/ Happiness

Living With Death: Making Sense of Suicide

emily-rect-med

Emily, my partner, my love, took her own life on Wednesday, July 31st, 2013.

Below my letter is Emily’s good-bye note.

I’m writing this preface to help people who know her make sense of why this happened.

Most of her friends and family knew Emily as a warm, bright, energetic, innocent soul who brought out the best in people. She was creative, funny, beautiful, and sensitive. Everyone who met her loved her (I’m not exaggerating). She could make you feel so special, so seen, and so cared for. Her ability to see the beauty and promise inside everyone was a tremendous gift.

She loved to sing, and encouraged everyone to join, no matter their ability. She was goofy, irreverent, hilarious, and charming. Her laugh was contagious. She could have a room in stitches in no time. She was a writer and an artist. We would talk for long, long hours about programming and business and marketing. She had a bright mind and warm eyes. She listened deeply, felt deeply, and loved deeply.

Her inner world was complex and often painful.

To me the news came as a shock, but not a surprise. I’ve lived very close to Emily’s inner world for a long, long time. I’ve loved her and cared for her for 10 years. She has been the love of my life. It has not been an easy road, and our relationship has suffered many ups and downs. (You can read her take on it here.)

She suffered in believing people did not really know her, and in truth, they did not know all of her. But much of that was not for lack of their trying or caring. She just could not trust their caring enough to truly let them see her “dark side”. She took care of others; it was very, very difficult to ask others to take care of her, and to take in their love for her.

She could not find a place that felt like she belonged. She told me on many occasions that I was the only person who would care if she died; that I was the only person it would really affect. I would argue with her that there were so many people who loved her–that I’d never met anyone who knew her that didn’t love her. She would find one example of someone who was angry or disappointed with her and focus on that. (This kind of thought distortion is a facet of depression and mental illness.)

We didn’t fight about the dishes or the laundry. We fought about whether life had purpose; whether hope was real; whether people could really change or whether she was doomed to be unhappy forever.

It was hard for her to make decisions; she would start in one direction and then be consumed by doubt and misgivings. Recently she had started feeling anxiety daily and having panic attacks.

Since I have known her she has always talked of suicide fantasies. She always assured me that she would never do it; that it was only a way she would scare herself back into wanting to live. Just a week ago she said she had written a long post on a forum in response to someone who was thinking about killing himself; she said she had all sorts of ideas for him, because she knew how people who think of suicide think. She suggested he write the word “DEATH” in big letters and look at it every day, to say, do you really want to do this?

At the time it made some kind of sense, because I have gotten used to the way she thought. But of course it makes no sense, why not write, “LIFE!” and ask, “How do I want to enjoy this day?”. Only when your life is truly unbearable do you have to draw on your survival urge just to get out of bed.

She saw many therapists over the years, and tried various treatments, but did not stick with any for very long. She could not find relief, and she had a fundamental disbelief that anything else was really possible. In the end, death felt like the only option left. A soul can only fight for so long when it can’t take in nourishment.

I loved Emily deeply and I know I tried as hard as I could to bring her back from that edge. In the days since this happened, feeling the solidness and realness of all the friends and family who have supported me, I have realized the energetic difference. Emily always felt like she had one foot off the cliff. I know she loved me, and I know she wanted to be with me, but she was never able to commit to life itself.

It is difficult to love someone who lives so close to death, and to be one of the only ones who knows that. I have my own issues and there were times my anger and resentment at not having a partner who could support me equally overwhelmed my love for her. The day she died was one of those times. We had a fight that morning, and she left. She often left in the middle of arguments and would not return for hours or days. She contacted me to say that she was feeling panicked and would stay in a hotel room and return the next day. I said I didn’t think that it would help, and that she should come home so we could do normal things and calm down. I’m not sure if she got that message or not; she didn’t reply. The next day the police informed me that she was dead from cyanide poisoning. (I do not know where she acquired it; I assume she had it for awhile before that day.)

Emily was in pain for a long, long time, and wanted relief and to finally know peace. For all the pain I’ve felt and will continue to feel in her absence, I don’t begrudge her that. I know how hard it was for her to simply exist.

