Recently a student in my chemistry class committed suicide. The teachers were all notified, and in every single class I attended that day, the same message was relayed to us. “We have sad news to bring you. Unfortunately, over the weekend a Year 12 student died suddenly. If you seek any support there are support services in the choral studio. Our councilors are also available for support. Please be mindful of each other’s emotional sensitivity during these difficult times and watch out for one another.”
The student, Natalie, sat two rows behind me. She was a relatively new student, had plenty of friends, was loud, boisterous, chirpy and always seemed to be caught up in laughter. She was highly gifted in her academics, though she often rocked up to class late and had to apologize to the teacher (almost every lesson).
When our teacher broke the news to us, the entire class went completely silent. Though not a lot of us knew her personally, it was still a shock to hear that someone in such close vicinity to us had passed away. The teacher had let a few of the girls who sat around Natalie know of this news first, so the whole row of them had already left the class to go to the choral studio. I only noticed this when I turned around to see an empty bench.
Shortly after the girls came back. Two of them had straight faces and arrived back first. Of course, I’m not the one to judge, but they seemed to be coping alright. However, the other two arrived considerably later, and instead of the tear-stricken faces I’d expected, they were engaged in their own conversations, laughing away. I immediately had this sickening feeling in my stomach, thinking to myself: “how dare they be this happy, whilst a friend of theirs has just taken their own life?”
As I said, I’m not one to judge. I have no idea if they’d be laughing over an incident in order to lift their spirits, or perhaps they had been discussing a fun memory of Natalie’s to ease the pain. But from having grown up in the same cohort with these two girls over the past 5 years, I could tell that they were genuinely laughing over something that had absolutely nothing to do with Natalie’s death.
On the other hand, one of my close friends, Joy, who sits next to me, had clenched fists, her face had gone a tinge pink, and there was a slight glisten in her eyes. I’ve mentioned Joy in previous blog posts of mine, whose had a close shave with depression and suicide. I asked if she was okay, and she explained that even though she never knew Natalie personally, to hear someone had taken their life still affected her to a great extent.
I arrived back home and went to check Natalie’s Facebook (being the nosy person I am…I’m not proud of it). On finding out that there wasn’t much to see, I went to check her Instagram. That was when I stumbled upon her boyfriend’s Instagram profile. While he had made his account private, I could still see the description box. As per the usual couple, he’d written down the date of when he and Natalie first started dating, but below it he’d added 14.07.2018– the date of Natalie’s death.
I don’t know why in particular, but seeing that irked me. It made me think, do these people really treat suicide seriously? Do they really respect that their loved one had been going through a hard time, and had consequently taken their own life? I know for sure that Natalie’s boyfriend had only found out about her death that day, because I’d checked his profile previously and the RIP hadn’t been there. To me, it just seemed very insensitive of Natalie’s boyfriend to post her date of death right smack bang on this status box. Was the first thing he could think of after finding about his girlfriend-of-two-years death updating his status? Shouldn’t he be so grief-stricken that no one would be able to console him for a while, and he’d avoid social media all at once? Was it really important for him to add the date there, to proclaim to the whole world that someone close to him had died, right on the day he found out?
I’ll admit something: the guy who I’ve been mentioning in my recent blog posts…we’re more than friends. This is why I’m unable to understand the actions of Natalie’s boyfriend. If he had committed suicide, I would be absolutely devastated. I would be sobbing my eyes out at the thought of him, I would isolate myself from everyone, I wouldn’t be speaking to anyone, I wouldn’t have the motivation to do anything– I’d most likely sit in my room and stare into space, completely overwhelmed and numb. In fact…there’s the possibility that I’d attempt to take my own life too. Even to this day, when he speaks of his love and expresses how he’s literally staying alive for me, I’m reduced to a blubbering mess of tears and pain.
If I think hard enough about it, I guess I am able to find a hint of empathy for Natalie’s boyfriend. Being right at the age of this social media boom, it’s a thing of attachment for many people. Perhaps it was a way for him to cope with this sudden, heartbreaking news, or gaining attention from others reassured him not all hope was lost. Maybe he posted it publicly because that was really what he needed: people to notice his pain and provide him with words of encouragement. I know I’m most definitely not the right person to judge but…I honestly would not react in the same way.
This incident and the consequent thoughts I’ve had because of it made me question: is suicide really taken seriously these days? Yes, we have people like Anthony Bourdain and Avicii who were mourned over all over the world, and huge figures like that rake in all the understanding and sympathy from others (mostly, as far as I’m aware). But why is it that everyday victims of suicide are labelled as selfish, ungrateful and narrow-minded? Why can’t they receive the same amount of love and understanding that celebrities are so easily given? The day we found out about Natalie’s death, I wasn’t greeted with sad faces. Instead, I was greeted with gossiping, hearing her name thrown back and forth as if an object of great interest, with inconsiderate comments being made. People took her departure as an opportunity to talk about her, rather than respecting her closest friends and trying minimising all mentions of the incident. Countless times on social media have I seen a public announcement of someone’s death, followed by hundreds of mixed comments: some genuinely distressed and upset by the death, and others making harsh comments about how this person was ungrateful for their life and acted in a selfish manner.
Perhaps I’ve been brought to feel this way about others because of the insensitive attitude my mother has towards suicide. Even with my self-harming tendencies, she could not understand why I’d done what I’d done. When I told her that Joy had attempted to take her own life, she simply made a brutal comment followed by: “You better not do anything like that.” When a distant acquaintance of my sister’s jumped off a bridge, Mum was unable to comprehend what she called a “stupid reason” as to why he committed suicide. When Jonghyun of SHINee took his life, she suddenly became so engrossed in everything about him and began downloading old concerts, his music and basically researching the circumstances of his death for days. However, when an old school peer of mine passed away from cancer, she was in complete shock and sympathy over his death. I don’t understand this mindset, I really don’t. Sometimes, I wonder how she’d feel if I disappeared off the face of this earth. But I understand that this kind of insensitive mindset has been drilled into me since the day I was born, and I know that a lot of people do not feel this way towards suicide, which I am extremely grateful for.
What I’ve said above are my honest thoughts, and yes…I do acknowledge that I have been quite judgmental in making such comments. I apologize if any of what I’ve said has been of offence to you, and I’m willing to listen to anything you have to say. However, these thoughts have been on my mind since the day of Natalie’s death, and I’d really like to express them in hopes that people can understand where I’m coming from– as a fellow person who suffers from suicidal thoughts, and has a close friend whom I’m literally the reason he’s still here today.
Natalie, may you rest in peace. Though I did not know you well, I could tell that you were a bright, bubbly soul full of energy, and showered your peers in love and happiness. My sincere condolences to all of Natalie’s family and friends, and may you all recover well from this devastating incident. Best wishes to you all.