Hump Day: It’s our duty and solace to carry on after tragedy

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

In the past week or so, four young people have died unexpectedly. I did not know them personally, but thanks to social media, I know people who knew them (or their families) and who have been deeply affected by these sudden and tragic losses.

These four young people, all males, were between the ages of four and 27. They left behind families, friends, clients, teammates, classmates and coworkers who shared their emotions online ranging from grief to shock, anger, bewilderment and guilt.

The deaths of two of them were caused by bizarre outside forces that left people shaking their heads in disbelief. One took his own life, while another — seemingly perfectly healthy – just collapsed and died. More shock and disbelief. No one saw any of these sudden passings coming. There was no way anyone could. How can anyone predict being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or know what someone who was so positive on the outside was dealing with an insurmountable (at least to them) mountain of pain inside? Or what of a hidden health defect that previously went undetected?

My Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds have been filled with messages from grief-stricken people for the past 10 days. The range of emotions has ranged all over the map, as could be expected.

But probably the most difficult emotion to deal with in situations like this is guilt. We feel guilty because we want to feel in control of a situation — that there was somehow a way to predict or stop what happened. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that the only way to prevent bad things from happening is to stay in a room, lock the door and wear a suit of armour — or become a psychic.

I know a few people who’ve committed suicide. None of them were complete shockers. They’d either attempted before, suggested that it was an option for them at some point or suffered from depression so severe and uncontrolled that it was perhaps inevitable. That sounds like horrible thing to write, doesn’t it? That suicides are sometimes inevitable. Well, from my objective vantage point on the far outskirts of these people’s lives, I was not surprised. Sad for them, of course. Very sad. But short of putting a person behind bars with 24/7 surveillance, how is someone supposed to prevent these things from happening, especially if they don’t seem to want help?

Then there are the suicides that are complete and utter blindsides. No one saw it coming. The person seemed happy and healthy. And then boom! I have to admit, I’ve never had someone close to me in my everyday life commit suicide (other than casual acquaintances or a university friend I hadn’t seen in years). The pain these people go through must be just indescribable. When you see death as the only option, it’s a despair that I’ve never experienced and I hope that I never do.

In the end, life is too short. Tomorrow is promised to no one. Get out there and live. Get out there and experience the world. Be kind to others. This all sounds like a bunch of clichés, I know, but it’s true. When you get that telephone call with bad news that changes your life, it’s difficult to rewind for a do-over.

Bad things happen. We can’t stop them, but we can make sure they don’t define us. Is there anything sadder than someone who stops living because they’re too grief-stricken to carry on; the left-behind spouse, the devastated mother or father, the siblings who are now missing a part of themselves? We owe it to ourselves and to those taken too suddenly to keep moving on. The best revenge for tragedy is to push through and survive — and thrive.

The suicide of a university friend 10 years ago was not in vain. His passing brought together friends who had moved on with their careers and children. Today, we are all closer because of it. We’re very open about how he died. He died of depression. We refuse to whisper it or hide it like it’s something to be swept under the carpet like a deep dark secret. He’d made attempts before. Unfortunately, his last one was successful.

All his friends can do now is to remember him. We talk of him often and laugh. We remember the good times and his witty sayings. He was quite a character. Certainly, when I knew him back in university, he wasn’t someone I would have ever pegged to commit suicide 20 years later, but a combination of bad luck and depression was just enough to eventually push him into making a decision that would leave him dead and friends and family grief-stricken.

We’re still sad that he’s gone, mind you, but now we can remember him with a smile. Whenever we have a university reunion, we always make sure the DJ plays Dancing Queen by ABBA and the dance floor fills with friends holding hands (and maybe a few drinks) and singing along — and remembering our old friend George. We’re happy to remember, but there’ll always be that pang of sadness, I have to admit.

Here’s a good philosophy to live by. I read this over the weekend and it’s my new favourite quote. “Get even with people… but not those who have hurt us; forget them. Instead, get even with those who have helped us.” (Steve Maraboli). Sounds like a pretty good way to live, doesn’t it?

I hope I have the opportunity of “getting even” with people for a long, long time. And I hope you do, too.

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