Contains discussion of suicide.
In a Lonely Place
A dear friend recently said to me, “You get the thing where enough ‘lonely’ feels like ‘death.’” I’m not sure if it was meant to be a statement or a question, but it doesn’t matter: the answer is yes.
Several months ago, a funeral director called me at midnight, asking me—pleading—to add one more prep to my queue that night. An autopsy, a suicide. A case for the county’s indigent burial program. There would be no services but the graveside, but his family wanted to see him. He was only twenty, the director said to me. He was only twenty. I stayed late that night to stitch that too-young man back together. There was no question about that.
The first time I caught feelings at work was a different suicide. A woman who hanged herself. I held her hand and cried. She was in her thirties, only a few years younger than me. Still too young.
More recently, I dropped everything one night to pick up a teenager out of their own backyard where the police had left them. Should they have gone for an autopsy? Certainly, but that’s not my decision. All I could do was go, and clean the leaves and blood off that child’s face so their mother could see them again. To look her in the eye with nothing to say.
Enough lonely feels like death.
We—as a profession—do what we do for the living. For the families. Decedents in our care are “loved ones.” I don’t make light of that. Families wound in so many unavoidable ways, while doing the best they can. While loving each other profoundly. That’s the price of interpersonal relationships. And when someone is crushed by an imbalance of brain chemicals too painful to bear, sometimes no amount of love can help them, however much we try.
However, I’ve known far too many people who were betrayed and abused by those who should have protected them. In the case of young suicides, there is dark question whispering in me every time: was a family member responsible for this? I may never have an answer to that question. I’m not that kind of necromancer. But just in case, I choose to care for the dead for their own sake.
It’s been a rough few weeks for me, emotionally. Lonely. I know I’m not alone—I have friends who care about me, who’ve been there when I needed them. But most immediately, my co-workers have been there. It’s a sure sign the therapy is working when—despite being at the lowest point I’ve reached in years—I can notice that people are making sure I eat. Trying to make me laugh. Doing little things to make me feel better. Years ago, I know, that wouldn’t have registered at all.
Many friends of mine wrestle with suicidal ideation. I’m lucky enough to have never felt that. No matter how bad things have been, I have too much spite. No matter how harsh or lonely or cruel the world can feel, it can damned well break its teeth on me before I make things easy for the abyss. I’m not advocating this as a coping mechanism, by the way. Therapy and medication are much better.
I’m also not going to decry the selfishness of suicide. For those are who are suffering that much, I’m not about to tell them to suck it up and suffer more so others can feel better. I’ve watched people I cared for grapple with that crushing sense of isolation, the certainty that no one actually gave a damn if they lived or died. I’ve argued with them, angrily—not even on my behalf, but on behalf of others who I knew loved them so very much. But I’ve also been in their place, and I understand what that feels like. When the black dog has its teeth in you that deep, arguments ring hollow.
“It gets better” is a glib response for those who don’t have access to healthcare or social services, who have been failed by someone who should have nurtured them. Not much kinder than “Suck it up” or “Other people have it worse.” But it can get better. Someone does care, even if you can’t see it. A stranger somewhere is rooting for you, even if you never meet them. Spite isn’t better than hope, but some days it’s what works.
I wish everyone a warmer hand to hold than mine.
Please submit your questions to the necromancer, lest she stare too long into her own abyss. The abyss is quite frankly getting a little weirded out.
Amanda Downum is the author of The Necromancer Chronicles, Dreams of Shreds & Tatters, and the World Fantasy Award-nominated collection Still So Strange. Not content with armchair necromancy, she is also a licensed mortician. She lives in Austin, TX with an invisible cat. You can summon her at a crossroads at midnight on the night of a new moon, or find her on Twitter as @stillsostrange.