Two years ago, I managed volunteer guides at a local museum. A college student named Jack collided with the museum like a meteor on a chilly fall day, took a tour, and decided to become a tour guide himself. All who knew him sensed Jack was living life at high speed.
Jack soon became a favorite at the museum. He was funny and insightful, and we became friends. One day, Jack sheepishly told me of his bipolar disorder. He was on a fast train to death, he said, and taking his life was his destiny. I asked Jack if he was medicated and had a therapist, and I tried to offer another perspective. Jack put me in touch with his parents in Kansas City, and they looked to me to be their contact while their son was at school in Philadelphia. Calling me his big brother, Jack developed a hilariously elaborate handshake for us.
That spring, Jack slashed his arm with a knife. “My slashing,” Jack would call it, self-consciously. After checking himself into an institution, he called. When I entered his room, Jack hugged me as tightly as a sailor in a storm might hug a ship’s mast.
After not hearing from him for two days the next fall, Jack’s parents asked me to check on him. Numb, and fearing the worst, I left work and took a trolley to his home. In Jack’s apartment I found a neatly made bed, a tidy desk, a distractingly hysterical landlord, and a typed suicide note. I shared the note with Jack’s parents.
At the end of the week, Jack’s father called to tell me his son’s body had been found. Another friend of Jack’s met with me to compare what we knew. Before his death, neither she nor I had known the other was Jack’s friend. Jack had given us each separate fragments of his story and carefully guarded his struggles with medication.
Rather than struggle to find peace with Jack’s suicide, my father showed me I can find peace with enduring grief. He lost a friend to suicide when he was young. “It stays with you,” he said, “always.”
The gravity of my father’s voice as he said this dug a small place in my thoughts, a memorial, where grief can be honored and be at rest. A friend who follows Buddhism showed me I can place gratitude alongside grief. Instead of dwelling on a friendship’s end, he said, he remembers it with thankfulness. Jack was not a fixed star; he was a comet, temporary. I am grateful to have been Jack’s friend as he rocketed through the world and need not convince myself the sky isn’t darker without his humor and insight.
The summer after his death I dreamed Jack was back at the museum giving a tour while I took artifacts from a library cabinet in preparation for a program. We talked, shared museum facts, and then I let him get on with his tour—but not before telling him:
“I’ll be keeping a closer eye on you this time, little brother.”
About the Author: Andrew White is the LGBTQIA+ Community Equity Engagement Specialist for the DEI Team at DBHIDS. He also writes for the Gay and Lesbian Review.
If you or a loved one is coping with a suicide loss, ask for help. Here are some free resources: