We've got my niece at the house today, which means that I get to take her adventuring with me in the woods. She and I do this a lot. It's kind of our 'thing' when she's here. Today, we went to visit the Great Swamp (which isn't actually there, all of a sudden, and we're not sure why, though you can see where the water once stood, and it's still very wet, so maybe it'll come back) and then on to where I'd found a pig skull earlier this year. It was still fleshy and in need of the attention of scavenger beetles, so I'd left it, hoping to return later and get it. Because, well, I don't have a pig skull and bones are so awesome. I know, I'm weird.
Anyway, off the two of us went, discussing what we were looking for, and what we might find. There is something glorious about jaunting with small kids. Everything is new to them, and it reminds you that even if you're looking at something you've known about and understood for decades, it's still just as amazing and awesome now as it was when you first discovered it. You've just slowly forgotten how to see the amazingness and awesomeness. I virtually never go out in the woods that I don't think of the literal years my twin sister and I have spent out in them running feral. I also never go out in them that I don't think of Eddie Coles.
I didn't know Eddie all that well, but I sure was fond of him. Tall and lean, with a shock of snow white hair. He was in his forties, I guess, and I was in my early twenties. A coworker at the farm had grown up knowing him, and in the horse world, everyone knows everybody in the manner of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Anyway. Eddie had an easy way about him, a good laugh. Horses loved him, and he had that elusive touch when it came to training and working with them.
Then, one day Eddie went missing. When we got to work, my friend who'd grown up knowing him arrived bleary eyed and exhausted. She'd been part of the search crew who'd been looking for him since the prior afternoon. That was how I found out he was missing. The area where the farm is located is a network of sprawling ancient estates, and old houses, but it's a close community. Most people have lived there for years, if not generations. They'd all been looking for Eddie since the prior afternoon. We went to work as usual, but opened one of the barns which wasn't in use, so that members of the search party could stall their horses and rest them. The farm was just two farms down from Eddie's place, so we saw a lot of those searching for him.
Eventually, they found Eddie up on the ridge, sitting against a fallen log, facing the east to watch the sunrise. His wrists had been cut, deeply and without hesitation. He was dead.
What I didn't know about Eddie, was that behind the easiness, the smiles and laughter and gentle hand with the horses, he suffered from depression. And he'd been fighting it for years. I have been depressed, but I've never suffered from depression. Not even close. Nor have I felt the side effects of medicine that's supposed to help the depression, but often causes all sorts of other problems. Back then, I knew even less than I know now. At that time, all I understood, was that for reasons I didn't understand, Eddie had gotten tired of dealing with the depression, the drugs, the therapy, the everything, and he'd decided that he'd rather be dead, than keep dealing with it. I cried because Eddie was gone, but I remember distinctly thinking 'But that must have been nice, sitting there watching the sunrise, and looking out over the land you love so much. I wouldn't mind going out like that.'
Of course, I didn't mean it would be nice to cut your wrists and kill yourself. But even then I didn't blame Eddie, or get mad at him for doing what he did. He'd done something that I couldn't (and, for the most part, still can't) imagine doing. But the way I saw it, he chose his own path, and I didn't have any right to an opinion about it.
Now, I'm older, I understand more about depression, and the fact that it's not as simple as making a choice. But since then, my Mother's cousin has committed suicide, and I've had other experiences with it. In my Mother's cousin's case, she was diagnosed with ALS (love the ice bucket challenge stuff!) and the disease was progressing very quickly. She chose suicide over succumbing to the disease. I get that. I would too, I think. I simply would rather die the way I choose to, than in a hospital bed like that. Many people choose to live with ALS. Maybe they're stronger than me. But I know I don't want to go out like that.
Since Robin Williams' shocking death (and I think it was shocking mostly because even though many people, me included, knew that he had his demons, we just never pictured Robin deciding to not fight them) there has been a huge avalanche of opinions on suicide. Some folks have called it the 'cowards way to go' some folks have said he didn't even understand what he was doing, because the depression had taken over. I think neither one was probably the case. Robin wasn't a coward. If he was, he'd have never flung himself before the American public into showbiz the way he did. And I don't think the depression had robbed him of his understanding of things. He was much too strong for that. I think that the only thing we can know for sure about Robin, and the choice he made, is that we'll never know quite what it was like to be Robin and have that choice to make. Just like I'll never know exactly what it was like to be Eddie, and have the choice he had to make.
Suicide is a funny unpredictable thing. You might stop on the street and tell a total stranger how nice they look, and your remark might be the one thing that makes her decide not to take too many sleeping pills that night when she gets home. You might smile at someone in the park, or make them laugh when you lose your shoe playing in the puddles with your niece, and that afternoon when he's sitting there looking at the handgun on the table in front of him, he hear your laughter and decide to put it back in the cabinet. And then maybe it's someone you know. Someone you love. Someone you've told of your love many times. Someone you've held and stood by. And it still isn't enough to keep them from deciding not to go on. Suicide is a twisted thing.
For me, I will always love Robin. I'll love Eddie and anyone else who chooses to do something I wouldn't choose. I will love them while I have them, do everything I can to keep them as long as I can, for as long there is something I can do to help them stay. But when, if, they suddenly aren't there, I will not blame them, I will not rage at them, nor will I blame myself, or rage at myself because I did not somehow stop them from leaving. I will just look back and know that I loved them, that they knew that I loved them, and that both of us did all that we could.
So, now I'm back to picking up pig bones (or not, because we never found the pig skull) and tree bones (my niece's knew term for sticks and logs) and turning over rocks, catching praying mantises, playing in puddles and dragging home acorns, nuts, stones, moss, and a myriad of bones. Eddie would have loved this kid. I like to think Robin would have too. I honor them by teaching her to love the outdoors, the sunrise, to laugh, even at the things that hurt, and to never lose her own little spark of madness.