We’ve all heard the stories —maybe even been really close to them— of smart, talented, deeply feeling creatives who didn’t live to comb gray hair, dead by their own hand in ways violently sudden or through more drawn-out self-destruction. I remember these stories, their tragedies and ironies, every day.
One in particular has been coming up for me lately.
I was what I now realize was ridiculously young and green and had just opened my first office. An office was a requirement back then for any firm wanting to be taken seriously and I was very proud of these digs.
One evening early on when everyone else had gone home and I was enjoying the solemn professional quiet of the place, a stranger dropped in. He was what I would have then called middle-aged, maybe in his forties. I wasn’t expecting anyone, and that wasn’t the only thing that made his presence uncanny. He seemed to both really belong in this space yet not fully inhabit it at all. The reason for that became clear as he introduced himself.
He told me his name, which I’d certainly heard before. “This used to be my office,” he said, looking longingly about the space that I’d naively wanted to think of as mine, available to be filled only with my story and my successes.
The visitor went on to tell me that from this office he’d led an important social initiative. (I’m purposefully fudging a few details to maintain his anonymity.) I remembered the endeavor. Their values were admirable and their aspirations high. I remembered with some professional appreciation that their creative campaigns, which he’d led, had been handsome and well executed. But the effort had failed. The man in front of me seemed to be carrying the entire weight of that failure.
He looked around the office longingly. And then he said something that knocked me back on my young heels: “Sometimes I think it’d be easier if I just put a gun to my head.”
Believe me, I had no idea how to respond. I also had no idea how to take and hold such a despairing thought. So instead of trying to hold it, trying to have any compassion or real concern for him, I tried my best to just brush off that strange encounter. To lay aside his darkness and his dark words.
I’d almost succeeded in that laying aside when I opened the newspaper a few weeks later and saw that he’d been tragically true to his word. Not precisely—his method of self-destruction, though violent, was different from what he’d blurted out to me. But he had killed himself.
I’ve wished ever since that I’d done something. Taken his hand and really listened, and perhaps sat him down and had a real talk. Or I’ve often thought I should have called the suicide hotline. But I didn’t. I just wanted him and his pain to go away. I wanted to pretend that he was just talking, that his lament wasn’t real, though I knew it was.
If you or someone you know needs help, support is as close as your phone—or computer. Trained crisis counsellors are available through the methods below. They’re there for you whether you’re worried for yourself or another, and whether you just need someone objective to talk to or if there’s imminent danger of self-harm.
September is Suicide Awareness month.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
En Espanol 1-888-628-9454
Via TTY 800-799-4889
Online chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Crisis Text: Text HOME to 741741