By Jess McGuire
“Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there.’ I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.” – Looking for Alaska, John Green
Until you’re touched by it, suicide is not really a concept that anyone can fathom. I know that was true for me at some time in my life. I could go days, weeks, months, years without thinking about suicide or any of the reasoning and consequences associated with it. It wasn’t a word that was part of my everyday vocabulary and it definitely was not something that I ever thought I’d have to deal with.
Then, when I was fourteen years old, one of my closest friends took her own life.
I was devastated.
It was such a huge change to deal with, and I had never suffered the loss of someone close to me before. I spent a lot of time crying, curled up in bed feeling sick, angry, and scared. I tried countless ways to deal with my grief. I wrote messy, incoherent letters, went to counseling, and cried even more tears. There didn’t seem to any way of sorting through the chaos in my head so that I could start to heal.
For a long time, I just missed her. It felt unfair that I had to navigate through my teenage years and grow up without a friend as caring and loving as her. Sometimes I felt angry that she’d done it and hadn’t wanted to see this life through with me or any of our friends. In a way, I felt betrayed. Then I felt bad that those feelings of betrayal had dared to rise in my body and quickly smothered them with feelings of guilt. I wished I’d have done more. I wished I’d have known the turmoil she faced when she woke up every day. My feelings bounced back and forth constantly.
It was no wonder that I couldn’t face any of the memorials that were put on at school for her that year. I couldn’t form the words to describe her to my head teacher when he asked if I wanted anything said on my behalf at her funeral. When I tried to explain that I just wasn’t ready, it came out in a whisper, barely audible. I couldn’t write about her in the memorial book that my class was making for her. Somehow the words never seemed strong enough and there was not enough painting or writing that could express how much I wished things had been different. I was young and trapped in a place where lack of understanding and poor emotional capabilities meant that I felt like I was sailing these seas on my own.
Then, on a whim, I read Looking for Alaska. This was well before The Fault in Our Stars made its way onto everyone’s bookshelves and John Green was not an author who I’d heard of before. Reading Looking for Alaska allowed me to live out my grief through their grief. Somehow the story conveyed everything in a much more perfect way than I could ever have imagined doing. I couldn’t yet form the words myself. I struggled to construct my feelings in such a way to let people know when I was okay and when I needed to talk. I struggled to cope with the feelings in my head, whether they were happy and tarnished with guilt or scared and upset. Looking for Alaska helped me understand that what I was feeling was how everyone feels in that situation and anything that happens after such a tragic event is neither normal nor abnormal. It helped me sift through the emotions and scars in my heart and in my mind and begin a healing process that, while duller after a while, never completely ends.
By accident or on purpose, I’m not entirely sure, I’ve read countless novels broaching the issue of suicide. I’ve learnt not to shy away from those places. I’ve sat through films and TV shows that have sent me back to 2007 and made me feel all the things that I felt back then. I’ve learnt to explore those avenues that seemed scary at first but were actually a perfect path for me to take. I learnt not to run from the issues that had broken me in the past but instead to face them full-on and with the knowledge that it’s okay to break down every now and then because afterwards you build yourself back up even stronger.