The Alice Cooper ‘Killer’ tour,in Ottawa Canada, had been rescheduled to January 1st,1972. It was a huge deal that my parents allowed me to attend on a traditional family day.
The downtown venue was packed. Amid the raucous music, flashing lights and throngs of people, I wasn’t able to locate my friends. Coming from the south end of the city, meant always arriving later than my friends. I traversed the entire arena and ended up on the lower level,
It was part way through the warm-up act, another friend came up to me and begged me to tell him it wasn’t true...The horrific news he’d heard...
As he blurted it out, I watched as if from outside myself, as I slapped him... turned on my heel to get as far away from him as possible.
And as I looked up, there directly ahead, were the friends I chummed with: I only saw four not five. The ghastly pale skin, red eyes and lack of makeup, confirmed the unthinkable: I crumpled to the floor. I was screaming on the inside and the outside.
We huddled together as one, awash with tears. Unified in our pain, confusion and grief we didn’t speak.
Our dear friend, Andrea, who was looking so looking forward to her 16th birthday in February, who had been beyond excited to be getting her licence had taken her own life.
The rest of that fateful night is a blur. I am lucky to have been taken in hand and aided to function by some of my other friends. They didn’t live in the area where Andrea and the others lived. They were from my end of town. And it was the group of them who helped me to go through the motions.Helped me to leave the concert. Helped me navigate the long road home.
No one could help me that next morning, when I had to explain to my parents that my friend had committed the ultimate sin in the Catholic faith. Andrea was not a Catholic, not a Christian. In the early 70s suicide was NOT a common occurrence: not in my little world. Oddly, within the week I would learn of yet another death by one’s own hand, of a guy who was on the periphery of our crowd. And there I stood in the living room doorway, stuttering, defensive of my now dead friend, yet ashamed of the news I had to impart. Ready for a fight, even as I, in total shock, stated I had to go catch the bus. My father shook his head in disbelief, grabbed his keys and ushered me to the car.
He drove me downtown to attend the funeral. I don’t really remember much of anything after I quietly followed my father to the car. Not a word was spoken, on that 30 minute drive.
I had never been to a synagogue before. The trip to the cemetery is a blur, no idea who drove us. There were four of us who were all Catholic. As the Rabbi finished his speech at the graveside, in slow motion it seemed all four of us made the sign of the cross. It was not intentional, nor was it meant to be confrontational. A number of the elder aunts and uncles were aghast, and made a point of commenting, although not directly to us… all I heard was goyim, and unwelcome.
Never ever were we made to feel unwelcome by the immediate family or some of the aunts like Yetta, who took it upon herself to educate us in the ways of sitting Shiva and so much more. Yetta became for me this Shero who not only understood my pain, she radiated a fierce calm and her aura blanketed us like a safety shield.
The next few months were a difficult and drama filled time. Unable to come to terms with what had happened I found myself sleepwalking through life for weeks, actually months.
My emotional state was crumbling, my nerves jangling. Like a caged animal I bristled at the least excuse. My chest seemed filled with a simmering rage that alternated with bouts of deep deep grief. Crying and lashing out seemed the only options available to me.
I filled my days and nights. I went to school and then directly to one of more of my part time jobs. I wanted to fill the time so I didn’t have to think, or worry, or feel, that somehow I had missed the signs. I had not seen an issue. I had not known that my friend was in need of help.
Our family booked a trip back to Scotland. I worked more hours, nights and weekends saving my money to take with me. The school year was of no interest to me. Most of my friends were of no interest to me. I didn’t realize I was building a wall.
A wall that would remain in place far far longer than I ever imagined it could. This wall was my armour. The armour that would ensure I could not be made to feel this pain, this grief, or for that matter any other emotion.
My family flew to Edinburgh in early April, a respite from all the familiar reminders… And unbeknownst to my parents, a respite from spending time in the graveyard, sometimes with friends, mostly staying alone in the gloom, going over and over those last days in my head. Wondering for the umpteenth time what I had missed. What I could have done, what I should have done, to stop her death.
You see, on that fateful night, about 11:15pm at the place I was babysitting, I had the phone in my hand, index finger already dialing the number. I had picked up the phone to call Andrea as I knew she was at home basically sitting with her aunt and uncle, who were 84 and 87 respectively. I had started to dial her number, and realizing I might wake up one of the elders, and perhaps get Andrea in trouble, I put the phone down.
Replaying over and over in my mind, that act, of putting the phone down, has haunted me. What if… If only I had… the guilt and shame of that lack of completed action has been a heavy burden over time.
Many years later, in talking through that awful night. We friends realized we all felt somehow guilty of not seeing a problem, not feeling the ‘something wrong’ vibe, ultimately of not stopping her from ending it.
It took more than 40 years for me to see the ‘Gift given. I didn’t know the challenges, the pain and the long journey I would face. Until now, never voicing the truth of the many last second reprieves this gift would allow’. NO, that’s not clear enough. This gift would arrive unbidden at the very last second possible, more times than I can count, to play in my head. The mind movie that catalogued the days, weeks, months and years, I mourned Andrea's loss. The flashes of all the agony of being left behind, the grieving, the tears, the guilt and shame. Knowing deep inside the pain caused to family and friends after living it.
For you, on the brink, or heading that way, please let me share my painful knowledge. Please let me share the devastation of one of those you would leave behind. Often those we may not even have considered… I ask you to take a pause… Take a deep breath and sleep on your possible decision…
Reach out to someone and share how you are feeling, don’t carry the burden alone…
Suicide Prevention Ireland
- 1 life Freephone(24hrs)
1800 247 100 or text the word HELP to 51444
- Samaritans Freecall 116 123
World Suicide Prevention Day 2020 10 Sep 2020