I should have replied.
By Jessica Debowski-Yu
*Warning: this blog post may contain content that is triggering to some readers.
On June 13th of this year, I received the worst possible news a person could. I was at work when an unrecognizable number from the Netherlands appeared on my phone. A man on the other side of the line asked, “Hello, is this Jessica?”
Feeling skeptical about the caller, I answered “Maybe, what is this regarding?” - to which he replied, “Jessica, I need you to sit down.”
The rest of the phone call was a blur. Amid snippets of the blur, I remember running into my supervisor’s office speaking incoherently and immediately bursting into tears.
San was an ambitious and talented young man with a passion for space exploration, technology, entrepreneurship, juggling, scuba-diving, and anything else under the sun. Out of all people I’ve encountered, it’s often difficult to find another person who embraced life the way he did. We met during summer school in 2016, where we became friends and eventually grew into more than friends. He lived in the Netherlands, and, at the time, I was splitting my time between China and Australia.
We had been communicating on and off since August 2016. Every now and then, we would exchange messages and catch up briefly, updating each other on the details of our lives since summer school. But those interactions slowly faded from every now and then to once in a blue moon. At that point, I still had feelings for San but felt I should move on, so I decided the best thing would be to cut off communication with him until I was ready to be friends again.
On Christmas, I received a message on LinkedIn from San. And although I had made sense of our romantic interactions and moved on, I was unsure as to how to best rekindle our friendship. It was refreshing to speak with him again, and to learn about his startup, how his new job had been going, and so on. I felt comfortable dabbling at this level without going much deeper.
What I didn’t realize was that just because you once had feelings for a person, you are free to still care about them in a platonic way.
The last message San sent me was on April 21st, 2019. I didn’t reply.
He was admitted into a mental health clinic around April 30th, 2019.
He committed suicide on June 5th, 2019.
At first, I reacted like any other person would upon receiving this news. I believed it to be a joke, or that I was in a dream. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that someone I cared about had taken his life.
Why would he do that?
What could I have done better?
Did I make a mistake in not talking about the past?
What was going through his mind?
Why didn’t I ask him how he was really doing?
I should have replied.
It has now been three months since San’s passing, and my focus has shifted towards remembering the wonderful experiences that we shared together. Instead of dwelling on what I could have or should have done, I am choosing to think about the places we traveled to and the people we met along the way. Although he is gone, his love for life and vibrance is something that our friends and I hope to carry forward through life.
I’ve been very fortunate to receive amazing support from my partner, family, and friends. Without their support, it would have been very difficult to not let my thoughts snowball. My partner in particular was very understanding and took great care of me when it was rough, for which I am very grateful.
I am speaking with a professional on a regular basis, trying to be kinder to myself in all aspects of life, trying to take better care of my mental and physical health, and making time to journal furiously if I feel the need to.
Occasionally, I still wonder what would have happened if I had messaged back; I still wonder if I could have made any difference. Occasionally, I still think to myself, I should have replied.
If you or someone you love needs help, you're not alone. Confidential help is available for free. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
For additional resources on warning signs of suicide visit: https://afsp.org/campaigns/national-suicide-prevention-week-2019/