieving students and instructors. By the time I got to the studio I had cried so much that I didn't think I could cry anymore. I was wrong.
The tears flowed freely as I walked into the studio. A friend with whom I had shared the news the night before greeted me with a hug, and I shamelessly cried on his shoulder for a moment. It's not common for a 3rd degree black belt to cry in front of a class full of students, but I didn't care. The next two hours were spent crying with my master instructor, holding Rachel's best friend who felt her death was somehow his fault, and telling our students that Rachel had passed away.
Rachel had called herself my "mini-me." She looked up to me and sought to emulate me. How could I have let this happen? How did I not know she was struggling? Why hadn't I done more? Logically I knew her death wasn't my fault. Nevertheless, I replayed the weeks leading up to her death over and over again anyway, looking for signs of her struggle or something more I could have done.
I spent the rest of that evening with two close friends who are also black belts. Eventually my little sister joined us. She brought snacks, and I realized that I had forgotten to eat all day. The weekend was a blur. Long stretches of sleeping, moping around the house, and being entirely irresponsible with my time were intermixed with periods of time that were characterized with heroic efforts to get everything done and a lack of sleep.
On Sunday afternoon Rachel’s mother asked me to speak at her funeral. My heart broke again. How was I going to find the words to express my love for this dear friend? How was I going to speak to a crowd when my heart was breaking? Nevertheless, I knew I would never forgive myself if I let the opportunity pass me by.
On Monday I helped make sure that Rachel’s mother knew how to tie her daughter's Taekwondo belt so that Rachel could be buried in the uniform she had spent thousands of hours in. I gave my opinion on luncheon décor. Most importantly, I chatted with my teammates from around the state about their favorite memories of Rachel to jog my memory in preparation for her funeral. It was a bittersweet conversation.
On Tuesday I worked frantically in the lab to finish the research I needed for my honors thesis. I forced myself to open a word document to outline my thoughts for the next day and edited it throughout the day. Moments of peace were mixed with moments of despair as I tried to organize the array of thoughts that were bouncing around in my head.
I finally finished everything I needed to do at 3:00 a.m. and went to bed. I set the alarm for 10:00 the next morning, just enough time to shower, get ready, and go to the viewing before the funeral. Unfortunately, I woke up at 5:15, nearly five hours before my alarm. I couldn’t force myself to do anything productive, so after several hours of trying to get things done I spent the rest of the time trying to fall back asleep.
The hours between when I awoke and when it was time to go dragged painfully on—and yet I would have done just about anything to have slowed them down even farther. Finally the time came, and my husband and I drove to the funeral.
I walked into the room where Rachel’s body lay and instantly the tears started flowing uncontrollably. I hugged Rachel’s mother and stood at the casket. It was Rachel all right, but it didn’t look like her. She looked… empty. I cried harder and harder for the remainder of the viewing. There were several moments in which I had to remind myself how to breathe. I had to consciously fight off a complete panic attack brought on by still not understanding how we had gotten to that moment.
I sat myself between my husband and one of the friends I had spent that first evening after her death with, and they became my comfort blanket for the time being. Somehow I managed to calm down and compose myself for the talk at hand during the family prayer and as we walked into the chapel where the funeral was to be held.
Her mother gave a beautiful eulogy, sharing the highlights of Rachel’s life. I followed and had an insufferable case of dry mouth that seriously detracted from my comments, but I somehow managed to keep my composure. The sight that met my eyes as I stood to address the crowd was overwhelming. There were at least 1,000 people in that room. EMTs that worked with Rachel's mother (the very EMT's that had desperately tried to save Rachel's life only a few days before), teachers, family members, friends from her school’s drama department, members of her congregation, neighbors, friends from school, fellow martial artists, etc., filled the room. Many were crying and obviously emotionally distraught.
At the graveside we placed roses on her casket and all the martial artists present gave her one final bow good-bye. I broke down yet again.
A wonderful meal was shared with Rachel’s family and friends at a local church, and then we returned home. Although I had lots of homework to do, I opted to take what I intended to be a short nap first—and didn’t awake for over 28 hours. The next few days were full of trying to get caught up, exhaustion, and randomly bursting into tears as thoughts of Rachel entered my head.
Friend, from the bottom of my heart, I tell you that you matter to someone. You are someone’s Rachel, and I beg of you not to put that person through what I’ve been through. It’s inexplicably and excruciatingly painful. There aren't words to begin to convey the emotional turmoil I experienced. Whatever it is you are going through, it will pass or it will get better. There will be hope again. Seek help. You don’t have to continue to suffer and you don’t have to die. Rachel reached the pit of despair in which she thought that the only way to make things better was to die; a week later there was a room of over 1,000 people gathered that would have given anything to have shown her that were other ways.
Today I am learning how to live without Rachel in my day-to-day life. I feel as if a piece of my soul, of my very being, is dead. I promise you, the people left behind are not better off. I would give anything to have another day with Rachel. Don’t take that day away from someone else.