We found out today that one of our colleagues killed himself last week.
He didn't turn up for work on Thursday or Friday, and at some point over the weekend, they discovered why not. Until I changed teams a couple of years ago, I sat a few desks away from him for a while. He was fairly quiet and private, and I wouldn't say that we were close or even that I knew him particularly well, but he was friendly enough. It's really shocking news. He was probably about 50 years old.
Some other members of that team will have worked with this guy for more than twenty years, and quite how this will have affected then, I don't know. I haven't been in that team for a while now, but I couldn't stop myself thinking all day today about how I could have seen him last Wednesday and perhaps, just maybe, I could have said something to him that might have made a difference. If you worked with him every day, if you sat next to him or if you managed him, I can only imagine how much greater that feeling must be. I bumped into a member of his team this afternoon, and he was telling me that he bought this guy a pack of maltesers on Wednesday. It was his favourite chocolate and he bought it as a friendly gesture in the working day. Today, that discarded wrapper is still sitting on his desk, and this guy can't yet bring himself to throw it away, even though just looking at it makes him feel awful.
People talk about how suicide is an incredibly selfish thing to do because of the mess you leave behind you. Maybe that's true. I've also heard it said - possibly by Richard Dawkins - that suicide is the ultimate expression of human free will. Well, maybe that's true too, but personally I find it very hard to look past the despair and loneliness that must lead someone to the point where they feel that taking their own life is their only option.
I don't know why my colleague killed himself. I don't know how he killed himself. I don't really want to know either of those things. For me, it's enough to know that he killed himself, and although I didn't know him very well, the thought of how he must have been feeling in those last few hours (days, weeks, months.....) makes me feel very sad indeed.
Sometimes life hangs by a very thin thread. Hug the people you love.