Karaoke is a regular feature at many local nightspots. On any day of the week, friends, lovers or even acquaintances can enjoy a night of impressive and not so impressive singing. There is little judgment of one’s talent. The experience is one that is generally good for the soul; one is often not only entertained by the singing, but some may engage in disagreements using colourful language, gentlemen may offer to buy beautiful women drinks, or young women may be asked to dance when popular oldies tunes are sung.
I needed karaoke night after the week began with great sorrow. It was another week confronting the fact that many of Guyana’s young people are in trouble – many of their struggles are psychosomatic after they experience trauma. They tiptoe on the edge of life and threaten to jump to their demise. Many who have just started living have lost all hope for various reasons.
On Monday, I watched a mother stand by the coffin of her dead eighteen-year-old daughter. She wore yellow. Yellow, the color of sunshine, hope and happiness, which has been chosen to represent suicide awareness and prevention. Sadness permeated the funeral parlour; it hung on every word that was said, attached itself to every thread of clothing, every cell and in the blood flowing through the veins, even as the voice of the man on the microphone boomed like recorded music as he sang one upbeat gospel song after the next, while the body of the young woman was viewed.
I remembered Lisa Punch’s song, ‘Yellow it Out’ and the smiling and happy faces in the video, sounding the message of hope and life. Did she see that video, I wondered? Could it have helped to save her life, I pondered? And the suicide hotline, did she call the number? Perhaps she did and maybe the counsellor’s words this time could not stop her from giving in to the urge to end her pain.
Monday’s heat was almost intolerable. Perhaps because the sun was working overtime to prevent the rain from pouring – maybe the tears were enough to moisten the Earth. Even on the ride to the cremation site, chatting with friends, the sadness made sure to remind us that all was not well. There were moments when we laughed even as we stood there, some in black and white, yellow and other colours, but the fact that we were each struggling, trying to grapple with what had happened, trying to control ourselves from completely giving into the anguish was evident. Amidst the music and interactions, silent moments caught each of us wanting to weep hysterically for a young woman who should still be in the land of the living.
Some years ago, I decided that if it could be helped, I would not view the remains of the dead. And so, I did not view hers. But the friends who viewed her body said she appeared to be sleeping. She seemed to be at peace if her countenance was anything to go by. If she could speak, would she tell us that she was satisfied that she did it her way? Because she was tired and needed her pain to be over?
Most parents could never envision their children leaving this Earth before they do. There are certain thoughts one is afraid to entertain because dwelling on them for too long may put one’s sanity at risk. But watching a mother standing by the coffin of her only daughter who died by way of suicide jolts you. The dysfunction of the world slaps you in your face and you have no choice but to think about all the possibilities.
Watching her looking at her daughter’s remains reinforced the importance of the role parents must play in the lives of their children to lessen the chances of watching their remains about to be burned or buried. Even in circumstances where parents are separated, they must still strive to create balance to protect their children. In circumstances where parents are still together but unhappy and keeping up appearances because they fear society’s judgment, they must be aware that the children are watching and accept the fact that sometimes it is better to be apart amicably for the benefit of their children in the long run. Even in happy homes, they must not take for granted that outside forces may be somehow be affecting the peace of mind of their children.
Often, we lie to ourselves. Sometimes we neglect and reject the facilitators that would enhance our life’s journey because we are afraid of society’s judgments.
But when we are aware of our children’s pain, we can never ignore it. We may feel helpless or overwhelmed, still we must do all we can to help them. Still, some of us will find ourselves dressed in yellow standing by their coffins because despite our best efforts, we could not save them.
For days, I could not stop thinking about Friday night two weeks ago when the message came to my phone that the young woman had died. The journey to the hospital and watching them roll her body away. I kept imagining her beautiful and pleasant face the times I would have seen her. I kept thinking about her mother, a fellow thespian who I came to know as a decent human being, and I kept asking, how she would survive this. I kept thinking about the work we had put into the television production released on October 16th, called ‘The Helpline,’ all the research we had done and how many times it was hard to control the tears listening to the troubling stories of Guyana’s at-risk for suicide. I kept wondering if she had seen the show and if she had, if there was anything else that could have been written that would have inspired her to live. I needed an escape.
And so, at karaoke, when desperate men sweetened their tongues and tried to flatter me, I smiled. When a man who appeared to be mentally ill stood among the chairs, dancing in the light to the sound of the music dressed in several outfits, I laughed. I laughed because I thought he was maybe experiencing a freedom I did not have in that moment—a freedom where one could just sing and dance and not worry about what would occur the next day. A freedom from fear. A freedom from that image embedded in my mind of that mother standing by her daughter’s coffin, dressed in yellow, right before her remains were burned.
If you are having suicidal thoughts and need someone to talk with, or know someone who may be in need of such help, you can contact the Guyana Inter Agency Suicide Prevention Helpline at telephone numbers (+592) 223-0001, 223-0009, 600-7896, 623-4444; via email: firstname.lastname@example.org; via WhatsApp: +592-600-7896, 592-623-4444; via Facebook: Guyana Inter-agency Suicide Prevention Help Line; and via Twitter: @guyanaagency.