Sunday, December 13, 2015
Revisiting the Why? and If Only . . .
We had a buoying visit this week from one of Noah’s college friends we’d never met. She was generous with her memories and seemed comfortable talking about Noah, though she said it took her a long time to finally contact us. I’m grateful to her for reaching out and for bringing us little stories of his college years, like how as a freshman he helped organize an all-night Asian-style dance party and how a group of 15 friends once made a fried chicken dinner in his honor and how he inspired her to take art and music classes that became a solace for her after his death. Also how in his last weeks at school, he looked and acted different and no longer wanted to be friends—and how hurtful that was for her.
I feel I owe Noah’s friends and cousins an explanation for his suicide. I’ve felt this from the start and again with this visitor. With a reading at his memorial, I may have given some of them the impression that he was bipolar, yet we have no clear evidence of that. There are so many possible causes in the complicated story I’ve pieced together; I keep rearranging the pieces as some come to appear more prominent. No one asks directly about why Noah killed himself, yet the question hangs heavy over many encounters.
I imagine this young woman and other college friends wondering what happened. What happened to the engaged, adventurous, charismatic guy who became literally a shell of his former self? What happened in the three weeks between taking a medical leave from school and killing himself? His college friends said good bye to Noah and turned him over to me to take him home and give him the care he couldn’t get at school. He took his life while under my roof in my care. How can that be?
The day after the visit, while listening to a poignant melody by Tchaikovsky, I felt overwhelmed by the misery and mystery of those three weeks. We'd thought Noah was safe with us at home; we saw him daily, had dinner together. Yet he was far from safe from his demons. He refused to get help and wouldn’t let me or anyone take care of him as he sunk deeper into numbness and isolation. He watched TV, blew off friends who called, and saw no one besides his parents and grandparents. If only I’d known about his anxiety attacks. If only I’d understood how isolation is a warning sign for suicide risk. If only I’d brought home a psychiatrist cousin or Noah’s best friend, whether Noah wanted to see them or not. The litany of “if only’s” drowned out the music the other day. Each one still felt like an accusation.
I could tell Noah’s friends about those three weeks if they seemed interested and the time was right. I could share how confused, helpless, and angry we felt as parents—and they might know exactly what I meant. Because that’s also how they felt with Noah during his decline. No one knew what was happening or what to do.
Noah’s friends likely have their own pieces that they’ve been shuffling and puzzling over since his suicide. Even if all of us who miss him were to bring together all our possible pieces, there would always be gaps. We’ll never really know what was going on in the mind of the person we loved and thought we knew.