Jessica M Harrison, LCSW
I can sit with the tragedy of this now. Maybe it’s maturity, maybe hardness. The passing of time separates us, the tragedy and me. Most likely, my professional exposure to devastation and human resilience has tempered my reactivity. At that time, however, in the horror of it, my false sense of invincibility and definite naïveté made me vulnerable to the pain I instantly externalized, when I saw the red in the snow.
At that time, a time when I believed I had reached adulthood but was actually still a teenager, I lived in a twelve-story dormitory, a building with twin towers and a low lobby connecting the two. My friend worked the night shift at the front desk in that lobby, underneath the single-story roof, and he later told me he’d heard a dull thud above him, sometime before dawn. He wasn’t sure when, exactly, the stillness of night was interrupted. He’d thought nothing of it.
I think often of that time, finishing my first semester of college, believing in everything and nothing, and feeling quite expectant beneath my mask of angst. How I was seemed to sit in contradiction to my faceless peer’s hopelessness when he jumped from the tower opposite mine; and I remember weeping openly, grossly, because it seemed the only thing to do, as if in righteous protest to this assault on my optimism.
I am not claiming a particular sorrow, nor can I claim his story. His is a story of which I know only the stark ending—the finish initiated by his leap from the window. But his ending I couldn’t possibly know. Now, more than a decade later, I am closely acquainted with this complication of suicide. I understand the buzzing assumptions; the frantic energy immediately and forever spent trying to make sense of or peace with it; the blame. I understand those responses, and I hold space for them. I have to. If I rejected this complication because of my unwillingness to sit with the discomfort of it, I would be oppressing his story and the stories of his survivors. And these stories, like all stories, matter.
Suicide is a burden and a relief. It is a Scarlett Letter and an embrace. Its reasons and effects are varied. They are unacceptable and invited. They are ambiguous and desperate to be explicit. Loss, anger, shame, freedom, release, unbearable pain, nightmares, hopefulness, peace, stillness, madness, histories, rejection, education, intervention, avoidance—that is (the beginning of) the weight of it.
His ending was at my beginning. Looking back, I had no awareness that I would, four years later, begin to encounter suicidality nearly daily. I did not understand then that I would compassionately weave his story, which is my story, into the fabric of my anti-oppressive framework as a clinical Social Worker. His ending, his survivors’ loss, strengthens me. What I cannot explain, such as the reasons of his death, becomes tolerable when I tell you that it is complicated and compassion is simple.