‘I’ve got some really sad news’, she said.
I steeled myself.
‘What?’ I asked, ‘Tell me’.
‘Mary* killed herself on Monday night’, she said.
When Mum first moved to Dorset ten years ago she had a reflexology practice, and Mary was one of her first patients . Despite the age gap between them Mary and Mum became friends but life intervened, as it often does, and they’d drifted out of touch. Mum really wanted to invite Mary to the party, so I managed to track her down. I was so happy when she and her husband were eager to come, and even more delighted to meet them.
After the party, Mary wrote to say that she’d enjoyed the party, and was very glad to see mum and dad looking so well.
And then this.
Some things really do surpass our understanding. My first feeling was complete disbelief. How could this shy, gentle woman have been alive on Thursday, in her best party dress, and gone today?
Mum had had a little more time to think about it.
‘You know, she was depressed for a long time. She was fighting it the best she could when I knew her. Who knows what she’d been going through, and for how long?’
We were quiet together for a few moments.
‘At least, she’s at peace now’, said Mum.
What to say, or do, that isn’t trite when you hear news like this? Maybe the old forms are there for a reason – they hold us when everything wants to break down into chaos.
I wrote to Mary’s husband.
‘I am so sorry for your loss’ I said.
And he also told me that Mary was finally at peace after a long time in the darkness, and that he was being supported by family and friends. It was clear that he was devastated.
I could rail about our underfunded mental health services, but I know nothing about Mary’s circumstances, what she’d tried and hadn’t tried, what her life had been like. I sense that she had been loved, and that people had tried to help, and yet all this couldn’t make her stay.
How much I wanted her to stay.
Oh we are losing too many to this disease, our brightest, our kindest, our most sensitive, and for every person gone there is a great hole in the web, a severing of ties, a chorus of friends and family asking why and forever wondering.
I have suffered from depression, and know how this disease draws us away from everything and everyone that would help and support us, puts us into a windowless cell and closes the door. I know how it turns our food to ashes and bleaches every colour to grey. I know how it can take hours to summon the energy, the courage, to put a foot to the floor and to start another day.
I step outside, take a breath.
Along the bottom of the wall at the top of the road is a tiny garden of weeds, smooth sowthistle and the starry faces of chickweed and the pale pink buds of broad-leaved willowherb, forcing their way out of the damp pockets of soil.
In the midst of life we are in death, but the opposite is also true. We are absolutely woven into nature’s cloth. Yet we so often feel isolated, both from one another and from the plants and animals that are, truly, everywhere, a feeling exacerbated a hundredfold by depression. And yet, just opening a window and hearing the birdsong can make a difference, if not today then the next day, or the day after. We are not alone, it is impossible – nothing in nature can exist without the great chorus of other living things around it. I offer this in all humbleness, knowing that what helped me might not touch somebody else, but in the hope that it may resonate, that it might feel like a hand stretched out, which is what it is.
Above all else, please stay.
The Samaritans are available always if you need to talk, or if you are worried about someone that you love – just click here.
*Mary is not her real name