I lost my longtime friend to suicide. I’ll never recover.
Lookout columnist Claudia Sternbach is mourning the loss of her friend of almost four decades, who took his own life last month. Here, she shares her grief, sense of helplessness and hope that her friend has found “some kind of peace.”
Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.
Walking through JFK’s Terminal 5 in New York City last month, I noticed a flock of birds, starlings perhaps, flitting and flying inside the building, going from gate to gate as if searching for a way out. This obviously was not where they wanted to be. They belonged outside where they could feel the freedom they desired.
I thought of my friend Eddy. The pain still raw, I was functioning on autopilot.
He had left me at the airport just days ago. Now, he was gone. Forever. He had found his “way out” and I — and all who love him — are left to mourn. The permanence feels overwhelming.
After checking in at my gate, I watched the small birds dip and swirl over the heads of wingless travelers who soon would escape the terminal and fly off to various destinations around the world. There was some kind of irony there, but I couldn’t nail it down. It had been a long, sad, sleepless night, and I was too exhausted to be creative in my thinking.
It wasn’t that I was numb; quite the opposite. I was an exposed nerve ending feeling entirely too much.
One week earlier, on a cool Wednesday morning, Eddy, the friend I always counted on for rides over the hill and for so much more — took me to the airport and, as always, made fun of me for loving a place as busy and bustling as New York. What could I possibly like about it, he always asked. He, who had never been there. I decided then and there that I would fill my phone with pictures to text him to prove its magic.
After a tight hug and a promise to see each other the following week, he hopped back into his big, red truck and I hopped on to my JetBlue flight and that was that.
The following Tuesday morning, my dear friend Becky, Eddy’s wife, called with the terrible, unspeakable news. The kind of news of which nightmares are made.
Need assistance with mental health resources?
For those in need for themselves or a loved one, here is a starting point for help with suicidal thoughts and to connect with mental health services:
* National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call or text 988
* Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741
* Santa Cruz County Behavioral Health Services: Find a wide range of prevention and treatment options for Santa Cruz County adults, children and families here
* NAMI Santa Cruz County: Connect with mental health support services in English and Spanish by calling 831-427-8020 or clicking here
* Encompass Community Services: Find counseling, support and more here
Eddy, my funny friend who loved adventures and motorcycle rides up the coast, sometimes with me on the back, which shows how much I trust him. Eddy, who loved flying his plane over the curve of the bay and enjoying burgers at the pub with his buddies. Eddy, my decades-long friend.
How could he be gone from this Earth? How could this be? My phone was filled with pictures I still wanted to send. But where?
For months, Eddy had been struggling with depression. We, his friends and family, watched as — like the starlings inside the terminal — he searched for a way out. A way to find some kind of peace.
We listened when he wanted to talk. We worried when we couldn’t find a direction in which to point him. I was reminded of when I once trapped a bee in a jar to release it in the yard. In the short time it was confined, it batted against the glass with fury.
I could see the fury building up in Eddy. Many of us could. We just could not find the solution, the safe exit from his pain and frustration. From the dark place in which he was residing.
It had been a lovely morning in New York. I had spent time in Central Park and then wandered the Metropolitan Museum, both places I consider to be heaven on Earth. As I left the park at the south end and began walking north to my hotel, Becky texted me, then called.
Eddy, dear Eddy, had found his exit.
There was a gun in a locked box in Eddy’s house for as long as I can remember. I worried about it. But put it out of my mind, or tried to.
I mentioned it to Eddy more than once. The fact that I hated it being there. But always, he assured me it was safe and locked up tight and no one but he had the combination. And that, my friends, does not ensure safety.
Because Ed was the person who, at times, had such deep depression that to add a gun to the mix was a dangerous combination. A deadly combination, it turns out. I wish he could have found comfort or direction in a therapist’s office. But he couldn’t.
My dear friend is gone. And we, the people who loved him, are left to try to understand why. And if we could have done more. And I for one will always wonder what else I could have done.
Please don’t think that I have some kind of savior complex. I know I was only one piece of the beautiful mosaic of friends and family that was Eddy’s life. But oh, how I am haunted. Oh, how I am broken. As is everyone in his family as well as his chosen family.
After a long flight home, my husband, Michael, scooped me up at the airport and we just clung to each other. He loved Ed, too.
I could feel his shoulders shake as he sobbed. As we sobbed. That night, I was never so happy to sleep next to him in my life.
The next morning, Michael told me to be careful opening the front door. In fact to avoid it if I could.
A mama bird, perhaps a finch, had built a nest right in the dried berry wreath that hangs there. A wreath I hung at Christmas a decade or two ago and just never took down. The nest had three tiny eggs in it. The small mama sat on top of the eggs, looking out at our front yard.
I put a sign on our front gate asking people to refrain from coming in and knocking. I was determined to see this small family survive. Several times a day, I looked through the peephole in the door and watched the mama as she protected her soon-to-be babies. I watched as her heart beat rapidly, her head turned at the slightest noise.
I realize that about 50% of nests are not successful. I know that no matter what I did or what I hoped for, it was out of my hands. But, at least I wanted to be able to tell myself I had done the best for these little, warm-blooded vertebrates with feathers.
Two days later, despite all my efforts and hopes, the nest did fail. This never was going to end happily.