Today I saw a poster-sized portrait of a stunningly gorgeous dark-skinned woman as it sat perched atop a very generic looking off white casket. I saw this while in a large church with well over 500 people in attendance (I must say I went to this same church on communion Sunday four days ago and there were more people in there today than there were then). The beautiful lady who was the subject of the ceremony was once very loveable. As an adolescent she was very loud, very goofy, very blunt—in essence she was very hood. As an adult she made a living applying make-up at the mac store in San Francisco. She was 33 years old, and she shot herself in the head.
She left behind two sons. She had the eldest with a young man who I played Pop Warner football with, went to school with, and in our early 20’s we worked as skycaps together at the Oakland International Airport. In 2012 this childhood friend was shot to death during an alleged traffic dispute in West Oakland. In 1996, however, we were all good kids trying (and some succeeding) to be bad at King Estates Junior High School. That’s where their relationship began. He wanted to be way harder than he actually was and she wanted to have way more attitude than she actually did. He was the only one that could handle her (I, like so many others, tried and failed). So it worked for them.
It worked up until they finished high school and had a son together. Then they split a few years later. While he and I were working at the airport I told him that I bumped into the mother of his child. He asked me how she was. I didn’t really understand the question. I responded with, “Cool I guess.” And then he began speaking to me about her mental illness. I laughed in shock because he presented the information as if it were funny. And not because he thought the mental deterioration of his high school sweetheart was actually humorous but because it was the only way that he could convey such painful information to another man without revealing that it hurt him (because no man in our town ever wants to be considered soft). After that conversation I never heard anything about her again until I got the news that she had committed suicide.
It always struck me as being extremely superficial when tragedy befalls a woman and people say, “but she was so beautiful.” As if pretty women are above pain. As if their lives are meaningful only because their faces look good. But in this case I get it simply because suicide is so ugly. And suicide via a bullet in the brain is even more hideous. It is such a brutal way for a woman to leave this earth and it leaves so much confusion. The pastor responsible for giving the eulogy struggled to find his position on the podium, but he finally gave a speech suggesting that because the deceased had the lord in her heart she would enter heaven—or something like that. At any rate it made the hundreds of people in attendance feel good. Perhaps it will offer comfort to her two boys in the years to come. I suppose that was the intent. But hers, as well as all other suicides leaves one indelible question imprinted in my mind; Why they do that?
Suicide is a selfish act. And I say this knowing that schizophrenia is more common than people may think, that deep depression often times goes undiagnosed, and that the stigma surrounding mental health is extremely pervasive in the black community. I also say this as a man who is trying very hard not to pass judgment. But I am a human being and this unspoken sentiment has been growing in my brain like cancer. The very thought that has been pulsating in my consciousness is this: IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO SUFFER—especially if one was born into blackness. By this rationale I could not help but to look down upon her as a quitter. I stood there in that sanctuary as one man fighting against many. For it appeared as though everyone else had made peace with her decision. I didn’t. I don’t.
It makes no sense to blame the dead for being dead. There is no way for her to wake up and assume responsibility for her actions, or to apologize to her boys for that matter. When I looked at the scowl on the face of her oldest son who walked in and out of the church trying to make sense out of the situation and attempting to understand the gravity of how this moment would change his life but not being able to comprehend—it bothered me so deeply that I found myself cursing his mother in my head. Why? Why she do that? How could a woman who spent so much time in church let the devil catch up to her?
At some point toward the end of the service the pastor told everyone in the sanctuary who had been touched in a positive way by the beautiful dark-skinned woman with the ebullient personality who now lay stiffly inside of her casket to stand up. The whole sea of us stood up tall. Then he asked us to applaud and show the lord some praise for allowing her to touch our souls. We did just that. It was a glorious moment because we loved her. We loved our friend despite all of her flaws because we saw our own flaws in her. People cried, people shouted, and people rejoiced and as I clapped loud and steady I questioned her in the afterlife. Didn’t you know that we loved you? Don’t you know how much you’re hurting us right now? Why? Why you do that?