If you are reading this and feel angry, betrayed, or bewildered, know that this is perfectly understandable. Please do not believe you didn’t know Emily; you knew the best of her. You knew how unbelievably alive she could be. You knew how genuine and loving she could be. You knew her shining heart. That is as real as any of her pain was.

The truth of her was beauty and light. It is a tragedy that she lived inside a prison that made her unable to see that truth. But it is still truth. Please believe in that. For her, see her as the shining star she deserved to be able to feel she was. Please remember her that way. I will.

~ Emma

P.S. You can read Emily’s blog here. [Emily’s family took it down.] She kept it very private in life, fearing criticism and judgement. I can’t imagine anyone would do so though, and I want you to to know her. It contains poems, essays, artwork, fiction, and zaniness. She populated it with writing that goes back to 1986.

***

Reading this letter you may get a sense of how much you didn’t know of her and her life. But what you knew of her was just as real. Every experience of her that you had was her; let this add to your awareness of her and compassion and love for her. Please don’t let it replace your own experience. You had the privilege of meeting and knowing a beautiful soul; let the way your life was touched by her live on in you.

You might think this letter is private, or should be. But I know what Emily most deeply wanted was to be known and loved for all of who she was, even the parts that were hard and scary and fragile. She couldn’t invite people in to that part of her life. But I can. Please love her as I have.

***

Emily’s Goodbye

July 31, 2013

Dear friends and family,

I love each and every one of you very much, and I know that you love me.

It is not for lack of love that I have made the decision to end my life now rather than waiting another 20-40 years.

I have for many years longed for an end to this existence. I find myself unequipped with the stuff that makes for a joyful life. This would be bearable if I also had the ambition to change that, to do what it would take to pursue and attain happiness. But I am fundamentally lazy.

The end comes to each and every one of us. I am simply choosing to end my life sooner.

As I have wrestled with this decision over the years, I have clung to life because
a) It’s a very difficult thing to take one’s own life; and
b) I’ve read that those who remain behind can be devastated.

I cannot control how any of you will interpret my decision, but I do feel like my life is the only thing that I own, and that it is my right to end it now that my misery is without end.

It is my hope that you do not interpet my action as any fault on any of your parts. All of you have been good, and kind to me.

Still, I know that this will be difficult for you to understand. I sincerely hope that you can look upon my death as something that was inevitable, but which I chose to speed along because I am essentially a coward in the face of a life of misery. And for years now, I have been miserable.

In the past year I jumped about from “solution” to “solution”, never finding peace and in fact wreaking more havoc than before. This leads to my present state of near-constant anxiety, worry, and remorse, combined with a dread of aging. Each day I feel the aging process claiming more and more of my physical being, and I simply do not want to see this out to it’s natural end. So I have opted to end my life.

My last will and testament leaves all that I own to my siblings, and to my partner, Emma McCreary.

I love you all and I hope all of you understand how long and hard I thought about this option.

I knew that ultimately it would come down to making what would look like a “sudden” decision. But all decisions are like that in the end. They might be pondered for a lifetime, but they are made in a moment.

Today, that moment came. The moment where I knew that things would never get better, and in fact they stand to get a whole lot worse. I have already begun to dread the holidays coming up, even though they’re not until November and December. That dread used to not start until around October. Now, the dread of simply existing is with me at all times.

I especially wish for all of my family and friends to know how kind and amazing is my partner, Emma McCreary.

I long for nothing more than her happiness and well-being. I have never met a soul so courageous, so wise, and so spirited.

Know that I love you, Emma, and that this decision has more to do with my ongoing misery than anything that has ever passed between us.

May all of you find peace in this lifetime and know that without you I would have known none.

Love,
Emily

emily-flying

18 Comments

  1. Amina

    Oh dear Emma, You bring Emily to life with your words, your heart and your vision. You gift her soul with the life and light of her essence. You soften the harsh shadows that clouded her mind and being. I love her, “For Emma.” You are a beautiful, deep and visionary woman. I am holding you and your Emily in love and healing light.

