I have had a very hard week.
Last Friday, I enjoyed my day at work. I got to help work on an art project with two of my coworkers for most of the day. One of my team mates, Dennis, came into the room and said he really wanted to go on a smoke break with our other coworkers. So we went on lunch for him. Dennis was my backup tech at work and sat at the end of my row. More than that, he was a work friend. He always smiled and laughed and we could talk about anything. When My mom was in the hospital he was super supportive of me. When he left work that day, he seemed fine…
Sunday I was at the game store with my boyfriend and we were playing the Rick & Morty: Total Rickall game that he just bought and it was fun. I told my boyfriend that I wanted to bring that game to work on Monday because Dennis loves Rick & Morty and I think he’ll love this game. Then I got a text message…
Dennis had a heart attack after work on Friday and died. Our team was devastated and Monday was an incredibly difficult day for the whole team. It was hard seeing his empty desk. When they brought a box to his desk, it cleared our whole row with tears, including myself. His closest coworkers stood up to take on the activity of clearing out his disk, because it felt right. On Tuesday, the team had a 2 hour meeting with a professional consultant who talked to us about grieving. We shared memories, we cried, and it was bitter sweet.
Wednesday was easier… but then I got home and received a text that I was trying to figure out what he could possible mean by “Clayton killed himself.” That part of me that was in denial wondered if he was using a metaphor or being sarcastic about something. Then I threw my phone down and said, “This better not be real.” My boyfriend looked at me and asked what was wrong. “No. I don’t want this to be real. It can’t be.” I grabbed my phone and looked at his Facebook and after seeing all the posts about him being gone, I started to cry as I uttered those horrible words… “Clayton committed suicide this morning.” I was devastated.
Clayton and I had talked on Monday and Tuesday. I didn’t catch it then but in retrospect, things he said made more sense. He said to keep his name tag on my door. Clayton used to work where Dennis and I work. He took his magnetic name tag when he left and it ended up on my door. I looked at it and said, “I can’t see this tomorrow morning.” and I tried to pull it off but it’s stuck. “Dammit Clayton! Fine. You want it on the door, it’s there.” I got up for work Thursday because I need the money and I went to work. I looked at Dennis’ empty desk and where was Clayton’s old desk? The desk that Dennis was in. So I was grieving two friends that day. After work, there was a moment, a catalyst that sent me into unstoppable tears. I cried hard for a while. Then I opted not to go into work today.
Clayton was amazing and so fucking funny and so much fun to hang out with. He was our coworker, our gaming buddy, our movie going nerd friend. He was Clayton. We have SO many wonderful memories and I am blessed that I have so many photos and videos of him, of us. These are funny and warm memories, which ironically make it just that much harder to understand why he did it. He wasn’t without friends and support, by far! When I was going through this divorce last year, he’d sat up talking with me for hours into the night. He was so supportive and he knows I would have been there if he had reached out! Many of our mutual friends were confused when he unfriended a lot of them on Facebook Monday. More than one friend expressed guilt and confusion over this. So I wrote this for them, to help them understand…
For those of you who feel like you are a bad friend for not hanging out with Clayton more, I can tell you that he was “busy” a lot. If Clayton unfriended you on Monday, you weren’t the only one. It is NOT a sign of “bad friendship” or that you “failed” Clayton. Clayton and I talked that Monday about the unfriendings. Looking back at it now, he was likely withdrawing. It just seemed like his work schedule was in the way or he had other plans. Sometimes, people withdraw and they are good at pretending that it’s just scheduling. Those of you who didn’t reach out to him, it’s NOT your fault. Those who were unfriended, it’s NOT your fault either.
If you are feeling guilty that you didn’t catch the warning signs, it’s not as easy as you think. If you accused every friend who is a little down, or tired, or having a bad week (like I am right now) of being suicidal, you’d feel ridiculous after a while. People have those weeks. I’m having that week. You can’t know the depth of pain someone is going through unless they tell you. Some people express their pain very well, some don’t. It’s natural to feel the guilt. I know better and I’m still feeling guilty for not having caught it, especially having gone through it before. I hope you take away some solace in my message.
When I was 7ish our 14 year old neighbor who grew up with us was a typical teen. When his family decided to move, it was a catalyst. Tate was devastated to be taken away from his friends and he was very vocal about it. He threatened to take his own life. His parents thought it was just a dramatic teenaged outburst. Then he did it. It was still a shock and I was too young to process it very well… but I keep him with me in my heart.
When I was 16, maybe 17, I had a friend who smiled all the time and he was so kind, polite, and very protective of his friends. Mike once dumped a soda on a boys head for being mean to me and then made him apologize to me and ask for forgiveness. It was a beautiful moment. He was a big strong teen and though he could be very intimidating, he was a gentle giant who valued respect and manners. I never knew he was hurting. No one did. When he took his own life, I went through denial and anger and I never told my mother what happened until many years later in my adulthood. Why? It was all part of my denial and anger. I just didn’t want to talk about it. As an adult, I talk about that pain. I talk about the unresolved pain.
I’m not an expert on suicide, but I’ve had some experience grieving it and being there for those going through suicidal thoughts. I was there for Ryan and Peter and they are still here today. The big difference is, they were survivors of attempted suicide, so we knew they were going through it. My brother has threatened it many times and I talk to him about it. He’s still here. The difference is, he is vocal about it. Some people, like myself and my brother, are outwardly emotional. We express our feelings very bluntly. When I was going through a hard time last year, Clayton would come over and we’d talk for hours. He was there for me. If he had reached out to me, I would have done the same for him. But he wasn’t as vocal and outward about his pain as I am.
Those who knew he was going through something deeper… I am inclined to believe that you did everything you can do in that situation. Sometimes, only a professional can help someone work through their pain. I’ve learned that you can’t force a person to get help (I’m looking angrily at my brother). I’ve learned that you can’t really know what someone is going through and can’t blame yourself for not knowing. I’ve learned that we will still feel guilt and all the other stages of grief regardless of rationally knowing better.
When I grieve, I write. I share photos and videos. This is why I insist on making videos and taking photos. I say this every time “People will cherish these pictures and videos when you’re gone.” and that’s just what I’m doing. This is how I grieve.
For those feeling guilty, take the time to reach out to your friends and make time for them. It makes a difference even if you don’t see it.