Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last October, my childhood friend Satto killed himself in his dorm room at MIT. Satto asphyxiated himself, and no one cared to notice his absence from class or the odor trickling out of his single throughout that week.
Over two million people will die this year in the United States. Families and friends will host funerals, memorials, church-services, and many other events in honor of lives lost. Throughout the year, however, we Swatties will remain. Even if we go home for a short period of time for a funeral, we still mourn here, at Swarthmore.
So, how do we mourn at Swat?
When Satto died, I was angry. I was not angry that Satto killed himself; I came to terms with suicide a few years ago when my friend Hilary hanged herself, at age 23, after a long battle with borderline personality disorder. I understand that suicide is a remedy for pain. I was angry with MIT’s staff and student body for their insolence and disregard of their students.
Why did no one find Satto in his room until at least three days after he died?
It was with this question and frustration in my mind that I closed my computer and continued through my day, talking to no one about Satto.
After two months at Swarthmore, I still didn’t know to whom I could turn to talk. Even if I had, I would still have to go about my usual Swat routine. What was my other option? Abandoning my class work and my extracurricular activities? And, for what? For tending to my own emotional wellbeing by mourning an old friend? That often does not seem like a legitimate pursuit at Swarthmore.
So instead of mourning, I fell back on my anger with MIT. I avoided thinking deeply about Satto’s suicide and instead raged MIT’s policies, or lack thereof. I felt better about Satto’s death understanding that, at Swarthmore, if one of my peers were missing, his RA, professors, or peers would at least notice.
But, what are we, as students, doing here at Swarthmore to help those in mourning? Are we showing people that, no matter how minute their woe may seem, they can and should seek the support of their peers? And what does this support look like?
Swarthmore has many programs that promote mental prosperity – we have CAPs, S2S, the Wellness Center, a generally open administration, and our RAs.
But our student culture doesn’t promote the long-term healing of others; often, we try to help by looking for immediate solutions. As friends of people in mourning, we still need to move on to our schoolwork, our extracurricular activities, and our measly five hours of sleep. From what I have experienced, the quick fix for us seems to be an attempt to cheer up our friend.
When Satto died, however, I didn’t need cheering up. I needed someone to steer me towards my pain.
In numerous instances, my friends have listened to me or consoled me. Having someone sit down and be OK with my leaving a conversation still sad, or perhaps more despairing than before, however, has been rare. Why can’t we be satisfied with just listening to someone, or with asking them tough questions that might delve deeper into their sorrow?
Sad emotions are something like a cut that’s filled with grit and bacteria. Instead of just covering that cut up with a band-aid, so the skin can grow over and the bacteria can fester and later cause an infection, we should clean it out. Ridding the cut of bacteria with hydrogen peroxide will sting at first, but in the long run the scarring and complications will be minimal. Addressing mental health and mourning is much the same.
Satto’s death didn’t shock me. But his death did trigger my memory of Hilary’s death and my fears associated with death and suicide. When I was thinking of these things, I didn’t try to deal with the real problems, the real fears, the real emotions; I didn’t seek disinfectant to clean my cut. I let things fester. What I needed was someone to sit down with me and encourage me to understand the pain. I needed someone to push me to address the situation– push me to feel.
Mourning death at college is hard. Helping is hard too. Perhaps, we as consolers have a responsibility to change our attitude. What would mourning look like if we were to encourage our friends to plunge into the dark cavern of their own emotions knowing we would be there to help them navigate back out?
When you consider the losses you’ve experienced, or the sadness you’ve felt, how would it feel to have your cuts cleansed, to face your pain and let yourself heal?
Find any S2S Peer Counselor if you want to talk confidentially about anything. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The number connects you to a counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7. Calls are confidential and free.