    Reply
  2. Heather Krimsly

    It’s difficult to find words but the one thing that is rising to the surface in this moment is that this is a beautiful tribute, Emma, and you are so right: Emily was fun, dynamic, hilarious, (and yes!) irreverent, intelligent, kind, and overall generally amazing. My contact with her was short and yet she left a remarkable impression. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
  3. EB

    Emma, your own light, courage, intelligence and sensitivity are shining so clearly during this time of loss. It’s like the great you you always are, times ten, and I’m so glad for that. You and Emily are both in my heart through this transition. Thanks for elucidating this situation so clearly, and for helping others understand this challenge, which will inevitably help them understand themselves. As always, you are a gift. Peace to you & to Emily. Big hug, too.

    Reply
  4. Barbara

    Thank you, Emma, for your wonderful tribute to Emily. It helps to understand how difficult her world was for her and for how that impacted you as well. May she have found the peace that she sought and may the rest of us keep that thought of “Life” in front of us so that we may find joy rather than despair. Your thoughtfulness and love shine through your loving, caring words.

    Reply
  5. Gwen Ebert

    Emma,
    I can’t thank you enough for writing what you did. It makes a great difference to me, and I believe it will for others. Yesterday I walked through a stream with minnows darting every which way, and they reminded me of her–especially that quick way of changing directions. I tried to send her safe passage and love, if this is possible. I am glad she is no longer in pain; I am sorry for the loss of her amazing spirit. Thank you, thank you.

    Reply
  6. BM

    Wow; very nice.

    Beautiful.

    And I love the photos. They suggest flight…

    I love you, Emma.

    Reply
  7. Dan Ritchey

    Emma, what a gift you have given Emily’s friends and family. You have captured her so well. Thank you, thank you. As I wrote about Emily in a cafe Sunday, I was thinking — among, oh, so many things — that we all have to be more playful, creative and inspiring now to make up for her absence. I didn’t know Emily was in Albuquerque recently until just before she left to return to Portland. We had two wonderful lunches, her brimming over with ideas and stories and love. I told her I’d visit her in Portland — and meet you, Emma — in August. I wanted to see not Portland but Emily’s Portland. Then the rush of life pushed me along and I realized I hadn’t written to Emily since she left in late May, and I intended to drop her a note. I didn’t, so I was crushed when the call came with the news. Despite my dawdling, I did plan to come to Portland. I thought, well, maybe if I’d arranged a visit, it might have distracted Emily at least. It’s clear, though, that the end was coming in any event. It was probably just my own guilt washing over me, but in the cafe, I wanted to find a way to tell you, Emma, that no one in Albuquerque was blaming you, who are feeling the loss the most and who are an amazing person to share Emily’s life.

    Reply
  8. Barb Miller

    Thank you Emma for your clarity and your courage and most of all your heart. I accidentally ran into Emily while walking my dog in Nob Hill. She was walking a dog too so we just ended up walking and talking for awhile. It was good to see her. Really good. We probably hadn’t seen one another for 20 years. I was in the middle of a big project and forgot where she was living and forgot to connect her up with a couple of important people so the next time I saw her, I was in a car and she was on a bike, she wouldn’t even wave. Well, I did finally help make the connections but only barely.I hated that then and hate it more now.
    I’m glad that she had you to love her, someone who understands so well. Thank you for helping all the rest of us through this. May you know the peace that you have sewn. You are kindness.

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  9. Medea Steinman

    As someone who has suffered the excruciating loss of two close people to suicide, I want to say that I am quite certain that Emily’s death had nothing to do with any of you. For those who had any involvement in her conception or child-rearing, I’m not at all certain of this. But for the rest of us, now that Emma has so lovingly shared Emily’s inner workings, this notion is less hard to bear. (When faced with the horror of a loved one’s suicide, we desperately seek a reason. Even if it means blaming ourselves, we prefer that over the useless blackness of a light going out.) Did we disappoint, anger or let her down? Certainly. But Emily’s struggles were so much deeper and older, and perhaps biochemical, than any of us.

    A good friend of hers once said, “Emily is a wild bird.” Untouchable, unknowable, untamable. But she touched us with a bit of her wildness and for that we give thanks.

    To Emma: my feelings are really all with you right now. This is a vulnerable time. Thank you for sharing your story, your kindness and your wisdom. I wish you all strength and healing, and the further wisdom to recognize who can be there for you, and who cannot.

