My friend Jayne died by suicide this year.
Our mutual friend Emma called me to tell me. She never calls, we’ve always texted. My first thought was that somehow her perfect and angelic boyfriend had broken up with her, which would be shocking news and I was mentally preparing myself for the fact. I answered, all ready to offer soothing words of consolation, offer to take her out on the weekend, offer to come over with shitty pizza and a stupid brainless movie.
“I’m so sorry Mel. Jayne killed herself last night.” Emma was crying. Me? I felt nothing. Actually, that’s not true. I felt guilt, BECAUSE I felt nothing. Why wasn’t I crying, or feeling shaky, or SOMETHING?
“Oh god” was all I could say, repeatedly. Even that felt fake – forced, like I was putting on an act. I kept saying it. “Oh god, oh god, oh god” and “I can’t believe it” because they seemed like the right things to say. They seemed like the things someone receiving news their friend was dead should be saying. Also, I was scared to try saying anything else. I didn’t feel anything, but I definitely didn’t want Emma knowing I didn’t feel anything. I was certain that at some point in the conversation it would be revealed that I was a fraud, faking my shock when I was actually just emotionless. I wanted to get off the phone, not listen to Emma crying, get away from the entire conversation so I could just feel the nothing and not feel like a shitty person for not being upset at all. Go back to the office and pretend I’d never been told the news that my friend Jayne was dead.
Eventually, we hung up. I had to immediately go and record an episode of my comedy podcast – meaning I had to laugh and act light-hearted. It came easily, which only added to my guilt. I knew I wasn’t just FINE with the fact Jayne was dead – a black hole felt like it had opened inside me, and while it wasn’t making me feel bad necessarily, it also made me feel like all other feelings didn’t exist. So I knew I wasn’t OK. But I still felt like a piece of shit for not crying, for not FEELING. I faked it through the episode and texted my sister, the guy I was dating, and my mum the news. Again, I just did it because it felt like the right thing to do.
They all called, we talked. I ran through what I knew (she’d died the day before, her housemate had found her, Emma went over, the funeral wouldn’t be for ages due to autopsy legalities). They offered comforting words and consolations. The empty feeling didn’t dissipate. And, I still hadn’t cried.
Jayne and I weren’t super close. We were definitely friends, but she wasn’t someone I saw weekly even at the pinnacle of our friendship. We’d met just two years prior, when she’d turned up for a Game Of Thrones marathon with Emma at my then-boyfriend’s house (Emma was his housemate). I remember our conversation – we talked GOT theories and plot lines for a million years. I remember thinking she seemed like Good People, so after my boyfriend and I broke up, I remained friends with Emma and Jayne even though it was hard to have that proximity to an old relationship for a while. They were worth it.
But we still weren’t in each other’s pockets. We would see each other regularly, if not often. The three of us started a book club together (Jayne hated every book I picked, which is kind of fair as one month I did Valley Of The Dolls, possibly the most ridiculous book of all time save for 50 Shades). We’d go out dancing together when we could co-ordinate Friday nights. We had a group chat that was populated with dating woes and work gripes every now and then. We were friends. But when Jayne died, I hadn’t actually spoken to her in months.
It wasn’t for any reason – Jayne had long struggled with PTSD and depression, and 2018 was a bad year for her. She retreated from our friendship, leaning more on best friends and people she met through therapy. Which is understandable – we had only been friends for two years. I know enough about depression to know it’s extremely hard to talk to anyone about your experiences, let alone someone you haven’t built a firm foundation of trust with yet.
Then I went away for 4 months, travelling around Australia. The bad phone service and full days on the road meant I temporarily lost touch with lots of friends, including Jayne. I always figured we would just reconnect once I was back in Sydney and could physically hang out.
I got home the day Emma called and felt an urge to Marie Kondo the shit out of my room. I felt adrenalin surging through my veins as I ripped books off my shelves and piled them up for the Salvo’s. Dress upon dress was taken off coat hangers, destined for thrift stores in Sydney. Old jewellery was binned, birthday cards recycled. Things I kept for nostalgia reasons were thrown in the trash. I could sense that this was an unnatural level of spring cleaning, but it also made me feel something – even if that something was just hyperactivity and control.
For days I went to work, went home, went to work. Nothing really changed. No one even knew my friend had died – I told a few people, all of whom seemed shocked and mildly disturbed at how calm I was being about it. But I felt this mild nausea and emptiness constantly. I knew I wasn’t OK, but I still felt like I wasn’t dealing with Jayne’s death “properly”. WHERE WERE THE TEARS. Why wasn’t I crying? Why didn’t I feel sad about my friend?
