This time last year, we had no idea you’d be gone. We took your presence for granted. If we missed you, we’d catch up later. But later never came. How were we meant to know, though? It’s not as if you were going to tell anyone. Why would you? Because you’d made up your mind. The only time you’d say anything is if you weren’t there yet – not ready to call it quits, still living in hope that something or someone would come along and help you out. I guess it was too late for that. Tomorrow never came.
I’ve seen it before. Many years ago, an old neighbour of mine did the same thing. Like you, you’d never have guessed she was unhappy. Never have known the invisible weight she carried everywhere she went. A collection of big and little experiences sitting on her shoulders. One small thing, you can carry that, you’re strong. Something slightly larger, heavier and more awkward, it’s a struggle, but you can take it, you can still smile through it, see the beauty in life. A few more here and there, though, and all it will take is the smallest thing for you to have had enough. The final straw. The one that broke the camel’s back. The rope that broke her neck.
On the 20th July, it will be a year since the death of Linkin Park’s frontman, Chester Bennington. He ended things the same way as her – escaping life through the loop of a noose. Some people say it’s selfish to do what he did. They tell you about all the heartbreak they cause to those left behind. Picking up the pieces of a life unfinished. Forever burdened by the thought that they could do nothing to stop the person they loved from leaving. I can understand that. It chokes me up just thinking about it. But the truth is, they never would have been able to stop it from happening. It’s not their fault or responsibility. And they’d never have seen it coming. Because when that straw comes, only that person will feel it.
One of the saddest parts of Chester’s life story is that his painful experiences started so young. According to his Wiki page, he suffered sexual abuse from an older male friend. He was only 7-years-old when it started, and due to a fear of being labelled as gay or a liar, he never asked for help. The abuse continued for 13 years.
During this time, his parents divorced and he was also bullied at school. I guess it comes as no surprise that he dabbled in alcohol and substance abuse as a result of such trauma. But despite all of this, Chester was a peaceful character by nature. He was passionate about all things creative, and writing poetry and songs was his escapism. He believed that everyone should be free to express themselves and their opinions in a peaceful way. No one is going to agree on everything, but everyone has a right to what they feel inside. Because no one can tell you how to feel, right?
After a lot of effort – and not always successful – by the latter part of the year 2000, when Linkin Park’s debut album, “Hybrid Theory” was released, Chester was finally going to be rewarded for his talents. The band changed the music industry forever. They brought about a new genre, a fresh expression – a whole new sound. But no one knew how many lives their music would touch – how many people would find escapism through the lyrics of their songs – how many lives they would save.
But despite Linkin Park’s monumental success and massive following, life continued to deal more difficulties for Chester. During his career, he was burdened by ill health and a series of injuries, as well as suffering from the emotional distress of being cyberstalked. It’s obvious that the latter part of Chester’s life was far from easy. However, it was only after hearing the tragic news about close friend and fellow musician, Chris Cornell, that he would ultimately be brought to the edge. Cornell hung himself. And 2 months later, Chester followed.
Maybe Wikipedia isn’t the best source for knowledge, but if what I read is true, it’s clear that Chester’s decision was not a spontaneous one. Life had delivered him a difficult hand. It was only a matter of time before he would fold. And even though it was reported how Chester was seemingly happy days before he died, it was evident that all of these events would weigh him down. All it needed was one more thing. The final straw.
I guess we’ll never know what his final straw was, or my old neighbour’s, or my old friend’s. We’ll always look back and wish we’d done something more, said things they should’ve heard, realised what was going on and stopped them from ending it all. But it’s too late.
We all live with regret. We all live with pain. We all carry a weight no one can see. The truth is, there is no saving someone from that. When someone reaches the emotional point of no return, of course they’ll tell you they’re fine. They want you to go away so that they can finally release that pain without you trying to stop them. If they thought that talking would solve things, that you could ensure life would stop throwing shit at them and that the memories and events which have scarred them so irrevocably could be erased, then they wouldn’t feel that way. Talking about it won’t change anything. They need something more solid to believe in. Reliving what makes you sad won’t do that. And having faith that talking about it will, will only delay the inevitable reset.
If I can give you any advice about spotting the signs, it’s to take note of the little things. Their kindness, their life experiences – good and bad – the ways they dealt with them, how they’ve learned from their own mistakes, their reactions to things – big or small – how do they see the world? Have they had it tough but still want to believe something good is out there? Do they strive to create and inspire? Do they offer a positive vibe to lift you up when you’re down? And do they do that by trying to make you laugh, or by showing an interest or understanding of you in ways other people may not? Then I can’t plead with you enough to treat them the same. To give them your time. Take an interest in what they do. Don’t take their kindness for granted. To show them you care. If it looks like they need a hand, offer it. Think of ways to make them feel appreciated; like they matter to you. Your happiness obviously matters to them. Because their cry for help won’t be with words, it’ll be in everything that they do. Every action carefully chosen because they’ve been there before and they never want anyone else to feel the same way they did. Even the strongest of people wear a mask. So don’t sit back and think that someone is happy just because they have a smile on their face. That’s just for show. When things get hard, help them out. They might need it more than you know.
The little things people do make a big difference. And that works both ways.