Our lives were not connected. Before Friday night. We did not know each other. But we are connected now. Through your death. I am connected to you and to the ones you left behind. How I wish I knew how to reach them. I wish I could comfort them in their sorrow and their helplessness. For we are left with that too.
I am so sorry that we are connected in your death instead of being able to see you, reach out to you, recognize you as you moved closer to the edge of a crowded train platform. Did that represent thousands of steps for you over years? Was it a matter of intractable depression or an addiction you could not control? We could have helped. Was it precipitous? Did the journey take just moments? Did you just hang up the phone from a lover or a spouse who said she or he wanted out? We could have helped you find your way to the next moment and the next until the sting was not so profound. Or were you beaten down by the ravages of poverty and injustice until you just couldn’t take it anymore? Hope and all the power it contains belongs to the living. We could have helped you find it. I am so sorry that no one saw you in that moment of complete and utter devastation and hopelessness. Hundreds saw you leap. But you were invisible in your steps to the platform. How did we miss you?
Here is how I am connected to you. My daughter was on that train. She was in the first car and felt the jolt of your body as the train hit you. She felt the train, screech to a halt. And she saw the horrified looks from travelers on the platform as they watched you leap. She saw some of them cover their faces or look away. Others mouthed the words, “Oh my Gd…. jumped.” She saw the man standing next to you imitate your leap to the horror-stricken crowd. She saw the conductor burst out of the control booth and through controlled panic begin to give directions to passengers about the need to disembark. “They had practiced this,” she observed. She thanked Gd the conductor wasn’t one of the new young ones. The police came. And then the fire department. She noted that there was no ambulance. This was a retrieval. Not a rescue she told me. But underneath her words was the longing for a rescue; underneath her words was the ache at being robbed of that chance. She then stood on the platform with hundreds of other shocked now stranded passengers and the logistical scramble home became more complex as the existential struggle only just began. My daughter is 19 and she cried into the phone, “This is just so fucked up, mom,” helplessness, sadness, anger, sorrow no longer containable.
She was on her way home from an internship where she works with the children of women escaping violence. There she keeps the children busy and safe while the women receive services and plot their way out of the snares violence has laid for them. While she does her work, she pieces together through the children’s sometimes-odd behavior and inexplicable needs the trauma they have endured and now sees the hands that have been laid on them and their mothers.
The mark violence leaves on children is that they cannot feel safe. They must be handled gently and delicately and coaxed back into believing that there are parts of the world where they won’t be harmed. Her work is to create that world in hours at a time in the child care room.
Daily, as she pieces together more and more of what violence looks like when it ravages a family and devastates developing minds and fragile egos I see her innocence leave her as she joins the adult world and carves out the beginnings of her career path in social work. I am so proud that my daughter will join the fight to make the world better but I mourn just a little, as she loses her innocence. As my role changes from someone who protects her to someone who accompanies her through this world, I am consoled, because the change comes in little bits that she can process and digest.
And then Friday night happened. You happened. And I could no longer protect her from one of the harshest realities in the helping profession: sometimes people run out of hope. And they give up. And we can’t change that. Sometimes we can’t help. We can’t be there. We won’t recognize everyone’s pain or be where someone needs us to be. Like every social worker who has gone before her, she will work hard but at the end of each day she will have to know that while she did her best, she will miss someone. And we will be reminded of our enormous powerlessness, our frailty, our limitations, our ultimate helplessness in the face of human pain.
But we live in a world of paradoxes. Good exists next to evil. Hope next to hopelessness. Sorrow next to joy. Love next to hatred. Impotence next to infinite power. Devastation next to the ability to heal. Our struggle is to reconcile paradoxes. On Friday night, she came home to a family who enveloped her with love and comfort and even while we tried, we could not reach the ache your death caused for her. You will forever be a loss for her and she never even knew you. That too is a paradox. She never knew you and yet she will never forget you. We will never forget you. And we will never stop being sorry that we did not see you moments before you took your last step.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, reach out. Tell someone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Even if you have called it before, call again. It might be different this time. If you are a loss survivor, take care of yourself. Reach out to someone. Find help. You can find resources here.