    Reply
  10. Casey

    Emma-

    Thank you so much for posting this. Emily and I shared many rituals and she was always such a bright, cheerful addition to the circle. Only once, I visited her at her house, and got a glimpse of the darkness with which she struggled. I cry for both the woman we’ve lost and those of us she left behind who she never thought we’d miss her. I have to trust that her struggles are over and she is in peace at last.
    With gratitude,
    Casey

    Reply
  11. carolina

    Thank you Emma and all who have writ here and for the words and twine of one such a one, – our dear Emily Dickenson, whose last name I usually spelt wrong. Arriving now, with time’s bonnet askew, I am posting a poem I learnt with Emily word for word.

    When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
    I summon up remembrance of things past,
    I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
    And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
    Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
    For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
    And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
    And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
    Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
    And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
    The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
    Which I new pay as if not paid before.
    But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
    All losses are restored and sorrows end.
    -William Shakespeare

    Our favorite part was- ‘with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste’….
    We would begin to moan, long and loud at the ‘wail’ cue and hang on until the last few words had us literally shouting.
    I post this as indeed she who has chosen to end her life seems to me the warp and woof of this poem… There arises for me now, truly a remembrance encrypted in the sadness of that which is now hid and gone. I sit with a paradox of bright awe with which I hold dear those things shiny and wild.
    I may not feel that all losses are restored right about now but it was Emily the ever present spark of life itself that I can still see out there on some rising line… Waking up vanishing.

    Much love to all who write and read here
    Carolina

    Reply
  12. Tia Kelly

    Emma, I was only given a brief moment to get to know you, but from all those faces in the classroom yours is still very clear to me. Because of the energy and intellect you embodied, you stood out from the crowd and I’ve often wished I’d gotten to know you more. This glimpse into your deep and beautiful friendship made me cry. Thank you for encompassing all of us into the love that you shared with Emily. Your beautiful tribute has given me so many things to think about. My heart is hurting from your loss, my heart is hopeful from witnessing so much love and kindness. Sending you love and light and the offer of any support at all that I could possibly offer.
    Hugs
    Tia

    Reply
  13. Sarah

    Thank you for posting this Emma. I want Emily to know how much I really loved her. I can’t think of a time I spent with her that wasn’t filled with laughter, and I always felt so liked and safe with her. She was a beautiful person, and is a wonderful spirit. I hope she’s able to find peace, and am sorry I couldn’t know her better.

    I appreciate the chance to read her note, it helps to understand how this happened and her mind frame. I’m sorry she’s gone.

    Thank you again Emma, and please don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything or if there’s anything I can offer as support. Much love to you. – Sarah

    Reply
  14. Miriam

    I only met Emily once, but even in that brief time she made an indelible impression of laughter, light, and love. It is one of life’s greatest tragedies that she could not accept for herself the joy she gave so generously to those around her.

    Thank you, Emma, for sharing her last words, and thank you especially for giving your insight to help us understand and move past the pain we feel at Emily’s loss. May you be comforted, and may Emily’s soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

    -Miriam

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  15. Greg

    Hi Emma. Sorry for your loss. I just learned of a friends suicide even though it was over a year ago…time flies… Reading Emily’s letter shows me the kind of troubles he must have been facing internally. Very different to the guy myself and other mutual friends and colleagues knew. But to his nearest and dearest his troubles were apparent. I will remember my friend as the happy go lucky person I knew. Thanks for sharing this, and allowing me to reply. I also suffer from depression and found his death hard to deal with. But at least I know his suffering has stopped. and that can only be a good thing. RIP Emily and Peter. x

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  16. Sophie

    Just wanted to say thank you very much for posting your story. My brother has just recently committed suicide and his story is eerily similar to Emily’s- esp parts about how she never understood how much people loved her, and the parts about how she thought about suicide for so long and eventually made the decision which seemed ‘sudden’ but in actuality every decision is made in the moment but is pondered for a lifetime.

    I am grappling with making sense of my brother’s actions, and finding your site gave me a little peace for tonight seeing the parallels between their two stories only further strengthens the idea that he and emily had a severe mental illness and they were suffering immensely and they really needed to escape their physical body.

    Thanks again. Hope you have a good day.

    Reply
    • Emma

      You’re welcome, glad I could be of some help. Best wishes in working through your grief.

      Reply

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