Why do people commit suicide? What drives someone to end their own life? What goes through their mind, their heart, their being, when they make that decision? What happens to the people left behind, grieving their loss? And how do you cope when a friend commits suicide? How can you deal with that?
These are all questions that have run through my head time and time again. In many ways, I can answer most of those questions from my own attempted suicide, but grieving his loss is something I struggle with daily. Why him? Why did HE do it?
There are so many things I could write about Wes. I could go on about what an amazing person he was, how much he loved everyone, the fight he put up for his daughter, or how everyone adored him. I could talk about him all day long, laugh about the stupid things we would do and say... but none of it will ever actually convey just what an amazing human being he was and the lives that he touched. It would never do justice to the man that would literally give the shirt off his back for someone he didn’t know.
It’s not everyday that someone like this walks into your life, and in the blink of an eye, is taken. Wesley Michael Clarke, the man that no one really knew his age until he passed away, the father that loved his daughter more than life itself, the friend that made everyone laugh even if he hurt inside, and the life that was taken way too soon. All I can ever hope for is that you finally found that inner peace. You’re a legend, babe. And you’ll always be in my heart.
“How do you cope when a friend commits suicide? What happens to the people left behind, grieving their loss?”
I don’t think there's one word that I could use to describe how painful it was for me to lose my best friend, or how painful it still is for me to continue on in life without him. We had everything planned out, we had our whole lives ahead of us. Everyone knew how much we loved one another and just how much he meant to me.
It didn’t matter the distance between us, the years that past, the people between us; Wes was my Big, and I was his Little. I’m sure on many levels we probably had a pretty toxic relationship, and even I’ll admit, we usually got up to quite a lot of shenanigans, some that were probably quite questionable, but he was my everything. He was the only person that I never questioned if his love for me was real.
I met Wes years ago; we had the same group of friends for years. We never really spoke much, but I knew he was really liked and got along with everyone. It wasn’t until my partner and I split and I moved out West, that Wes and I started speaking on a regular basis. He contacted me right away to let me know he would help me out with my kids however he could. He said he would want someone helping with his daughter, too. I knew how much he loved Channel, and not being apart of her life broke him inside. He didn’t want my kids to feel how Channel felt, and even though he wasn’t their father, he played a big role in their lives.
Coping with the suicide of a friend: “Wes became my best friend”
He would speak of Channel constantly, not just to me, but also told my children about her. He always had photos of her and would take them out for us to see. She was his pride and joy. His eyes would light up so brightly whenever he spoke about her. And when he was with my children, his eyes would also light up. He would always thank me for letting him be apart of their lives and I would always thank him for being apart of mine.
“I don’t think there's one word that I could use to describe how painful it was for me to lose my best friend, or how painful it still is for me to continue on in life without him.”
I never thought that him helping me with my children would start a ten-year relationship and teach me some of life’s most amazing lessons. As a newly single mom, I was trying to get my life back together and working ridiculously long hours at work. I couldn’t afford the daycare and was left with very few other options for my children. Wes did whatever he could to be there for them, and for me.
He would often leave his job early to travel about 45 minutes across the city to come help me out. He would pick my kids up from daycare, cook them dinner, painted their nails, did their hair, took them to their school plays. There were mornings he would get up with them for breakfast, take them to school, and just be there for them when I couldn’t. He stepped into a parent role when I couldn’t. They still spoke with their father often; they missed him a lot and Wes tried to be there for them through that. He explained to them on numerous occasions he was never trying to replace their father, but if they needed anything, he would be there. He often would phone their dad so they could speak with him.
Eventually I was working a job that I didn’t need so much help, and by that point, Wes, had become my best friend. He worked in construction, and would often call me about 100 times a day just to see if I was OK or needed something. He would get into quite a lot of trouble for always being on the phone with me, so he would hide somewhere in the building and call me from a closet, or a basement, just to hear my voice.
