It was dissection day in the 7th grade. We’d been scheduled to dissect frogs in groups of four, so as we filed in, we sat at our previously assigned tables with our new lab partners and chatted about how absolutely disgusting this was going to be. The boys were excited, and most of the girls… well… we weren’t. The seat across from me was noticeably empty. As my classmates and I sat around and waited for the project to begin, we noticed something was off. Something was different this morning. The teachers were coming in and out of our room, and they were crying. We’d never seen teachers cry before. It wasn’t long before the principal came over the intercom, and with a broken, shaky voice, told us that a 7th grader named Cassandra had passed away the day prior. The seat across from me suddenly became emptier. It was hers.
Cassandra had committed suicide. She was only 12 years old.
None of us were prepared for a loss of this magnitude. Not like that. Not at all.
I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it, I couldn’t understand… I wasn’t sure I wanted to. When I went to pay my respects, and saw her lying there, lifeless, all I could think about was how it didn’t even look like her. Not the full-of-life, big brace-filled happy go lucky smile, the purple corduroys, how we’d JUST talked about having to cut open a frog together. Even with so many kids asking questions, I think we all knew the biggest one may never be answered in a way we could understand- how could this happen to someone so young, so happy, and so full of life? WHY?
I’d dealt with death before in my 12 years, but never something like this. I’d lost family to sickness, or old age, and sure, those were sad- but the shock of a death for reasons so shocking, sudden, and preventable left me reeling. This didn’t have to happen, I thought. It didn’t have to be this way. This happened long before the internet and cyber bullying dominated so many children’s lives. Suicide this young was basically unheard of. It had never even been discussed with us. The school brought in grief counselors, and for the next few months, all anyone could talk about was how Cassandra died. It, at times, felt like we weren’t allowed to mourn her– Cassie; the sweet bubbly girl who was friends with everyone; the matchmaker; the smarty-pants. No, we could only mourn how she left us.
The only thing that was really clear was that maybe the Cassie we knew wasn’t who Cassie really was. No one knew she was hurting, or sad, or contemplating taking her own life. No one saw it coming; how could we?
There was anger and confusion and tears from her friends and classmates. How could she? Why would she? Why didn’t anyone know? These are questions I would find myself asking so many more times throughout my life.
Years later, when my older cousin died suddenly from an accidental overdose at 19, it was hard to get past the how. He didn’t die on purpose, but people automatically placed the fault on the action that caused it, which was his choice.
Years after that, when my Mom died after a myriad of health issues, some of the same questions came up again. Were the years she was an addict detriment her health so much that her body simple couldn’t handle a kidney transplant? Did the depression she felt cause her to just give up? Was her death her own fault?
WHY? Not why did they die, but why do we reduce people down to the way they died? Why is it, if the person’s death was caused by something they somehow caused themselves, does the rest of their life no longer matter?
I saw it happen with my cousins, my mom, friends, and especially celebrities. Recently- Cory Monteith. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Robin Williams. The list goes on and on and ON.
When Robin Williams passed away earlier this week, I was floored. He was like the funny uncle I never met but always heard stories about. The man publicly battled addiction and depression for years, and I still couldn’t believe he was gone. My newsfeed quickly filled with tearful posts in memoriam, and then began to fill even more with reports of how he had killed himself, and suddenly, that is what he was reduced to: a depressed man who took his own life. To some, he will no longer ever be Robin Williams, funny man, humanitarian, stand up comic, loving husband and father. good human being. To some, he can’t be any of those because his death was by his own volition.
“Why mourn an addict? They put the nails in their own coffin”
“Depression isn’t real. Just stop being sad and get over it!”
“He committed suicide, and suicide is selfish. I can’t be sad for someone who selfishly took their own life”
“I can’t mourn an addict, because addicts are bad people”
It never ends. I hear and read things like that EVERY time someone dies from addiction, suicide, drunk driving, or anything else that is considered “bad”. Like a bad decision or a few bad choices means that the rest of a person’s life is worthless. One bad decision does not make for a bad person. Being an addict doesn’t mean they are a bad person. Committing suicide does not mean they were a bad person. Depression IS real, and it IS serious, and having it does NOT make someone a bad person. None of these things make someone less worthy of love, or being mourned, or being remembered by the good they did while still here on earth.
We all make terrible choices. We ALL have our own demons, things we aren’t proud of, things we wish we hadn’t done. How would you like to be only remembered by those?
In the end, it matters not how someone died- it matters that they LIVED. Remember that. Please.
May they all rest in peace, and all the ripples they left behind continue to wash warmth over everyone that loved them.
If you or anyone you know is thinking about suicide, please, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
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