I remember throwing my phone across the living room of my college apartment, collapsing to my knees and feeling like every bit of breath in my lungs had escaped me. Repeatedly banging my fists on the carpeted floor, my chest tightened quickly and tears flooded my eyes. Cries turned into screams.
“This isn’t real. This can’t be real. This isn’t happening.” The disbelief and sadness that was filling up my heart felt almost unbearable.
On what I thought would be a warm, enjoyable, summertime Friday, my whole world became ice cold. My best friend, my confidante, and my rock killed himself, and my life would never be the same.
I spent almost every day of college with him. He had become the truest constant in my life. We knew each other’s biggest dreams and deepest secrets. He was the lifeline I reached out to with every concern or worry. But there I was on the floor of my apartment, and the one person I wanted to speak to in the world was gone.
When the brunt of the storm was over, and the news had trickled to friends and family, I did what any person who loses a loved one in a tragic way does. I replayed every moment with him in my head.
What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? What could I have said to change his mind? I don’t know if those feelings will ever subside. I am human and unfortunately, with humanity comes guilt. I realized that this situation was not about me or anyone else but him and how he was feeling in those last moments. I cannot rewrite the past or nitpick every move I made. I can, however, live my life from here on out as the best friend I can be.
Until this moment, my experiences with mental health were few and far between. I dealt with my own worries and struggles. He and I had shared a number of conversations about our personal struggles with relationships, school, and the future. But this—suicide—was not part of my reality, my vocabulary, and definitely not part of my previously envisioned plan for our friendship.
His life, our friendship, dealing with his death molded me into a new person and a better friend.
I have learned so many things like stopping to take in my happiest moments. Now, I take a lot of pictures. I write down songs playing in memorable moments. I tell my friends how happy I am to be there, in that moment with them. I also have learned the importance of expressing emotion and being receptive to the emotions of others in a new way. Sometimes sharing like that may seem too much, uncomfortable, or awkward. But you and I are built to feel and wired to emote. And I know the power of these words:
I love you. I am happy when I am around you. I am sad to see you unhappy. You are never, ever alone. I know you are going through a lot of pain and struggle right now; can I sit here with you in it?
Ryan’s suicide struck a chord within my heart. It impressed on me not just the importance of mental health, but what it means to be there for someone. We aren’t meant to feel or be alone. Everyone longs for someone to see them, hear them, and empathize with how they feel. Especially when they are going through a dark period in their life.
It saddens me to think that Ryan didn’t find that in someone, but now I will try my best to always be the type of person who sees people, hears people, and is ready to empathize with how they feel. He has taught me that we cannot rewrite the past, but we can sure as hell live every day in the future as a genuine person and loving friend.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Ryan’s story, what his friends are doing in honor of his memory please visit Project Wakeup
If you or someone you know is going through a difficult time, please contact the National Suicide Text Hotline to talk to someone for free 24/7.
- You Are Not Alone, You Are Loved: A Message For Someone Going Through A Tough Time - January 13, 2016
- Love Yourself First - January 6, 2016