So, recently, I was at a wonderful play in West London and at the after party I was introduced to a charming, intelligent, thoughtful man called Pete. Over the course of the evening, we got drunk on cheap booze, discussed coding, literature and whatever came to mind and I remember thinking as I travelled home that one of the nicest things about only hanging around people you like is that you keep getting introduced to more and more great people.
So, it was a terrible shock to find out a month later from our mutual friend that Pete had taken his own life by drowning.
But my shock turned to anger when I found out how his suicide had taken place. Of the years of shame Pete had suffered because of his family’s refusal to acknowledge he was gay, of the long term sense of worthlessness this had left him with and the lack of support he had received from them in dealing with a host of other mental issues.
On the weekend Pete took his own life, he had been checked out of mental care by his parents on the express proviso that he be around people on a 24 hour basis. Instead his parents left him alone in their house so they could go on a weekend break they had previously booked. They didn’t even phone him , only finding out he was missing when the cleaner came in on Monday.
Even at his funeral, his London friends were banned from discussing his sexuality, a female friend was portrayed as his girlfriend, and the poem ‘If..’ by Kipling was read as his eulogy.
As if this was a fitting tribute to this theatre going gourmand who combined a love of the good things in life with a deep interest in learning and discussion.
I decided to rewrite ‘IF…’ for Pete in the hope that it could be a more fitting testimony to the tragic way in which he left this world. I was then deeply honoured to read it at a memorial Cabaret show for Pete held in the RVT to raise money for the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which helps prevent suicide among men aged 20-45, the most at risk group.
If we don’t face the black dog of depression ourselves, we all know someone who does. Look out for them and love them, for though they may seem fine on the outside, their inner balance is more fragile than you think.
If you can stop just one person from taking this tragic step during your life, you’ve achieved a miracle.
‘IF…’ – For Pete
If your folks had just accepted
That you loved men without blaming you,
If they trusted you despite their doubts
And saved your mind from doubting too.
If they had listened and not tired from listening,
Nor told you lies you took for truth,
Or justified the hate you faced
That sapped your joy and scarred your youth.
If you were shown dreams could come real
And joy was not some far off goal,
You could have laughed at life’s disasters
You would have been a happy soul.
But you were told a twisted truth
Wrought by knaves who think us fools,
You were told that you were wrong,
Your orientation broke the rules.
If you could see how much you’re loved,
If you could feel how much we miss,
Your presence in our daily lives,
A look, a laugh, a hug, a kiss.
If we could have forced each heart and sinew
To pull you back from death’s dark door,
Though it sapped our breath and broke our backs
We would run to you and cry ‘Endure!’
We’d talk with you, show you your virtue
We’d reach for you and pull you close
We’d tell you that all people matter,
But now it’s you who matters most
We’d face that unforgiving minute,
Side by side till the darkness left,
And you’d be standing here right now,
Not lying still, bereft of breath.