Waking inexplicably at 3.30am and frustrated by continuing sleeplessness, I just logged on to twitter, where I found a post by a woman whose therapist suggested she write a letter to herself to read when she felt suicidal.
I was catapulted to a different time, 28 years ago, when I was young and also yearned (at times) to end my life. I too carried a letter with me. It was an explanation to the people I loved that I did not want to die, but that if my body had been found, it meant the demons had won, not that I didn’t love them. It meant I’d reached a point where the vastness of my love was no longer greater than the agonising pain of relentless mental distress.
I found that letter recently, when I was clearing out the boxes in my loft and, as I destroyed it, mercifully unread by anyone but me, the gratitude I felt that love had won over “the demons” flooded every part of me. It did again this pre-dawn morning, as I read about another desperate woman caught between these two extremes. I hope one day she too will look back with gratitude on a life made richer by her earlier challenges. A life full of love and adventure, and compassion for the struggles of humanity, writ large upon the backdrop of her own experience.
I was in my late twenties when my journey became too painful to keep on battling through. I am getting on for sixty now. I have had twice as much life as I’d had when I came close to checking out, and it has been incredibly precious, as it still is, every day.
If I had died at twenty-nine, I would not have seen my two wonderful children grow up, and my precious third would never have been born. I would never have been loved by the husband who showed me what that really means when I was nearly 50. Never learned about survival from Hibakusha in Japan, or climbed a mountain or communed with elephants in Africa. I would not have held my mother as she passed from this world, pre-deceasing all her children as it’s meant to be. I would have missed travelling in South Africa with my adult daughter (who would not have existed anyway), meeting wonderful people and volunteering with her in a centre for families affected by AIDS.
I would not have known the bliss of swimming in a warm turquoise sea on my Greek honeymoon or the sweet joy of watching my Firstborn marry the love of her life – then later become a mother to my beautiful grandchild. I would not have learned about forgiveness from my wise, resilient son, or lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world for over two decades before moving to a new, exciting city full of opportunity and starting a new business uniting Sisters of all ages, and inspiring other Older Women like myself – and younger ones – to live fabulously, and meaningfully. I would never have become an Older Woman, or known the fulfilment of fabulous living.
It’s 4.30 am and I am thinking of that young woman I used to be. I am traveling back in time to whisper to her, as she struggles with the choices between life and death: “Choose life. It’s worth it, I promise you. Your life is going to be exceptional, and what you are experiencing now is what will make it so, forever”.
Perhaps, when I was 29 and desperate, I heard that whispered voice from my future and it made a difference. I’ve known stranger things. Perhaps a young woman walking that line between living and dying will one day read the words I’m writing now, and choose to live another day, and my decision to stay will have been validated yet again.
My life has indeed been exceptional, and I hope it will continue to be – or at the very least continue – for many years to come. Every day is a gift for someone who might not have seen that day. That’s a lot of gifts, and in itself something worth living for; a lifetime of exquisitely precious days you thought you’d never have.
To anyone who’s walking the tightrope today, please, please, choose life. I know how hard that choice can be, but there is so very much to live for. And one day, or night, in years to come, perhaps you will have the opportunity to help a younger version of yourself, or a stranger, or both, to realise death is not the answer, and you will feel a mixture of emotions that include humility and love and gratitude, and horror at what you nearly didn’t have.