Remembering the departed
In April of 2012, I wrote a few paragraphs about suicide.
I still get regular e-mails about it, from folks who are currently struggling. They often ask if I've written anything else about the subject. They often thank me for writing it, or say it helped them in some way.
It's been over 6 years since I wrote this article, and a lot has happened since. Maybe it's time I write about this again.
I'm always afraid to leave up old blog posts. People change and I'm certainly no exception. In rare cases, I've deleted old articles because they were so far off my current point of view.
But that one post about suicide I can stand by.
A lot happened, but not much has changed. These paragraphs are still spot-on:
Suicide is not an impulse. It’s a long process, an infection that develops in your mind. You never really get rid of it, you just learn to work around it. It’s a day-to-day combat. There is no cure for suicide, only treatment.
In the same way that drowning doesn’t look like drowning, suicidal people don’t look suicidal. Popular culture is notoriously bad at depicting either.
I'm still disappointed in popular culture using suicide as a punchline, or a plot point - I can imagine a lot of other people feel that way about a lot of other things.
Suicide is everywhere, it’s in your neighborhood, at your office, in your family. Hiding the problem is only making it worse. Please pay attention to the people around you: try to understand what they are going through, don’t take over their life, but just be there for them.
Suicide is contagious. Living for years with someone going through depressive phases can and will get to you. Protect yourself before doing anything else. When things just go over your head, seek professional help. Call a suicide hotline. Find a support group.
This still rings very true in 2018.
The last stage of suicidal tendencies is the sneakiest. When someone has decided that they are going to end it, they enter a phase of peacefulness. They have finally something to look forward to. They plan the mean, the date. They exercise.
They’ll try to put their life in order. To resolve conflicts, ask for forgiveness. To thank people for what they’ve done, and being who they are. To see some people one last time. From the outside, it looks like they’re living again! Like they’ve snapped out of it.
I am tearing up reading this paragraph, because I had no idea just how accurate it would be...
In December of 2012, 8 months after writing this article, I was in a bad place personally.
A few months earlier, I had quit my job to focus on a project my then-roommate and I had started. Now, the project was over, and my savings were nearly depleted
Bertrand and I had met through that project, more or less - he had seen it, was impressed, and invited us to present it at an event in Switzerland. From there, we attended several more meetups and events together.
Bertrand was always smiling, and positive. He was struggling with many different things, but he always had a kind word. Maybe he was particularly fond of me, but I genuinely believe he was nice to just about everyone.
When I was down on my luck and looking for a way to pay the rent, Bertrand reached out and offered me a contract. It got me working and fed again for a few months - it didn't lead to a stable job in the end, but it was instrumental in tiding me over to my next projects.
I ended up moving to France, and we didn't get to hang out as much. We'd send each other e-mails or tweets from time to time, you know - adult friendship.
About a year later, I met Bertrand at one of his favourite restaurants, near his home in Geneva. We had a nice dinner (which he paid for), and some other friends we had in common joined us later for drinks and laughs. This happened for me after a period of several months of being a recluse, so it is a very very fond memory for me.
Before everyone else arrived, it seemed like his mind was elsewhere. We discussed each other's prospects for the year to come, and he told me about that one project that "has to work". He told me it was "the last time he tried". I tried to press him to know more about what that meant, but he remained enigmatic on purpose.
At the time, I just thought he would maybe focus on something other than software development if that project didn't work out.
When he wasn't trying to mentally evaluate whether the project was going to work, he was smiling, and he seemed at peace. It was sunny out, a beautiful venue. It didn't occur to me that he meant something much more definitive.
When we parted, he gave me a few things he had lying around in his apartment, that he didn't have use for anymore. "That's very kind, but I don't know what I would do with those!" I said. "You're a smart kid, I'm sure you'll figure it out", he replied.
A year passed.
On May 26, 2016, I saw a tweet from a mutual friend. Bertrand was reported missing. His phone and personal effects were found near a major river. The police was looking for him, and everyone was asking everyone else if they had heard from him in the last 24 hours.
It could've been anything, and everyone tried to stay positive. There was no reason he wouldn't be found. He was on medication, though, so it was a pressing matter. We would surely get the good news, any time now - that he was found, and safe. And then we'd have drinks together, and chat about nothing and everything, just like before.
But I had a strong feeling that this was it. My mind went blank. I spent four days waiting, hoping against hope, but I kept replaying in my head our last interactions, reading his Twitter feed, and there was less and less doubt in my mind about it.
On May 31, his body was found. On June 21st, I attended his funeral service. Boiling. After 40 minutes of hearing the priest go on about him, I couldn't take any more, so I took off and drove for an hour, not really sure where I was going.
I later apologized to our mutual friends. I wish I was stronger and stayed, and talked with them, but I couldn't. It was too much.
It's been over two years, and I don't think I have fully processed his death.
I cried a lot, and I was angry a lot, and I didn't get or want to talk about it much.
Two years later, the words of the priest don't sound as asinine anymore. I think I am ready to remember the good things. The kindness, the generosity - the good times spent together. How talented he was.
Ever since suicide took Bertrand away from us, I've been taking a hard look at myself.
Started listening to my own advice. Others', too.
I've been taking steps to get better. Taking time off. Staying in touch with friends. Being more patient with myself, and with others.
I can say with confidence that I am in a much better place than I was in 2012. And yet the war is never won. I still have moments of weakness, I've discovered new traumas that can fuck you over (turns out anxiety can be debilitating!).
I've put off writing this post for so long, because I wanted to do it right. But there is no right way to do it. Life is imperfect, and nothing I write can change what happened. The only thing I can change is how I feel about it, and what I do in the now and in the future.
This post was a lot more personal than the 2012 one, but I want to close it the same way:
Choose life. Then live the fuck out of it.
Thanks for all the memories, Bertrand. I'll never forget you.
I recorded this song in 2014, I'm dedicating it to Bertrand Dufresne today.