My friend and work colleague Kate hanged herself on August 30, 2007. We were in Chicago at our annual editorial meeting. When she didn’t show up for breakfast, I was slightly concerned. But since we were scheduled to leave in the early afternoon, I figured she was still packing. Then she didn’t show up for the meeting, and calls to her room went unanswered.
Kate had a history of anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and bulimia. So when one of the people who had gone to her room to check on her returned to the conference room in tears, I knew that she’d killed herself. Hanging was a surprise, though; I would have bet on pills.
One of the nurses broke the news to me. I work for a healthcare magazine, so there are always nurses around. She did it well: reached out, took my hand, and said, “Lisa, Kate hanged herself. The police want to talk to you because you were the last person to see her alive.”
I was taken to a room a couple doors down from Kate’s, and two detectives asked questions like they do on TV crime shows. It was a surrealistic experience. I remember kind of looking down on the conversation and registering that they were being really nice to me. After that, I called Cee (who works for the same company) to tell her about Kate. She already knew because the office grapevine really does kick ass. I remember some salesguy who I didn’t know chatting to me in the limo on the way to the airport, keeping me grounded and present. And I remember looking for a book to read on the plane home and discovering how many mysteries feature someone who’d hanged him- or herself and thinking how I wouldn’t have even noticed 24 hours before.
It’s weird when someone commits suicide. I felt guilty, of course. The night she did it, Kate and I had ditched the group dinner and gone out by ourselves. I had a really nice time. We enjoyed our meal, and Kate even had dessert. The conversation flowed, and we had a lot of laughs. I went back to my room and called Cee and told her how nice it had been. And while I was literally dancing around the room in my underwear singing the “only one more day of this meeting and I get to go home” song, Kate was hanging herself. Did she try to call me when I was on the phone with Cee? While I was celebrating? I was never told the time of death, so I guess I’ll always wonder.
Kate was one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with. Not only was she good at turning piles of crap into readable articles, but she could answer any grammar or punctuation question ever put to her. She was my secret weapon, the person I called when I ran up against a stubborn sentence or when I needed validation that something didn’t make sense. She was so intelligent that it was flattering that she thought I was smart enough to be her friend. And she loved to laugh.
At first, it was hard for me to remember she’d died. I’d have her number half dialed, and then my brain would kick in. I cried a lot at first. And then I got angry. And I’m still not exactly pleased with her. She could have said something at dinner. But she sat there and fucking smiled and laughed and acted like she was having a good time. See, still angry.
I wish she were still alive. I miss her. I’m lonelier because she’s not around.
If Kate were alive, I’d make sure she had a Twitter account. She would love some of the funny people I follow and get a kick out of the bad grammar tips from @FakeAPStylebook and the workplace antics from @27bslash6.
If Kate were alive, I’d invite her to visit again. Last time, we visited historical sites in Philadelphia and ate cheesesteaks. If I had another chance, I’d keep her in the house and listen to her and talk to her and show her that someone cared about her. I’d go to Florida and visit her, too.
If Kate were alive, I’d make a John Barrowman fan out of her. I’d make her watch Doctor Who and Torchwood — or at least Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, which is so bad it’s good. She would have laughed herself sick watching the shark feed on anything that got in its way (including a small boat).
If Kate were alive, I’d make sure I got her the funniest birthday and Christmas cards I could find. And I’d send her funny “just because” cards, too.
If Kate were alive, I’d do whatever I had to do to get her back on her meds. She called me one day and said she wasn’t going to take them anymore because she’d read they could eventually hurt her liver. I asked her to investigate other options, but I didn’t really follow up because I felt awkward discussing her mental illness with her. Screw awkward. I should have followed up. I should have been more forceful. I should have hounded her until she found a new psychologist after the one she was seeing moved.
I should have done a lot of things. And I’d do them now, if I had the chance. But I don’t. She’s gone. And she didn’t say good-bye or leave a note.
I have no illusions about how many people read this blog. I’m no Neil Gaiman or Stephen Fry. But if I actually tagged it correctly and someone who is considering killing him- or herself is reading this, please don’t do it. You will be missed. There is someone out there, like me, who will grieve for you and whose life will feel empty because you’re not in it. Take the last ounce of energy you have and call someone. If you don’t know who to call, try 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 08457 90 90 90 and let a professional give you some advice.
This isn’t the usual kind of thing I write about, and I’m feeling kind of uncomfortable about posting it. More than most things I write, I feel like it should be perfect because the topic is so important to me. Know who would have been the ideal person to help me with it? Kate.
Photo by WillBurton2.