Wes: a big man with an even bigger heart
No one could make me laugh the way Wes could. I never would have imagined I would be writing something in his memory, not like this. I could write a book just on the things we would joke about, the never-ending drama between us, the laughs, the arguments, everything.
Every day with Wes was a new experience. No matter what happened between us, we always came back together. There were times we would get into really big fights and stop talking for a few months at a time, instead of making up right away, we’d both write down on paper what we wanted to tell the other one, and as soon as we started speaking again, we’d exchange papers and laugh. It never mattered the amount of time that went by, we would just pick up where we left off.
I’m not sure why we never officially dated; I suppose he always had a girlfriend and I always had a boyfriend. We would cheat on our partners to be with one another, but we never wanted to be together, or at least for that moment. Everyone always asked why we weren’t together. We never made our love a secret, we never hid anything, our life was fairly public. We made a pact when I was 22 that if I wasn’t married by the time I was 30, we’d marry one another. I didn’t think that instead of marrying my best friend on my 30th birthday, I’d be saying goodbye.
“No one could make me laugh the way Wes could. Every day with him was a new experience. No matter what happened between us, we always came back together.”
I started dating someone that ended up being one of the most violent people I had ever met. I had a number of hospital stays and Wes was always there when I would wake up; he was always there to ask me what the hell I was doing. I always made light of the situation but I know he knew I was lying. Why didn’t he do more to stop me? I don’t know, some might say that is a bad best friend, I don’t think I really gave him any other option.
After one particular hospital stay, Wes brought me home, and I had asked him to stay a bit. It was a rainy day, and we sat on my couch watching TV. I didn’t want to speak, I just lay against him crying, while he held on to me. He was crying too. I loved listening to his heart beat, it reminded me that I was still alive. There were plenty of times that if felt like Wes was my heart beat. He would often tell me that his heart beat for me.
The movie Bad Boys II came on and he held on to me tightly and sang the song. I remember giggling about it and just holding on to him tighter. I would give anything to be back at that moment. To feel him close to me, hear his heart beat again. I would give anything to have just one more day with you, Wes.
There’s a part of the movie where they say “We ride together, we die together, bad boys for life”. I remember how his face lit up and he whispered it back to me and told me how much he loved me and that he’d always be there for me. That became OUR phrase; no matter where we were, what we were doing, or who we were with. If one of us would say, “We ride together, we die together” the other would always respond with, “Bad boys for life.”
Anastasia had her and Wes's saying tattooed as a reminder
The years went on and our relationship grew. Not a day went by that he didn’t call me to tell me how much I meant to him, how much he loved me and how he wished I saw myself the way he and others did. He was there for me through thick and thin. It didn’t matter what time of night or day it was, he was always there for me. In that time we came up with so many of our own inside jokes, our own plans, our own fantasies, our own world.
So, where did it go wrong? I thought I knew my best friend. I thought we told each other everything. He saved my life on more than one occasion, so why didn’t I save his? When I had tried to commit suicide a few years back, he was so angry with me, he yelled at me, cried, told me how stupid I was for trying, telling me I couldn’t leave him behind. He told me he would fight for me when I couldn’t do it myself, but that I needed to get the idea of death out of my head.
So, why did he do it? Why did he leave me behind?
It all happened so suddenly. One day we spoke as we normally did and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. We finished the conversation with our normal banter. He told me how much he loved me, how he’d always be there for me, reminded me of how we were getting married that year, promised he’d never leave me. I told him how much I hated him, that I couldn’t imagine my life without him and that he was my best friend. We joked about how we were Bonnie and Clyde... except neither one of us wanted to be Bonnie, so we argued about how we would both be Clyde, and we ended our conversation with “We ride together, we die together... bad boys for life.” And that was the last I ever spoke to him.
“I thought I knew my best friend. I thought we told each other everything. He saved my life on more than one occasion, so why didn’t I save his?”
