This post is dedicated to “Us Four”. Always in my thoughts, forever in my heart.
Jennifer and I met in a small town in Texas and went to high school together. A class behind me, she was a talented artist, competitive runner and one of my best friends. She is frequently in my thoughts and came to mind on again on August 7th. That was her birthday. She would have been 42.
I left Texas soon after graduating and attended college on the east coast. Having made many fun memories as goofy teenagers, Jennifer and I weren’t going to let a little bit of distance end our friendship. In the early 1990s, we kept in touch through letters and phone calls. When I could, I would return to Texas to visit. I always enjoyed meeting up with Jennifer and another best friend of ours who was still in town. On those trips, for the week or so that we were back together, life was good. But, when I went back to college, I would get a nagging feeling.
That nagging feeling would oftentimes be correct. Jennifer revealed in letters that she’d slipped back into depression. She’d experienced bouts of heavy depression that would cripple her. Some bouts lasted a few days; others took weeks to overcome. In her letters Jennifer promised me that I shouldn’t worry. Of course I did—Jennifer had struggled with depression almost as long as I’d known her which included much of high school. I made sure to follow up with a phone call after receiving one of Jennifer’s depressing letters. Thankfully, she’d have bounced back by the time I’d called to check on her.
Over the next year or so, as fewer letters were written and shorter phone calls were made, distance had finally wedged itself in. I was busy with school projects, worked part-time and was involved in a new social scene. Life was in full swing for me. Sadly, it was plummeting in reverse for Jennifer. Unaware of what she was going through, a friend sent news that Jennifer had passed away. The news of her death came after the funeral. It was too late for me to help.
Jennifer’s death, one that was self-inflicted, haunted me for many years. I don’t know if it was shock, or that I refused to believe that she was gone, or if it was because I didn’t have closure to say good bye, but I had a hard time believing that her life was over. As hard as it was to accept that she was gone, part of me was not surprised though.
Jennifer’s depression was well known in our small circle of friends. She’d made other suicide attempts in high school, but they’d failed. As grown up as I thought I was at 16-years old, nothing prepared me to live through terrifying moments of finding a note telling us that life was not worth living. Three of us stayed close to Jennifer ready to catch her when she fell. We didn’t like to think about or talk about what Jennifer was going through, but I knew we should just in case more dark thoughts entered her mind. Thinking to myself, will she or won’t kill herself today became part of life.
Every one of my Jennifer’s suicide attempt rattled me to my core, but I always tried to remain strong on the outside even though I trembled like a small child on the inside. In reflecting on Jennifer’s death and why it took me so long to come to terms with it reminded me of other events in my life. Like how it took me so long to believe that my own child’s vaccine injury was real. That may not sound like it could be compared to suicide, but just like how I tried to understand why Jennifer’s depression racked her mentally, emotionally and physically, it took a great amount effort for me to understand, and accept, just how real and crippling vaccine injury could also be.