It’s no secret that the news is saturated with disturbing and disquieting reports of suicide. The statistics are downright frightening: Between 1999 and 2017, the suicide rate in the U.S. increased 33 percent. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, and the second for 10- to 34-year-olds. Of course, underneath these stark numbers are real lives—the lives of the people we have lost to suicide and those they left behind who must manage their grief. Jennifer Bristol shares her up close and personal take on this challenge and her plea for a deeply sensitive response.  

Jennifer Bristol is a writer and nonprofit consultant. She lives in Bristol, Rhode Island, along with a menagerie of goats, chickens and honeybees and her loyal sidekick Riley. 

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. 

In just over two years, I’ve lost three friends to suicide. For me the sorrow was shadowed by something more sinister- envy. What would it be like to lay down and be done with living? 

We’ve all had days we want to stay in bed; but never wanting to wake up? You ask yourself if you’re crazy- is it depression? Stress? What? Or are those that choose death like the kid who leaves the party before it gets wild enough that someone calls the cops? Because, people, it’s a dangerous wild world we live in. And some of us don’t like it a bit. 

“But you’re always so happy,” people tell you. Here’s the sticky part- we really try to be. No one wants to be made this way. Depression and suicidal thoughts are an itch you can’t scratch; there’s no clear-cut reason to find yourself stuck here. That might be easier; I don’t know. But in my experience, I’d prefer shutting my hand in the car door to the throbbing uncertainty of wondering if I’ve simply had enough slogging for one lifetime. 

I’ve seen the impact on those left behind. And I need you to know it’s not your fault. My best explanation is there comes a moment when feeling good or bad or indifferent no longer breaks through the mental fog; it’s a reverse curve, an “un-feeling”. No tears, anger or anything. This numbness is devastating, lonely and compelling. It is like watching life go on without you. You can picture it. And you ask yourself, “Why not?”

Bless the friends that see the vacant stare, the ones who slap the white surrender flag out of your hand and take you for a walk. The ones who hug you and make you cry. The ones who drag you out of bed and won’t go away. And deepest gratitude to the ones who pick up the pieces for those that choose to leave us too soon; the lucky ones that weep and rage until the question of why gets packed away, and your memory is welcome in the room again.

Dear friends, I’m planning to live to be 100. To raise chickens, hug children and live with joy that is louder than sorrow. But if I or someone you love stumbles, be gentle. Remind us. It’s a beautiful world. But it’s not always easy, this work of staying alive.