A couple of days went by and I didn’t hear from him. I thought it was a bit strange but I figured he was just really busy. A few more days went by and I knew something wasn’t right. We hadn’t argued about anything, so I knew there was no reason to not speak. I didn't want to overthink it, but that’s when I got the phone call. A phone call that changed my life and that no one should ever receive. I didn’t want to believe it at first, it just seemed so out of place. I thought for sure this was just a sick joke, but as I signed on to social media, I saw post after post about his passing.
I can’t even explain what really went through my mind, what my body felt. There was no way. It was my worst nightmare. I couldn’t even cry. I had so many questions and there was a part of me that didn’t want to hear the answers. The next few days are a complete haze, I just went completely on auto pilot. I blamed/blame myself, for everything. What didn’t I see? Why didn’t I stop him? How could I have stopped him? Did he say something to me and I didn’t listen? Why did he leave me?
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I know most of these thoughts were completely selfish, but, at that moment, I felt like a part of my heart and being, died that day along with him. I became super depressed and ended up going on medical leave from work because I couldn’t focus on anything. My heart was completely broken. I wasn’t sleeping at night, I didn’t want to sleep. I was afraid I wouldn’t feel him close to me.
“I blamed/blame myself, for everything. What didn’t I see? Why didn’t I stop him? How could I have stopped him? Did he say something to me and I didn’t listen?”
My biggest fear was forgetting him. Why did I have that fear? I have no idea. I was terrified of forgetting Wes, of him becoming just another dead person. And I didn’t want that to happen. I had lost so many people in my life, but losing him, shattered me inside. I blamed myself on so many levels and hated myself for not being able to save him.
Dealing with the suicide of a friend: Wes loved animals
I was also so angry at him for leaving me behind. I was so angry he broke a promise to me. I was so angry he did what he was so angry that I tried. I would lay awake at night in the fetal position, just holding on to my heart crying myself to sleep. How was I supposed to get through this life without him? My whole existence was so engulfed in Wes. Everything I did, wanted to do, he was a part of. Nothing made sense to me anymore. Not that it ever did before, but now, even less.
I eventually had to call a suicide hotline and started attending suicide counselling. I remember every time I went, I would just sit in the chair and cry; often times they would just leave me in the room with one person sitting close to me in case I needed the support. My heart was so broken. I didn’t want to speak, I didn’t know how. I had nothing to say. It became one of the darkest times of my life. It’s been a fight ever since.
A few months after his death, someone mentioned to me that it may help me getting an emotional support dog as I couldn’t seem to pull myself back up. They said that a dog would give me purpose again, or a different outlook on life. I felt quite alone at the time as most people told me I needed to just get over it, or that I shouldn’t still feel the way I felt. I started to feel like maybe I was going crazy because I couldn’t seem to “feel better”.
I decided to look into adopting a dog. I would spend hours just looking through website after website of dog shelters, and none of them seemed to click with me. And then one day I came across an American Staffordshire Terrier that was in a shelter close to me. Something about him called my attention; he seemed to remind me of someone. I called to make an appointment and after a few calls back and forth, I found myself walking up the driveway.
When I arrived, there were two big enclosures, one filled with dogs jumping up and down, barking, and in the other one, a calm-looking dog, fairly large in size and uninterested in the world around him, not barking, not making a sound. He looked at me but showed little interest. They let me inside with him and he didn’t want to have anything to do with me. I fell in love instantly. I knew right away this was MY dog. I could have taken him home that day, but I decided I wanted to have his paperwork first.
I came back two weeks later, paperwork in hand, and excited to bring him home. When it came time to fill out the paperwork, they asked me what his name was going to be; Clyde, his name is Clyde. He fits this name perfectly. Clyde was a big boy, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little intimidated by him. I didn’t know too much about his life, so didn’t want to force my love on him, I just let him come to me when he was ready. The second day I had him we were sitting on my couch, I sat on one end, and Clyde on the other end. I wasn’t sure what to do with this massive dog, so I just sat there calmly.
At one point he lay down beside me with his head on my lap. I was so excited. I started to pet him but trying not to stress him out with my excitement. And then I noticed something on his nose and couldn’t believe my eyes. Clyde had the same heart on his nose that I had tattooed on my face: it was a sign.
