What I pray for after the loss of Anthony Bourdain

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 6/12/2018, 10:31 a.m.
I did not know Anthony Bourdain. I do not know the anguished family, close friends and colleagues who are grieving ...
Anthony Bourdain

By Mireille Grangenois

(CNN) -- I did not know Anthony Bourdain.

I do not know the anguished family, close friends and colleagues who are grieving his suicide.

I do not know, but I suspect that on top of contending with shock, they are parsing and reliving every recent encounter, each believing if only I -- anyone -- had stayed with him, if only I -- someone -- had done this or that, Anthony would still be alive.

The brave and dedicated advocates and volunteers who do the important work of educating us about suicide tell us it is a public health crisis and it is preventable. They tell us to be mindful of spikes in copycat attempts. News outlets, in reporting Bourdain's suicide, as they did six days earlier with Kate Spade's, have rightly published hotline numbers and listed ways to help prevent these tragedies.

And yet, they happen. Worse yet, the incidence of suicides is up 25% since 1999, according to a new report last Thursday from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- news that was literally sandwiched between coverage of these two celebrity deaths. While mental illness isn't the sole contributor, about half of these suicides are among individuals not diagnosed with any mental disorder. This could be because they lacked access to medical care, or because they did not have a diagnosable disorder, but were confronting a major stressor in their lives that others could not see.

I do not know how to be more vigilant for the suicide of someone I don't know. I'm not even sure how to do it for someone I do.

When a beloved relative (who had previously struggled with mental illness) was suicidal in January, I didn't know it. She did. She sought and received life-saving help from a therapist. Thank God. But only then was I informed.

She was a master of disguise. For anyone who missed the signs that "must have been" there and lost a loved one to suicide, I do not know what you are going through.

But I know what it's like to live with having twice missed those impending warnings from that loved one and to contend with the confusion and guilt that ensue. Knowing how close the danger of suicide had been rocked me to the core.

I too asked myself: How did I miss this?

A winter flu-like bug explained away the unusually long stays in bed and the lethargy. That, coupled with not wanting to infect others, was a plausible excuse for absences from holiday social gatherings. The subsiding of the bug, and an unusually high instinct to please others, enabled her to summon the strength to be engaging during a holiday party my husband and I hosted between Christmas and New Year's Day.

About Bourdain, I can't speculate. But his death introduces this topic worthy of dinnertime discussion: How do we arrive at a more nuanced understanding of the layered, complex and oftentimes inscrutable manifestations of mental illness for the diagnosed and undiagnosed, and their loved ones? What about when, despite loving, well-informed interventions, a life is lost?