Disclaimer: Please take caution when reading this blog as it deals with issues of depression and youth suicide. Certain names and events have been altered to protect the identity of those included in this blog.
It has been more than three months since my best friend’s sister Amber has been gone. Gone from the very existence of life. The giants in her mind were raging storms that she could no longer avoid. The weight of the world became too much for her to bear. She lost her battle against depression. All the movers and shakers she surrounded herself with wished she could stay, stay, stay. To stay right here with us. Our love for her overflows our hearts.
Amber was sick and tired of seeing the same four walls of her bedroom. Sick and tired of wondering why the world had passed her by. Everything inside her screamed for so much more. She decided one particular wintery afternoon that her time had come. She wanted to leave. She wanted to escape from the life that she knew. With no signs of breathing and no signs of movement, Amber was rushed to the hospital and placed on a ventilator. The doctors and nurses worked to regain her consciousness, but there comes a point where the extent to what medicine and technology can do becomes exhausted. As the ventilator was turned off, she made her final breath and her soul was liberated from her body.
“My. Sister. Passed. Away,” her brother said during a phone call one evening. Each one of his words rattled through my bones. “Oh my goodness, Lachlan! What?,” I exclaimed. “What happened?”
That one word. That one encompassing, powerful word. It changed everything.
We stayed on the phone a while longer. Silence arose and diffused through the conversation as if it were oxygen. I could sense Lachlan’s thoughts and feelings and he could sense mine. That evening all the busy people in this sleepless world passed us by.
“Whatcha doin’ tomorrow?” he asked as an attempt to reignite the conversation. “Not much,” I replied. “I’ve got uni1 tomorrow, but let’s catch up for lunch tomorrow in the city.” “Done.” Lachlan was in his final semester of his final year for his degree. Dreams of graduation and a professional career were still on his agenda. He just came back from the library working on an assignment when we sat down for lunch.
“The sounds of the computer fans reminded me of the ventilator that my sister was on,” he recalled.
“You’ve made the return back to uni really quickly.”
“Well, I’ve seen counseling and applied for extensions for my assignments.” He abruptly continued with, “I don’t want to see my mother suffer anymore. My brother and I have been through enough.”
A week after Amber’s death, family and friends gathered in the church where she learnt to see God with her faith and not her eyes – to be with her one last time. I visited her on two more occasions afterwards at the place where she was laid to rest. I prayed for her. I prayed for her, her family and friends so hard. I pleaded with God to forgive her for taking herself out of the picture, but I have faith that God is caring for her and that she is no longer suffering.
The past is a read-only image file. We can re-imagine it, but we cannot go back and re-live, nor change those memories. Remind yourself of who you are before the world told you who you should be. Nobody is picture perfect, but I think it is humbling to know that from the very beginning of life we were never designed to be perfect. We make mistakes. We make judgements. We hurt people when we don’t intend to.
So what makes life worth living?
Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, published his influential paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ in 1943. He described the needs of people as being represented as a pyramid divided into four horizontal segments. The bottom layer contains the basic, yet essential, needs for physiological survival-food, water, air and safety. The next level up is the need for love and belonging. The next level is the need for opportunity to attain personal goals and be rewarded for achievements. The last and highest need is one of self-fulfillment, personal growth and self-discovery in order to find meaning in a persons’ own life.
Becoming an adult requires people to open up outward – widening your social connections and leaving your legacy on the world. Dr. Laura Carstensen, a Stanford University psychologist, and her research team tracked, over several years, the emotional experiences of almost 200 people aged 18 to 94. At the beginning of the study and every five years, the participants carried a beeper with them for 24 hours per day for a week. The pager beeped at 35 random times throughout the week asking the participants to select from a list all the emotions they were feeling during the present moment. As people became older they began to report more positive emotions with ageing – less anxiety, depression and anger. Emotional satisfaction and stability were found to be experienced greatly in older age. Ageing enables us to develop a greater appreciation for everyday pleasures and relationships rather than having and getting. Dr. Atul Gawande from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts has questioned that “if this is most fulfilling, why do we take so long to do it?”
The traditional idea held by most people is that living is a skill we develop over time. Dr. Carstensen offered a different explanation. Age may not necessarily be the result of the change in needs and desires, but rather influence the realisation of how finite our time in this world is. She states that an individual’s perspective of the amount of time they have is important. She further emphasises that “how we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have.”
We invest in people emotionally throughout our lives. The importance of pouring yourself out to somebody is what it is all about. It is all part of the healing process of losing a loved one. As Hannah Brencher, founder of The World Needs More Love Letters, once said “we don’t need to always have the perfect words to say. Sometimes we just need to be there for people.”
There are many things that we are here to experience and to achieve while we are alive in this world. We learn and grow from our experiences whether positive or negative. Allow your life to paint the dreams that house in your imagination.
Shed your tears, shed your fears. The time we have with those we hold dearest to us is entangled between two moments – the first hello and the last goodbye. The reasons why Amber had to leave may be unclear, but family and friends are finding hope in forever. The hope of being reunited with her again in the afterlife. To know a person with such beauty and grace had been a blessing. For her family and friends, we close our eyes to dream in scenes of silver screens of the beautiful angel that had been called back home.
1 Uni = Australian slang for university.
‘Finding hope in forever’ is featured in the US magazine Bedlam Magazine. You can view the featured article here.
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