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Opinion

You Are Here


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Sep. 22, 2022 - 11:03 PM

You Are Here

Longtime Newnan resident Susie Berta has many creative pursuits, including music, art, writing, cooking, gardening, entertaining and decorating. She is now pursuing her passion for writing and recently published her memoir, “The Veterinarian’s Wife.” She can be reached at susie.berta@gmail.com.

What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. – Walt Whitman

My adult son, Nick called in the wee hours one evening all the way from Hong Kong. I answered, worried at the late hour. His voice was solemn when he told me the news.

His best friend had been found dead.

I caught my breath, horrified at the news and relieved he was ok all at once. Such strange bedfellows in my brain.

“Oh Nick, I’m so sorry. What can I do? How can I help you?”

“You’ve already done it,” he told me. “You answered the phone.” He waited a beat, uttering a ragged sigh.

“It was suicide, mom.”

There would be no hugging him, a mother’s instinctive response. Not from eight thousand miles away. I would have to embrace him over the phone with mere words and my heart, just as he was hugging me that way, too.

It was my turn to sigh deeply. “This is awful, Nick. Talk to me. I’m here, and I love you.”

“My best friend took his own life and I didn’t see it coming,” he said, sounding intractably sad.

It was the voice of a grown man I heard, but I could also hear the boy I had raised. I loved them both with all my heart.

“You must be feeling a whole range of painful emotions,” I consoled him.

“Yeah,” he acknowledged, drawing out the word long and slow. This wasn’t his first rodeo with adult crises. But this was heartbreak unlike any other.

“Please give yourself permission to have all those feelings and don’t judge them. They are all valid. You will need time to sort through them all. I’m so glad you called. And I’m so sorry this happened.”

“I feel so bad I didn’t see how truly lost he was…”

His voice trailed off to nothing. Big pause.

“People who do what your friend did can’t be understood rationally,” I said softly.

“I know, yes, I know. But I wish he had reached out,” Nick confided.

“Your troubled friend lost sight of logic and reason,” I reminded him. “He lost the belief that life still held possibilities. He forgot he wasn’t alone. Ending his pain was purely an emotional act, not at all well-reasoned. I know you know that, and it doesn’t ease your pain or satisfy your need to make it different now. Neither should you bear blame for his choice.”

“I know,” he said. “I am just so sorry he chose what he did because he didn’t think he had another option.”

“Sometimes people give us clues,” I reminded him, “like giving away belongings and pets, but not always. He chose a very private, permanent solution for a temporary problem. To him, though, I’m guessing his pain felt agonizing and endless; he was convinced of its permanence, no doubt, and didn’t know how to make it better, which is why he hid it from you.”

“Trying to hide that kind of pain every second you’re around people must be exhausting,” Nick said.

“I’m not surprised a person wouldn’t want to live in that kind of nonstop hell,” I replied. “If only he could have appreciated his value and known he could walk out of his pain without leaving altogether. He just didn’t know how.”

We talked a few more moments. His words were cascading out now. His group of friends had banded together to designate who would take which task to deal with the whole thing, settle their friend’s affairs, handle paperwork, the legalities, communicate with his friend’s family in the states, plan a service, update each other on their progress. They all checked in on each other’s well-being, creating even stronger bonds of friendship, compassion, and gratitude out of the chaos their friend had laid suddenly at their feet. He promised to call me again soon.

We talked again a few days after the service. The stress had taken a toll on all of them and it was overwhelming. Right down to holding the service in the middle of a typhoon.

It had all finally gotten to him. He broke down the day after the service and couldn’t stop crying.

It was then that he got the perspective he needed. Sitting down, he lowered his head and saw the tattoo on his ankle. It was an image of a waypoint, an arrow. It said, “You are here.”

Wisely, proactively, he had it put there years ago as a kind of touchstone. He wanted to be able to remind himself of his value, the value of life itself, the importance of being present, of being nowhere else but right here where life is real, truth exists, and there is pain but there is also hope. It was meant to reorient him in times of difficulty, confusion, and loss. This day, it served him well. This directional arrow affixed permanently to his skin pointed the way, indeed: “You are here. Now. Today. Do not forget you matter to someone, and to yourself.”

He remembered that “here” would pain him and also sustain him now, moving him through dark, slippery grief into the light and firm footing. He would be re-centered and ready for all the living, breathing times ahead. He would take time to rest; to call a therapist and have a regular day doing boring things. To take care of—and care for—himself. Because he mattered. Nick wished his friend could’ve believed that staying “here” could result in finding his footing, too.

The joys and sorrows of life are how people learn and grow and live and survive. They can come at us on a normal day when we are doing normal things and then slam us into a wall. Bad news from the doctor. Tornadoes. Fires. Floods. Suicide. Nobody is free from life’s struggles. Nobody.

But the lies mental illness tells a person who is struggling are not helpful. They steal reality and offer nothing with which to nourish or heal. They make a person forget their value, forget where they are in the world and stand in the way of clarity and healing. They can result in catastrophe if they go unaddressed.

We shouldn’t be afraid of pressing a close friend who seems a little distant, “Are you ok? I am here. You are here. Let’s talk.”

Seek help if you are at the precipice. Tell someone. There is no shame in reaching out to people who know the truth about you, not the lies your pain tells you.

You are not alone. Even when you think life seems pointless, you matter. Yours can be a true story of hope and recovery. You are here. You are here.

***

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you or someone you know needs help, call 988 and speak to a mental health professional from the Georgia Crisis Access Line. Coweta County 911/EMA Communications Officers will be notified and a unit called Coweta Cares staffed by a paramedic and a licensed clinician can respond, 8am-2am daily. If no unit is available, 911/EMA will dispatch a Coweta County EMS unit to the call. A person calling 988 may request anonymity and based on an evaluation by mental health professionals the proper response is initiated.

***

Longtime Newnan resident Susie Berta has many creative pursuits, including music, art, writing, cooking, gardening, entertaining and decorating. She is now pursuing her passion for writing and recently published her memoir, “The Veterinarian’s Wife.” She can be reached at susie.berta@gmail.com.