things my best friend’s death is teaching me. [trigger warning: suicide]

I don’t have all the details yet — I’ll find them out when I attend the funeral this weekend — but from what I’ve gathered, I think she may have killed herself.

Notice I did not say commit suicide. That makes her sound like a criminal. No. My best friend did not want to die. She had plans for her future, plans she was excited for. She had hobbies she enjoyed, a family she loved, horses and a homestead, a house being built. Ruby was a victim. A victim of a war she had been fighting against her mind for years.

For days, I’ve been living in a haze of despair, feeling like I could barely see the world in front of me, much less interact with it. Every moment I’ve experienced something she’ll never experience again has felt like a further betrayal . . . I know every single person in her life feels responsible, in some way or another. It tears at my heart to think of how deeply I failed her, how deeply we all failed her. 

Logically, I also know that, for so many people who struggle against mental illness, this is the end result; the true evil, the thing we all should be blaming for Ruby’s death, is this system we live in that doesn’t allow anyone to thrive except white, male, cishet, abled, and neurotypical people. How different would Ruby’s life have ended up, had she been supported the way she deserved to be . . . ?

In all of this mourning, these past days, there are three things I feel I know for sure. Perhaps it’s just my personality . . . but every time I’m going through a deep inner struggle, what keeps me going (and what keeps me from giving into unhealthy coping mechanisms) is putting into words what it is I’m learning from the experience about myself and about life. 

  1. All my life, but especially since I’ve been an adult, I’ve kept everyone and everything I love at arm’s length, never putting all of my heart and soul into anything or anyone for too long, never truly seeing anyone or anything through. I have done it to spare me and others pain, but ironically, doing so has only exacerbated the pain, the loneliness, of myself and others. Maybe if I hadn’t kept Ruby at arm’s length, things would be different. Maybe her life, and my life, would have been different. I don’t want to make that mistake anymore. Down deep in my soul, her death has shifted my priorities; I am not here on earth to keep life at arm’s length, but to live it fully, and to love with all of me.
  2. Ruby spent the last years of her life fighting with all of her heart and soul to be sober, and to be a better person, for herself and for those who love her. She was — and is, because I do not believe we just disappear into nothingness when we die — a fucking warrior. She lost the war, but she won at least a decade’s worth of daily, weekly, and monthly battles. For me to give into my despair-driven desire to drink would be the worst way of dishonoring her. The way to honor her memory best is to do for myself what she tried so hard to do for herself: be sober, and do the inner work needed to thrive.
  3. Even when Ruby was struggling, she always tried to find something to stir her spirit, her smile, her laughter — whether it was the natural world around her, her family, her friends, or just humor in general. The second best way to honor her memory is to enjoy life, and know that when I laugh, she is laughing. And when my spirit soars, hers is soaring as well, because in death we do not disappear, but rather become part of the divine love that makes up the universe. Ruby is within me. 

These past days of grief, I haven’t had my daughter with me; when I found out about Ruby’s passing, I was so blinded with despair that I didn’t feel capable of taking care of Luna, so I had her father’s partner pick her up on her way home from work. But I got Luna back last night, and her father stayed for a while when he did so, and held space for me to talk about Ruby. He empathized, articulating his own heartbreak at his close friend’s death last year. We talked about memories of Ruby from when we lived in Maui, and he got me laughing. 

I’m grateful he did. Because in my days of mourning, I had erected additional walls between myself and everyone else. I couldn’t possibly consider that anyone could understand the way I was feeling. He reminded me that I am not alone in the inner turmoil that comes with the death of a loved one, especially when the loved one is a victim of suicide. And having Luna back reminds me that I had a life before Ruby’s death, and her death has not changed that; even though it often feels cruel that life goes on, it is fruitless to rage against the fact. 

I’m still heartbroken, still grieving . . . but the haze is gone, now. I’ve been laughing and playing with Luna. Eating. Hoopdancing, a little. I’m in mourning, but I’m also keeping in my heart the way I felt when I was with Ruby: fully alive.

I don’t want to keep my loved ones, or life itself, at arm’s length anymore.

I will live fully, and it will be in honor of her. It’s not a comfortable feeling, this paradox of pain and the determination to hope.

But that’s life, isn’t it?

And we bear it as best we can.


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