Suicide: No One Ever Sees It Coming

Patient Expert

I am reading an email attachment. The words are chilling. "Sophy" is recounting a near-death experience:

"I sit outside, on the cement ledge looking down on the train tracks, my feet swinging softly over the track, making imaginary circles."

Sophy is at Princeton Junction Station, in New Jersey. It is past midnight. She is contemplating the unthinkable. A southbound AMTRAK train just roared through the station as she was approaching the platform. Now she will have to wait.

Strangely, she feels at peace. In just one hour, life will yield its burden.

"Are you OK?"

It is a police officer, someone she actually recognizes from college. She allows him to take her hand. He escorts her back to her car.

Two years later, I would enter Sophy's life. Soon after, both of us met Kevin. He walked into our support group one night, sat down, and introduced himself. It was the beginning of a fast friendship. It didn't take long before Kevin was helping facilitate the group. He was only in his mid-twenties, but infinitely wise beyond his years. His inner light could power a small city for a day. He had that way about him. He was a genuine one-in-a-million.

I last saw Kevin two years ago. My marriage had broken up. I was leaving New Jersey. He was in the same room we had met nearly three years before, same table, probably same seat. We parted with tears in our eyes. I felt his goodness, pure goodness.

Next day, Sophy drove me to the Princeton Junction station. We hugged, then I headed to the southbound platform. The circle of completion.

Fast forward nearly two years. A message is on my answering machine. It is Sophy. The news is too horrible to take in: Kevin had thrown himself in front of a train. Princeton Junction station, just a bit south of it, past midnight. But this time, there was no police officer to take his hand.

Suicide incubates in the brain. It may take weeks. It may take decades. Those of us who live with depression or bipolar disorder describe the feeling as something akin to wanting to go to sleep and never waking up. If suicide weren't so damned permanent - if you could just be dead for a little while - I probably would have attempted it several times by now.

But to die, and stay dead. Sadly, one million people worldwide choose that option every year. The number is probably much higher, owing to "accident" or reckless behavior.

Not all of us are good at hiding our depressions. But we're fairly adept at keeping our suicidal thoughts to ourselves. Occasionally, a hint may slip out, something out of character, something that becomes obvious in hindsight. But really, no one ever sees it coming. No one.

Kevin, there was no way anyone could see it coming. It came out of the night with the force of a train headed into Princeton Junction station.