Then one night I was staying at the guy I was seeing’s house. It was a hot, humid night and I felt like the air was suffocating me. I thought a panic attack was coming on – I’ve long suffered from anxiety, and panic attacks aren’t uncommon occurrences for me. He woke up due to my tossing and turning and asked what was wrong.
“I just can’t BREATHE in here,” I exclaimed. “I think I need to go home.”
It seemed like a drastic solution, even to me. I started to get up to pack my shit when suddenly, with no warning, I burst into tears.
Tears isn’t the right term. I sobbed. Wretched, dragging sobs poured out of me – it is so hard to describe, but if I were to try it was like I couldn’t control my body. I still didn’t feel sad. My body just took over. I woke up fine. The next night, the sobbing started again. I still wasn’t feeling anything remotely like sadness or grief, at least in terms of what I imagined it to be.
To be honest, I’d never lost anyone close to me – my grandparents died when I was a kid. My family dog, who passed 10 years ago, was the closest experience to grief I’d had. But it still felt like I was a shit person for not even feeling a TINY bit of sadness about losing my friend. She fucking killed herself – how was that not devastating me in the slightest?
I imagined grief as a deep sadness, constant tears, going to text the person who passed and then realising they weren’t there to text anymore. I imagined staring at walls and not wanting to go anywhere. I imagined feeling existential. For some, perhaps it is all of these things. For me, grief looked like a giant fucking black hole.
There was also the fact that I knew I wasn’t going to miss Jayne every day. We didn’t speak daily – we didn’t even speak weekly. It felt like the darkest of thoughts to admit that I wouldn’t think of Jayne constantly through my life. How did grief even look when it was over someone you cared about, but wasn’t a part of your daily life? Then I felt a NEW type of guilt – why was I making this fucking about ME? Jayne was the one who was dead and wouldn’t live out her natural life, whatever that was to be. Who gave a shit about what I was experiencing.
Eventually, the funeral was scheduled. I was anxious. I barely knew anyone – Jayne’s wider friendship circle was either nurses from her work, or my ex’s friendship group. While I’d remained close to Emma and had an acquaintance-level friendship with several people I’d met through him, in general I knew no one. I ended up standing in the foyer of the funeral home, because the room was at capacity and I didn’t feel I was a close enough friend to warrant a seat, alone. It was 38 degrees and the air con was broken. I was preoccupied with the heat and the stuffiness, fanning my face with a BUSINESS CARD. I decided then and there that I was definitely a soulless monster.
And then I caught sight of the casket. I finally felt it. The sadness. I started crying, actual cathartic SAD crying. Because I knew Jayne was in there, and I know it sounds like a cliche but fuck – seeing your friend’s dead body, even if it’s hidden inside a shiny walnut casket with beautiful flowers on top, made the reality hit home. I’d never see Jayne again.
I wept for my friend. For the fact she felt she couldn’t make it through this life carrying the emotional and mental burden that she had cruelly been dealt. A burden that wasn’t her fault, that she never should have had. For the fact I couldn’t save her, that no one could save her – no one can really save anyone, but god – when your friend dies by suicide, you just wonder if by some miracle YOU could have. If you’d called them more, spent more time with them, asked the right questions. I wept for all the highs and lows she would miss – not for “marriage” or “babies”, I won’t pretend I knew Jayne deeply but I don’t think she cared much for those milestones. I wept for her future loves and hurts and travel moments, all the career goals and all the laughs and tears she’d never experience.
And I wept because I wanted to rip her out of that casket and have her alive for just FIVE minutes, so I could tell her that it was WORTH staying on this planet, that I couldn’t imagine the shit she went through in her brain but that we could get through it, we’d all band together around her and walk her through her entire life if she needed it. That she was missing out on so, so much by opting out. I wanted to show her all these wonderful, desperately bereaved people who had turned up wearing purple for her, because it was her favourite colour, show her this amazing support net of human beings who gave a shit about her.
Maybe Jayne and I would have grown closer as we got older, forging a friendship that lasted a lifetime. More likely, we would drift apart slowly over the years, moving along on different life paths. Realistically, most adult friendships don’t survive a lifetime. But now I’d never know.
Jayne’s wake was held the week after – just friends, and it was fun and silly, not a mournful affair. It’s what she would have wanted (Jayne always had the darkest sense of humour I’d ever known, of course she’d want an irreverent party as her own wake). It felt like a house party. And then, right at the end, someone handed out sparklers. We lit up the tiny backyard, someone put on Jayne’s favourite Fleetwood Mac song, and we sang together.
This time, I cried because I knew, even in her short life, Jayne had made so many people happy.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or suffering from mental health issues, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.