Today my friend Scott Klein posted tragic news – the suicide of Bob Bergeron, a vibrant NYC gay man, author and therapist – and seemingly a very happy person.
Although I didn’t know Mr. Bergeron personally, I’ve struggled with suicidal compulsions all of my life – and, as someone who is also a healer, the story resonates deeply.
My first suicide attempt was at age 14. At the last minute, my parents refused to allow me to throw a birthday party I’d planned to hold in the basement for my dear friend Elaine – who I secretly loved.
Furious at my parents and filled with self-loathing due to internalized homophobia, I grabbed a huge black-handled dagger that my mother kept in the kitchen drawer, and headed back down to the basement. I kneeled on the floor weeping, with the sharp tip of the silver blade pointed into my belly.
I could see no way out of the pain.
I pushed the knife against my skin, but lacked whatever it takes to do the deed. It was the first of many attempts – all inspired by similar circumstances; the need to be accepted and understood, the fear of not being able to give or receive love from another woman, and through the years, many breakups.
Much later, as a young adult living in Washington DC, my friend Marge Rosen and I would sit around talking about suicide and how we might accomplish it one day. I learned some years later that she was found dangling at the end of a rope flung over a chin-up bar in her apartment. Afterwards, when asked what I wanted of Marges few possesions, I inherited her juicer, and vowed to make fresh concoctions that would sustain my physical health.
In 1985, after a breakup from an 8-year relationship that also meant the dissolution of my theatre company, I was at wit’s end about how to survive.
I found myself standing in the bathroom atop my toilet, rope around my neck, throwing the other end over a water pipe on the ceiling. Determined that this time I would actually do it, and with one foot off the toilet … I had a flash – a lighting vision of my next life.
I saw a clear image of myself as a mother, crying, desolate – upon hearing the news of her 14-year-old daughter’s death – a suicide.
I could no longer take that leap into the unknown, into what might be my next life – a fate seemingly worse than my present one and perhaps determined by this deadly action.
After a more recent breakup, I made a plan for the disposal of my property, including a caregiver for my beloved dog “Zuli.” During a lucid moment, I hid my knives in the basement so at least I’d have to go through the process of uncovering them, which I hoped might allow me the crucial time necessary to reconsider.
During that time, my friend and former client Rebecca Joy Fletcher called me almost every single day to make sure that I was safe – talking with me for hours upon end. She listened with endless patience as I tried again and again to figure out what I could have done differently to save the relationship. It was Rebecca’s consistent friendship that kept me from harms way.
As someone who loves life and is filled with passion for a seemingly endless list of all things creative, someone with so much to live for and people who care deeply about me – I still struggle after every breakup, feeling the loss of love as a threat to my very survival.
When I read stories of suicides, stories of the passing of people like Bob Bergeron who the New York Times described as “relentlessly cheery … [with] absolutely no history of clinical depression.” … I am filled with not only sadness for the individual and all of his dear friends and loved ones, but I also think of myself and how alternately strong and joyous, vulnerable and weak I am. I work hard doing everything I can to ensure that after the inevitable next breakup – that same headline won’t be mine.
I’ve been working on an “It Gets Better” article to inspire young LGBT people to stick it out and stay alive through the awful torments of youth. Yes, it does “get better,” but sometimes scars are so deep and painful we face that pain of youth lifelong. Even when the bullying stops, even when we begin to love ourselves deeply, we are often left with self-destructive thought patterns and fearful beliefs. For some of us, it takes a lifetime of conscious effort to stay alive.
Lest this post cause my friends to rush to their phones to check in on me – I’m fine now and there is NO cause for concern.
I write this post not to draw attention to my struggle, but rather to encourage everyone to cherish friendships and renew them regularly.
I know it’s been said countless times in so many ways and it may seem trite to repeat these thoughts now. But no matter how trite it sounds, we must remember that it is crucial to love one another, not for what we do or what we have, or what we have accomplished, but for who we are.
Today, I urge you – take the time to let family and friends know you care. Reach out, especially to those of us who don’t have primary partners to share our daily ups and downs. Be there for your friends who are going through crises.
No, we can’t live other people’s lives or take responsibility for them – maybe no one could have prevented Bob Bergeron’s suicide. And yes, ultimately each one of us is alone in our darkest hours. But our love can create a serene landscape, a safe ground upon which our friends walk.
Let them know, let them feel your caring as solid holy ground.
Judith Z. Miller
(c) April 1, 2012
Artist Soul Speaks