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Sometimes, especially when a person seems to have a satisfying life, we dismiss suicidal signals that would otherwise alert us. I know this first-hand.
Delia had a loving husband, two adorable and adoring young daughters, an 18th-century farmhouse filled with antiques. She was smart, kind, beautiful, active in the community and was revered in our Westchester County village, north of New York City.
When I moved to a nearby house with my first husband and two young sons, she came over with a bouquet of garden flowers to welcome us. I was charmed by her grace and warmth, and we soon became best friends.
Our families celebrated New Years at our homes, and we took our children trick-or-treating along the back roads of Westchester. We traded books, and started a monthly dinner where we prepared foods of the world. Delia and I supported each other, talked every day, laughed, shared dreams, confided about our fears.
But there was a terrible surprise, four years after we met. Without a clue to me, one sunny afternoon Delia took an overdose of pills. Her husband called our house in a stunned panic: He had found her unconscious in her bedroom and had tried to revive her in the shower, but she remained unconscious.
We rushed over, carried her to the front seat of our van, and sped to the nearby hospital. She was in a deep coma for several days, but came out of it.
Her first suicide attempt was a signal that we had to be extra diligent. I now realize that anyone can take their life without much warning, but that awareness, acceptance, correct professional treatments and hospitalization if needed, can prevent tragedy. — Lea Lane
The family decided to tell everyone except her immediate family that she had been hospitalized for an allergic reaction. And of course, everyone believed it. She seemed to have everything to live for.
I hadn’t seen that suicide attempt coming, but I was now one of very few people aware that she was fragile despite her good life. And when she seemed happy and successful again, I was relieved. It was what I wanted to see. She completed her master’s at Teachers College, Columbia University, and became a popular elementary school teacher.
Things were going well, and I felt no need to reopen the dreadful incident.
Six years after her suicide attempt, when her father became ill, Delia’s eyes seemed haunted to me, and she lost some weight. I was worried, but she said that she was seeing a psychiatrist, and was on meds. One time she admitted that she felt like she was in “a dark hole,” but she didn’t want to talk about it.
More and more she started doubting everything she did, and I felt we were losing her, but I didn’t know what to do. She was being treated, and I trusted in that, but back then, in 1982, anti-depressants were dispensed less efficiently than now.
And then in May, when the air was filled with the scent of lilacs — the weekend before Mother’s Day — Delia suddenly seemed happy again, camping out with her daughters by her pond. Strange behavior for her, but I wanted to think that she was coming out of her depression.
The next Monday morning a call from her housekeeper: “The police are here. Come quick!”
I lived two blocks away, and ran over to see my best friend being removed from her house in a body bag.
The door to her car was still open from when she had rushed home from teaching. She had overdosed, gone to bed to die, and this time, succeeded.
Delia’s husband suffered an agonizing commute back from New York City, knowing she was gone, but not wanting to know much more until he got home. I was with him when he told his daughters, who were 10 and 12.
And then I called her friends, who didn’t believe me. “She had everything,” they said. “Why would she take her life?”
They were trying to find a reason. But depression can be a terminal disease that doesn’t need an obvious “reason.” It can affect anyone, just like a heart attack or cancer.
Delia did leave a note. I never found out what it said. I do know that she loved her family, and would not have left them if she could have possibly endured.
A few years later William Styron, the author of Sophie’s Choice, came out with a thin book titled Darkness Visible. He wrote eloquently that medications, hospitalization and his deep love of classical music had helped him ward off a horrific depression. By reading this honest book I learned too late the true terror that my friend had faced.
Her first suicide attempt was a signal that we had to be extra diligent. I now realize that anyone can take their life without much warning, but that awareness, acceptance, correct professional treatments and hospitalization if needed, can prevent tragedy.
Delia’s husband never remarried. Her daughters grew up to be lovely women, like their mother. Delia’s photo is the only one on my living room table that is not of a relative. She remains forever the dear friend with everything, who left us at 37.
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