In a few months, it will have been four years since a dear friend committed suicide. I had experienced the death of a loved one before, but this event revealed a whole new type of pain to me I didn’t think was possible. I sometimes fool myself by thinking I have gotten over it, but every once in a while I find it creeping up on me like the worst kind of sneak attack. Even though the event occured many states away and what seems like so long ago, when I give into it, the pain is still there, as real and fresh as it was then.

My friend was an artist. Quite a well known artist. She was a painter and if you look at greeting cards, journal covers, prints for your walls, linens, etc, chances are pretty good you have come across her work. I notice it everywhere. After her death, it was months before I could gather the courage to go into a Target or some store similar and not be suckered punched by seeing her work on some new type of product (something she in fact loathed).

It’s strange how much I remember about that time. I had just gotten married, returned from my honeymoon and my friend was very visibly in bad shape. She recently ended a relationship, was having problems with her work, problems with her business partners, and questioning every relationship in her life. She was excellent at making friends and drawing them close, but not very good at opening up and revealing herself entirely.

The week before she died, I was so worried about her that I went as far as to steal her car keys and sequester her at my house. My husband was away and I spoke to him every night updating him on the what was going on. Although I knew my friend to be deeply depressed, I lacked the imagination that she could have taken it so far. While she was with me, we were baking up a storm. All things chocolate. I had this odd belief that all life’s problems can be sorted out over chocolate cake. We talked for hours every night and while I did my best to listen, it didn’t occur to me at the time that she had already made up her mind. She was already gone and I think she was just trying to find a way to tell me.

Before I awoke one day, she found her keys and disappeared. I couldn’t locate her anywhere. My husband returned and we tried stopping by her house a few days later. The door was open, the lights were on, but she wasn’t home. We drove by her studio on our way back into town and the lights were on there as well. We briefly discussed stopping, but figured that she was working which might be the best thing for her and continued home.

The next day, she killed herself in her basement. A friend with a police scanner had heard the news and ran to my home. Not believing him, I called her cell phone only to have the news confirmed by the sherif.

What followed were the awful days of friends coming out of the woodwork and trying to recreate the last week of her life. All of us slowly discovering how similar our relationships were to her and how compartmentalized she made all of us in her life. The suicide note…I’m not sure to this day I have fully read the copy her brother sent me. It’s in an envelope, hidden in my files somehwere. 

They say funerals are for the living and by judging her funeral, that is only too true. The sheer tackiness and gaudiness to which her family took it, showed me what a stranger she was to her own family. They didn’t know her at all. From the make-up on her face (something she never wore) to the clothes her mother picked out that she never would have been caught alive in…lining up to view the body, her mother kept pressing me to say she looked nice, I couldn’t. I tried reaching out and touching the body in the casket and couldn’t make the connection. I dream about it. Like the Sistine Chapel where Adam tries to touch God and never succeeds. That image used to seem so hopeful to me, now it just looks to me like an act of perpetual frustration.

We stopped by her house after the service. Her shawl draped on her rocking chair. Her clogs askew under a table. They were in that same position when we stopped back a year later.

She was passed a point of no return, I realize that, but I still can’t help feeling the failure. Isn’t it a failure of humanity somehow that someone can feel so lost and alone? I feel the failure of not really listening to what she was trying to tell me. I feel the failure of lacking the chemistry of words that might have convinced her to tell me how bad it really was for her or at least to hang on.  

So she’s gone. I see her everywhere, in her work, all the time, but she’s still gone. Not over it by any means. Do you ever really get over something like this?

Today is her birthday. While I quite vividly remember the date of her death, I refuse to acknowledge it. That last act was so the least of her life and shouldn’t be the summation of it. I prefer to remember the day this wonderfully strange and beautiful person entered the world. 

Happy Birthday, sister. I hope you’re at peace.

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