Anastasia's heart tattoo and the similar marking on Clyde
So, rewind a bit. A couple days after Wes had passed away, I tattooed a small heart underneath my eye. I picked a heart because it felt like I was crying my heart out, and I wanted people to ask me why I had a heart of my face; I wanted to tell people about Wes and what an amazing person he was, and Clyde had the same heart on his face. I couldn’t believe my eyes. To me, it was like Wes had sent Clyde to me. And suddenly I knew I was going to be OK and that Wes would always be there looking out for me.
It’s been three years now since Wes committed suicide, and I can’t say that the pain has gone away, or even subsided. There are still days that coping with the suicide of my best friend is impossible. I feel completely shattered inside. There are days that it’s still hard to breathe, and that I blame myself. Most days, I just brush it to the side and try to keep busy. There's a big part of me that still doesn’t understand why it had to be him. I’ve tried to take the good out of this but I also struggle to really understand what can be good about my best friend taking his own life? It’s taken me a long time to accept that he’s gone, and there's still a part of me that hasn’t accepted it.
One of the things that helped me a lot, was writing a letter to myself, from him. Maybe it sounds silly, but it brought a lot of closure. I know he wouldn’t want me to be sad, I know he definitely wouldn’t want me to cry. It would break his heart. I know he would want me to move on with my life and let myself love again and be loved. And when I wrote that letter to myself, it was as if there was a part of me that was finally able to let go, maybe not 100 per cent, but a lot more than before. It also helped me to see a bit more clearly what I learned from Wes.
The greatest lesson he taught me was about love. The love we had for one another is something that not everyone experiences. We built an empire of love. Our love. It didn’t make sense to anyone else, and that didn’t matter, because it didn’t really make sense to us either. And sometimes that’s the best kind.
“There are still days that coping with the suicide of my friend is impossible. I feel completely shattered inside. There are days that it’s still hard to breathe, and that I blame myself.”
Like many things, I didn’t understand what I had right in front of me until it was gone, except this time, it was really gone. All those years I was searching for love. I knew I had love in my ways, but the love that Wes showed me, was unconditional, pure, simple and yet so complex, and it was right in front of me. I took for granted our love and our relationship: I thought it would always be there, I thought he would always be there.
I learned about beauty; that even with all my flaws and imperfections, that they were what made me who I was and I could chose to love myself and work on what I needed to. I learned to cherish what I had in front of me, live in the present because tomorrow is never promised. I learned to tell others how much they meant to me and appreciate the little things. I learned that it wasn’t worth it to hold a grudge, to stay angry, or be mean to others. We fought like crazy, and about really stupid things, but we always made up. I learned to laugh at myself and not to be so serious.
“Wes taught me about love”
I learned to love again. He brought me through some really difficult times in my life and there were times I didn’t know how I would stand up again, and not only would he push me to get back up, but how to get up and smile again. He taught me how to keep laughing, even when I felt dead inside.
“I learned to cherish what I had in front of me, live in the present because tomorrow is never promised. I learned to tell others how much they meant to me and appreciate the little things.”
He taught me to find the positive side of life. He taught me that I wasn’t really broken inside, maybe a little bruised, but that I just had to fight a little bit more and that I was going to be fine. He taught me to believe in myself, and when I didn’t, he did. He pushed me in ways that no one else had done before.
Maybe I didn’t see these things when he was alive, and unfortunately it took his passing for me to understand them. I will never be able to bring him back, but I know that he still lives on in my heart. The gratitude I have for his life and what he showed me, is overflowing. I still hurt inside, and I don’t know when that will stop. His life and everything that surrounded him was so beautiful, and that beauty lives on. ●
If you're struggling to cope with the suicide of a friend, the NHS has a great guide and the APA also has some useful tips. Share your thoughts below on how you are coping and if you have any tips to share...
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Friendship | Grief | Loneliness | Trust
Anastasia Fox is a Barcelona-based freelancer with a passion for life and a willingness to help others.
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