When a Friend Dies by Suicide

By Jacob Moore

She landed the “gig” of a lifetime, an opportunity that would change everything.  Months in advance she booked a hotel downtown, the car that would take her there and planned every other detail of her trip... except for her airfare.  Just like most trips, she would wait to book her flight despite the risk of the high fares she was bound to pay.  

My friend, like 20 million Americans, was afraid to fly.  It’s a condition called aviophobia, which is a bona fide anxiety disorder.

But she wasn’t afraid of flying for the reason you may think.  It wasn’t the crashing and dying part that she was afraid of.  It was the lack of control; being trapped 30,000 feet in the air with hundreds of strangers and no way out is what down right terrified her.

No, death she was comfortable with.  Since a young age she’d lived with chronic suicidal ideation.  Overwhelmed with a persistent need to take her own life, she’d attempted suicide more times than she could count.  It was the only time she felt like the one in control.  

We used to talk and text long into the night about her “need to die,” as she put it.  She was embarrassed by it.  Paranoid that someone would find any number of prepared methods she had hidden around the house.  Afraid that everyone would find out that she didn’t have it all together.  I can still hear her husky voice saying, “The world is better off without me.  My death will do more for people than I could ever do in life.”  

I used every crisis intervention approach that I’d learned as a Mental Health First Aid instructor:

Assess for risk of suicide or self-harm.  Check.

Listen nonjudgmentally.  Check.

Give reassurance and information.  Check.

Encourage professional help.  Check.

Encourage self-help.  Check.

I also used my personal experiences as the founder of NoStigmas.  My father having died by suicide when I was six, I know a thing or two about the ripple effects of losing someone to suicide.  I shared my own struggles with anxiety and depression, even going as far as commiserating with her about my own thoughts of suicide and losing the will to live in high school.  Peer support at its finest.

When things got really scary, I enlisted reinforcements.  I called 911 and asked for Crisis Intervention Trained (CIT) officers to visit her house.  She put on that familiar mask and pretended everything was okay, sending them away.

During those times, her desire to die was so strong that it defied all reason.  Her guarded smile and self-deprecating humor would turn very dark.  Going through it with her for hours on end was exhausting.  I couldn’t hang up for fear that she’d kill herself.  When I didn’t hear from her, I would worry and reach out to make sure she was okay.  It was an unhealthy cycle.  I became so desperate to help that I started neglecting my own wellness.  I was losing sleep, constantly anxious and afraid I’d say the wrong thing and trigger an attempt.  

After months of this, I had to create some healthy boundaries and manage her expectations of me as an ally.  This was really tough to introduce to her and even more difficult to adhere to.  Unfortunately, she took this to mean that I was abandoning her and eventually cut off contact with me.  I felt like I had completely failed her and she didn’t care about the countless times I tried to help.  That was a year ago.  

My friend Amy Bleuel died by suicide last week.  

I took this photo of Amy during a trip to Seattle for a shared speaking event.  She was the most lucid I've ever seen her on this hike and I’ll always remember her this way.

I took this photo of Amy during a trip to Seattle for a shared speaking event.  She was the most lucid I've ever seen her on this hike and I’ll always remember her this way.

I am devastatingly guilt-ridden at myself and helplessly angry at her all at the same time.  I can’t believe she actually did it.  I should have been there.  I could have done more.  I have failed as a friend.  I have no business doing this work.  Etiam atque etiam.

Is this what a doctor feels like when they "did everything they could" to save someone's life and ultimately lose them?  But what more could I have done, really?  What more can anyone do when someone sees death as the only solution to a life of pain?  We can’t control someone else’s actions.  We can’t “fix” anyone else, no matter how hard we might try.  I know that I did everything in my power to support her.  But I still feel like a helpless six-year-old fatherless child all over again.

I’m not alone in these feelings.  Over 800,000 people die by suicide each year worldwide.  It’s said that each of them leaves behind six people who are forever and irreparably affected by their death.  Each of us carries a “survivor's guilt” and all the “what if’s” with us wherever we go.

But another perspective is this: I had the privilege of knowing her in a way few ever have.  Amy chose to trust me with her hopes, dreams and crushing realities.  She lived through things no human should ever have to experience and used that to help others.  For whatever length of time, we got to talk about taboo things and experience raw humanness in a way that frightens most people.  And that connection will continue on.  

Let’s all remember those who are gone for the lives they lived, rather than they way they died.

Fly free, my friend; your story isn’t over.

-- -- --

If you or someone you know is in crisis or considering suicide, please call the
Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text “NoStigmas” to 741-741.

A special thank you to E.C. and those who have and continue to support me in so many ways.  You give me renewed strength and perspective to continue ever forward.

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