“What?! Anthony Bourdain? Oh no! Why?!”
I said this aloud to myself as I read the news. My daughter looked up at me and asked, “What, mama?”
“Oh…,” how do you answer that a writer and celebrity chef you looked up to had suddenly died by suicide? How much do you share with a seven year old?
“A man I once met, who I looked up to, passed away because of mental illness.”
“He had a sickness in his brain?”
“I think so, baby. That’s what some people are saying but they don’t know.”
She thought about this and startled me with an insight only the young possess, “Did you see the sickness when you met him?”
I was at a loss for words. Not uncommon in her presence, “Honestly, no. He was gracious, funny, full of life, and generous. He bought silly grown up drinks for everyone and told stories….Not in a million years would I have thought…”
I trailed off as it hit me that maybe it isn’t shocking at all. We so often think we know someone, whether it’s family or an idol, and yet we only know them as well as we can. We see what they share of themselves and not the struggle or darkness laying below the surface of pleasantries. How often is there ever a clear reason as to why someone succumbs to suicide? How many of us judge them, reasoning that it’s a choice and label it “committing suicide”? As opposed to, what I’ve narrowly missed myself so many times, a moment of illness and despair.
My parental brain ached for his daughter, his ex-wife, his siblings,… One of my worst fears is having a loved one pass from suicide. No matter how angry or shitty the interaction, I always try to end the conversation with “I love you”, unless they’ve hung up. Then I text.
Because you never know if it’s the last time you’ll speak. You never know what someone else is battling in life. It’s not easy, but I try to forgive even when I can’t forget. I try to teach my kids the same. I try to show others the kindness I hope is in us all and rankle at the intolerance of others. Sometimes all it takes is one kind word to save someone’s life.
How many times have I been saved?
How many moments was I close to doing the same?
What are the words that can magically help?
Little arms hugged me and looked up at me, “You want a tissue?”
I laughed, “No, I’m good.”
She was looking at me intently.
“You want to play Minecraft, huh?”
She dashed away with her tablet and I watched her retreat. As parents, how do we avoid this fate? How do we help our kids be healthy mentally?
I tapped her on the shoulder and she looked up at me with slight annoyance, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
She crawled onto my lap and, not for the last time, I thought about how this might be the last time she would do this. She’s growing so quickly and I’m fortunate to be a witness to her evolve. I pet her hair and murmured, “I’ll always listen when you ask for help and you can always come to me. I’ll never stop loving you, no matter what.”
She sighed, hugged me, and stared intently into my face, “Will you help me with my house?”
Damn you, Minecraft.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).