An account of how I learned to be a helping professional – not an instruction manual, but a prompt for you to explore your own story .
So I had my first discovery of the intense paradoxes of being close to the essence of humanity –
- The awareness of the sadness and need of another alongside the selfish preoccupation with one’s own feelings and status
- The intensity of the imagination and the determination to express the beauty and value of things alongside the bleak physical annihilation
- The guilt about selfishness and the intensity of life in the face of death
- The physicality of emotions, not merely the physiological response of the body to emotions, but emotions caught up in the physical, especially important as I will explore later in the context of loss
There was however more learning and it is only as I write this down that I see what a rich variety of issues are brought together in such an event – and of course this is only the tip of the iceberg. ‘Rich’ is not the best word of course because God only knows what his parents and brother went through. For my friend who discovered the body, there would have been lasting consequences. No consolation all this of course for the waste of a gifted young life and the destructiveness of any suicide for the family and loved ones involved. Perhaps I was too young and self absorbed to be as hurt and damaged by this event as I might have been. My friend had spent some time over the immediately preceding Christmas holiday staying with me at my parents’ home. This was a kind of return visit for a time I had spent at his home previously. It was obvious that he was troubled, though he never said anything about what was going through his mind. I had yet to learn how intense and unmanageable feelings of despair could be and so I had no idea at all what might be going on. That he knew this I learned after his death when a friend passed on some dismissive remark he had made about how useless I had been.
It seems odd to me in retrospect that this remark did not hurt me more than it did, and I have two reactions to it as I look back. First of all, I had a sort of feeling that the dismissive remark was not in some sense real – not so much that it was not accurate as that the friend would not have said it if he were thinking straight. To take it personally even then would have felt like a kind of vanity – in a way, I was useless not because I was useless, so much as that ultimately I, and all his friends, were peripheral to a wider drama and struggle that was going on in his life.
Secondly, I think it did not hurt because it was not news to me. I felt and recurringly have often felt personally useless, only able to be useful when putting on professional clothes. This event was a sort of confirmation of what I imagined about myself. This is all the stuff of adolescence of course; if only we could leave our adolescence to our teenage years!