A friend of mine died unexpectedly last year, but it wasn’t an accident or bad health. Following a painful business failure, my friend took his own life.
Because this wasn’t a friend who was in my life every single day, I’ve gone on with my life and his memory doesn’t come up frequently anymore. Two things have happened in the last couple of days to make me think of him.
First, I happened to mention his death to someone a couple of nights ago, someone who I’d introduced him to several years ago. She hadn’t had any more contact with him since that one time, but it was still upsetting to her to hear that he had killed himself.
Second, I was going through the address book on my computer Tuesday morning when I came upon his name and old contact information. It was like an odd digital ghost in black and white as I stared at his name. I thought I should delete the card, but I didn’t.
So what do these reactions suggest about our attitudes toward death and suicide? I’m not entirely sure, but I have an idea. When the names or circumstances of people who have died come up, we tend to think that our feelings are about them — remembering who they are and what they meant to us. I’m not so sure that’s usually the case. I suspect our reactions have more to do with the way we feel about our own lives.
I’ve written before about how much I love life and how I’m nowhere close to being ready to die. I think death — and especially self-inflicted death — remind me too much of unfulfilled promises in my own life. It reminds me too much of how I haven’t yet done the things I want to do — and it jolts me with the realization (once more) that we have a short period in this life in which to accomplish whatever we’re put here to do.
So death makes me look at my own past and my own future. It makes me think of what I haven’t done. It makes me think of what I still want to do — loving others, helping others, bringing knowledge and comfort to others — leaving something after I’m dead that will have justified the faith my God placed in me when He put me into this body.
I don’t like thinking about death. I especially don’t like thinking about suicide, especially of someone who I knew and loved as I did the friend who killed himself last year. But thinking about his death serves a purpose — a purpose that’s really about me, not about him.
So even though Bill is gone and has no idea I still think about him from time to time, I’m not going to delete his contact from my address book. Every time I see his name, it can be a reminder of how much I have much left to accomplish before I join him in the next life.