We went to a funeral for a 16 year old young man this past weekend. He took his own life.
There were very few, if any, signs of trouble, from what I've heard (we did not know him well, but we do know his older sister pretty well). No indication of depression or anxiety, no drama or obvious signs of internal turmoil. In fact, the usual markers of stability were present: lots of friends, active socially, well-liked by all, a good athlete, strong Christian family.
The funeral itself was extremely difficult, as you would expect. Many of his friends were there, plus some teachers and coaches, and several kids who didn't even know him but wanted to show their support. Going through all of their minds, as it went through mine, was the thought "How in the world could this possibly have happened? What are we doing here? Why did he give up? Why didn't he turn to his friends and family to help him?"
How does a seemingly normal, well-adjusted young man, with everything to live for, at least on the outside, simultaneously live a tortured existence internally, so tortured for so long that he cannot tolerate it any longer? That level of disconnect seems almost impossible. And yet, here we are.
We tell ourselves that there must have been something, some kind of warning sign, or clue, or red flag, and if only we had seen it, maybe we could have helped. If only we hadn't failed him, that's what we really mean, even though it's almost certainly not true.
But maybe there was nothing. Maybe nobody could have helped him.
Maybe maybe maybe. Why why why. This is the aftermath for everybody who knew him, forever.
It's a kind of prison, and it takes a lot of mental energy to break free of it, and it can take a long time. But we have to do it. I'm no psychologist but I've had some experience with this kind of thing in my own family, and the questions never really go away, although they do lessen over time.
You have a life to live, and no amount of beating yourself up will change the past, especially something you probably had little control over in the first place.
It still hurts, though, to think you might not have been able to help somebody you love, and who is in great pain. It feels like failure, in your own mind, and that makes it plenty real, whatever the "truth" might be.
Still, you have to learn to forgive yourself. It's not easy, and it can take a long time. but it is really, really important. Time spent wishing you could change the past is time wasted, but sometimes we can change the future by making different choices. Honor the memory of a loved one by remembering the best things about their time with you, and resolve to live your own life with no regrets by living in the moment, right now, today, engaged with your friends and loved ones.
It sounds trite until you go to a funeral for a 16-year-old.
I hope and pray that his family and friends can find the strength to heal themselves from the pain, and find some kind of peace. It's certainly not going to be easy.
We can't always know all the answers to the things that perplex and confound us, no matter how much we try. And while it's probably much too soon to find that helpful, someday it will become very helpful to learn to accept that. in the end.