When I was in my thirties I met a boy. I fell in love. Joseph was his name.
I didn’t know at the time that Joseph suffered from bipolar disease. Some months later Joseph tried to kill himself, shooting himself in the chest three times with a gun…and miraculously, survived. (About a one in 8 million chance.)
He then went through electric shock therapy, and various other methods, to support his well-being. Hellish for all involved.
But his well-being was not to be sorted.
We had many existential conversations, about death, the right to choose, life, purpose, why…meaning…what for..and what is the point.
I loved him till my heart broke, yet he was in so much existential pain, and there was nothing…not a single thing…I could do about that.
I remember the moment I met him thinking he was angelic in some way. Maybe that was my romantic impulse playing up. Or maybe not. I think not.
Joseph was ethereal, not fully of this world, and every day he fought to stay on earth. Till one day the fight ended.
He would ask me if I would help him die. This was someone I loved. I am not sure where I found the wisdom at that age, but some part of me knew that it is those left behind who do not understand, who suffer after the fact…yet those who choose to depart may often be at peace, finally, in their departure.
I told him that if I felt he was aligned and at peace with his decision to exit I would not stop him, but I could not help him.
If was a few years after we had ended our relationship that he chose to leave. I had spoken to him by phone about 6 weeks before. He seemed normal, which means, normal for him. For someone who suffers debilitating depression normal is always hanging on to the edge. Often the people around them have no idea just how tenuous that thread is.
When I got the news one Christmas day I was not sad. I never felt sad for the end. I only felt sad for the pain of staying in life. For that daily, minute by minute, battle.
I knew that Joseph was where he most wanted to be. Had wanted to be for so very long. Had fought with himself and others to not go there. And finally, said now..now is the time.
I speak to him often, when I am out by the beach. He taught me so much, about love, life and death. With Joseph I went into the forbidden conversation about death. I had to examine my own beliefs, my own fears..my own right and wrong.
In the end I decided that we can choose…that there is no right or wrong in choosing earlier than later. That to make someone wrong for choosing earlier and with consciousness is our stuff..because it brings up our loss, our isolation and our mortality. Our pain.
I do believe that many people in deep depression have not reached the place of alignment and clarity around their own departure, and therefore need all the help we can give them.
But if the time comes and the bells of the other world call, then it is not for sadness but for respect and love that we can hold our beloveds as they move away from us.
My experience with Joseph and my ease in being able to sit in a conversation around death, choice, and suicide has meant that I have sat in many of these conversations over the years. I have fought when the bells were calling before time. Fought with all my might and love. Fought till every part of my being was squeezed with exhaustion.
And I have known as well when the time was near. When the call was too great, the peace of departure too compelling.
Our job then as the left behind is to love..and love and love and let them go…with love. We did not fail them. They did not fail them. They did not fail life. Life did not fail.
This is life. Which has always, and will always, include death.
They simply chose ahead of ‘normal’ time.
RIP Jackie. Soar now as I know you are. Free at last. You are loved.
Photo credit: Kokoda Challenge 2009.