Off the beat: Dealing with suicide

My first experience with suicide occurred in fourth grade, when a boy three years my senior hanged himself in his family’s garage. I didn’t know him that well, so I didn’t go to the funeral, but I remember trailing one of his best friends — that super cool seventh-grader I idolized because he used to pick me for his football team at recess — as he walked aimlessly around the hill that day to make sure he didn’t do anything himself.

My second experience came in my junior year of high school with the father of one of my oldest childhood friends. Shoveling frozen dirt onto his coffin wasn’t the hardest part of the day we buried him. It was watching my friend’s blank, bewildered face as he said that he didn’t know how he would dress up anymore because his father had always tied his tie.

My third experience came just before finals during freshman year, when my dad and mom explained why one of my old high school teachers had stopped writing. It was strange, because his letters, full as they were of his jokes, knowledge and challenges — “The brilliant mind must constantly be honed to the finest edge,” he once told me, equal parts earnest and serious, and he always did his part — never lost their edge, right up to the end. I didn’t come to terms with it until two months later at a campsite in South Africa, where I cried when my dad told me sometimes we just don’t know why.

My fourth experience with suicide did not involve a mentor, a friend or even an acquaintance. Because I did not know he existed before his death on May 8, 2012, Henry Treadway falling from a Unit 2 residence hall window should not have affected me the way it did. Yet it felt like a physical blow. His apparent suicide ripped the scar tissue off the two-year-old tragedy of my teacher.

I learned that suicide rocks me like no other form of passing. That someone deemed himself unworthy of the world in which we live cuts in an intensely personal way. When it is a friend, it hurts exponentially more. But degrees of separation do not diminish the pain entirely. Each occurrence of suicide, however distant, brings the emotions I felt those first times straight to the surface.

One, of course, is grief. Death saddens, except when appropriate. Suicide is never appropriate.

Another is anger. Suicide is a selfish act. It is undertaken for the satisfaction of the self, at complete disregard for others. Those others, the family and friends, colleagues and community members, are left with nothing but a body to bury and a complete absence of joy, as if it were all interred along with the corpse. Only guilt remains.

The guilt overwhelms and suffocates. When my high school teacher died, I constantly ran through what I could have done to keep him alive. A phone call. Another letter. Perhaps a national team jersey, like the one he gave me for my trip to the World Cup. I ran through the same list six months after his death when I spoke at his remembrance. This train of thought, and the guilt accompanying it, resurfaces every time I hear about a suicide; hence the intensity of my reaction to Treadway’s death. I know now that I will never achieve closure. A friend telling you that he no longer wants to be around is a wound from which you never recover.

Macabre and emotional as this may be, it is important to delineate openly and unsparingly so that we can adequately address the suicide that occurred just one month ago. Or, should I say, suicide hoax. Or, should I say — who knows?

On the evening of Dec. 3, whispers floated of another UC Berkeley suicide, this time by the moderator of the UC Berkeley Compliments Facebook page. I felt the same way I did after Treadway’s death. Apparently, and to their credit, others did as well: An outpouring of support occurred online, and the ASUC quickly arranged a memorial service. It seemed our community would deal with it as well as we dealt with Treadway’s death.

But suddenly, organizers canceled the memorial. The Daily Cal could not confirm the suicide. The campus could not. Nor could the ASUC. An anonymous poster on the UC Berkeley Compliments page — one can only assume a friend of the allegedly dead girl — adopted a defiant and defensive tone to defend the privacy of said girl. Then everyone left for winter break, and the entire subject has since disappeared from campus dialogue.

This must change. Something so traumatic cannot exist in perpetuity under this fog. If it is a hoax, let it be named as such. If it is not, then let us know what happened so that we may celebrate her life properly. This is not a call for public humiliation, either way, but for closure — a closure, as I have learned already, that will never be complete.

Contact Jordan Bach-Lombardo at [email protected].