We just had returned from my father-in-law’s funeral when I got the call. Brenda had methodically planned and executed her own death through a combination of alcohol and prescription pain medicine. She had taped down the blinds around her house, colored her hair, and made herself comfortable. She did not leave a note, but left a list of people to call. My name was on the list.
Brenda had been my best friend when we both were graduate students and young professionals in Cincinnati. Brenda was the friend who told you the truth, even when it was painful, and had your back. She was fiercely protective and thoughtful and had a great sense of humor. We remained friends over the years even when we moved to different cities.
A year before she died, Brenda made a comment that disturbed me. She said once her dad passed, she really wouldn’t have anyone who would be in the world for her. We talked through this, and I told her that her many friends would always be there for her. I didn’t realize the full extent of her feelings.
After the shock of her death wore off, I decided to research causes of suicide and found the book Why People Die by Suicide by Thomas E. Joiner. His book noted factors that many suicide victims experience prior to their deaths. Three of those factors affected Brenda: feeling alone and isolated (Brenda was single and lived far away from her dad, who had remarried), having chronic pain (Brenda had badly injured her neck several months before and was on pain medication), and feeling like a burden (Brenda had lost her job and was unemployed).
Losing Brenda put a hole in my heart. The only way for me to make any sense of it has been to do whatever I can to help people like Brenda who struggle with feelings of loss or desperation.
- Bridget Guernsey Riordan