“You don’t seem that surprised,” she said.
“I don’t know what to say. This is the fourth person we’ve known this year that has taken their own life.”
It had been a glorious weekend, the kind I hadn’t experienced in quite some time. Good friends, great climbs, beautiful scenery. We watched a sunset from the 2nd Meat Wall that would make the most ardent skeptic a believer, if only for the fleeting moments it took to grace the sky in colors so varied they have no names.
The last climb of the trip took everything I had to stay attached to the rock, I was fried and my muscles were ready for rest. Riding an incredibly euphoric high, we rolled into Moab to get some food for the drive home. Getting back into cell range, I was greeted with terrible news. Dave Pegg, a friend and climber, had ended his own life.
I took the words coolly, with a sad and heavy heart. I didn’t shout why to the evening sky, or slam my fist into the nearest wall. I just let it settle, sadness creeping into where joy had so recently reigned.
Scrolling through the Facebook posts when I got home, people shared their thoughts and condolences, funny photos and poignant snippets. Those who knew him well apparently had known he was teetering on the brink, but the rest of us were surprised. Tears watered up in my eyes, an overwhelming sadness for this friend that had been in so much pain, a pain that few knew the full extent of.
And maybe that’s why I wasn’t visibly shaken. We’ve known too many people this year that have chosen this path. One was unsuccessful, but now fights to regain basic cognitive functions, as his brain was starved for oxygen for over twenty minutes. They were star students, well loved community members, people who indeed WILL be missed, though in their minds they had nothing left to live for.
There’s a quote about how we are all fighting battles that other people know nothing about. It’s a call to be compassionate to others, because until you walk in their shoes, you’ll never know why they act they way they do or think the way they do. It’s so sad to me that these dark battles are fought all alone, and that the pain is so incredibly overwhelming and all consuming that the only way out they can see is to end to it all.
It makes me want to be a better friend. To be more involved in the lives of others. To be more approachable, so that those who have these thoughts don’t keep them bottled up until they explode in a moment of rash decision. At funerals we gather and say nice things about the fallen, but what if we said all those things when they were still with us? Would that have changed their mind? Would those words have shone into the dark places, and could that love have pushed away the pain? The finality of this choice means that we will never know. And those lingering questions will always be with us, until we too take that final step into what lies on the other side.
We put on these faces because society says we have to be strong, have our act together or we don’t matter. But that lie only makes those who are struggling think they have to look solid on the outside, no matter how far from the truth that may be. They think there is something wrong with them because their life isn’t perfect. But the truth is that life IS hard, we only seem to have found really good ways of insulating ourselves from that fact in America, with fake comforts and distractions all around.
When someone’s life ends in this fashion, it becomes the elephant in the room that no one talks about, one of those taboo topics that is swept under the rug. But if we want to have honest and real conversations about how to help people who are struggling, we need to bring it out in the open. The healing can’t begin until the wound is scrubbed clean, painful as that may be in the moment.
I have never experienced depression, and pray that I never will. I have no frame of reference for the darkness that covers a person so thickly that death is the only reprieve. But I do know that every time it happens, we lose the light that they brought to the world, even if from their vantage point that light hadn’t been visible in years.
Dave, you will be missed. Your infectious smile, your endless stoke for climbing, your passion for exploring new terrain. There will be a void in the canyon next season, when we won’t see your smiling face as we walk around the corner to the Project Wall, your skinny white legs battered and bleeding from doing God knows what. I hope you’ve found the peace you so desperately wanted, and that now you can clearly so how much you were loved.