Several years ago my cousin Jackie jumped from the roof of her mother’s high rise apartment building in Philadelphia.To me, it was a very violent, angry and desperate act and even after all the dramatic threats of suicide she had made, I was in shock when her husband called me to tell me she had died. I had spoken with her only a couple of days before, and while she was in distress, something she always was, I never thought she would actually do it. We had had a bit of a contentious conversation that day, and I neglected to say, “I love you”, as we hung up. I always ended our calls with “I love you”. But not that last one. It made me think that maybe if I had…
Jackie and I were not close growing up. She was a few years older than I and our interests had nothing in common. It wasn’t until I was taken ill and moved back to the States from England, that Jackie and her mother, my Aunt Blanche, reached out to me. I welcomed the contact and Jackie began to call me almost every day. I was and am a good and compassionate listener and so Jacks spilled out her despair to me all the time. I also knew she was a pathological liar and that truth was only deeply buried inside all her stories. But she was in a lot of emotional pain and I remained sympathetic. She also had a heroine-addicted daughter, who eventually died in a fire that she accidentally started while she was high, and that destroyed Jackie. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the parental guilt she lived with, and the grief.
Jackie became addicted to a sedative that her psychiatrist, knowing she was addicted to it, continued to prescribe for her. She OD’d on it a few times and had to be taken to the hospital. I felt her cries were for help and attention, but she wasn’t getting any of it. For me her pain was palpable, and I listened to her every day trying to relieve some it. But it is impossible to help someone who is hell-bent on self destruction. She didn’t want help. She just wanted an ear and I gave her mine. Eventually, as her husband said, “She was successful”. She jumped off a roof and her pain was gone.
Lately she has been much on my mind. I wanted to commemorate her birthday in some way and let her know I miss her. My landlady gave me some tealights and I lit one after another all this past weekend. I talked to Jackie. I felt her here. Knowing how much I love her. The ritual felt so good. It felt good to remember, even though it wasn’t entirely a happy memory. I honored Jacks. She deserved that from me.