oh amy, how could you — a kaddish for amy smith

Amy in joy

My plan was that nobody else would die.  Ever.  My plan was to leave the death-and-dying biz to someone else; give someone else a turn.  My plan was that enough was enough. At least for this year. My plan was that only the elderly die, and that sometimes it’s a blessing and an end to pain.

But this kind of pain comes to all ages. How could I have forgotten that?  It’d been some years since I’d had a friend with suicidal ideation.  One of them was successful at it. And one of them suddenly snapped out of it, just like that. Awoke from the nightmare, and there he was—suddenly fully alive, vibrant, and whole.  With hope and joy in his heart instead of bitterness and despair. Finally.

But not Amy.

Yesterday she sent the terrible email.  Suicide note by email has the strange immediacy of someone hitting SEND and the word goes out, well, everywhere.  And hers began with an apology and said without flourish or beating around the bush simply that she was ‘gone.’  And spoke about her pain and what she had done.

Whatever she did—she had already done it.

We tried to find her. The police were slow.  Treated it as a ‘Missing Persons’ for a while. Facebook was slow (she’d posted an edited version of her email there)—because of the privacy issues involved.  The whole planet felt slow.  But a few hours later she was found. By the CA Park Service. By the rocks at Stinson Beach.

Amy was always meticulous. She was thorough. She got the job done. You could depend on her—but she did it her way. Whatever the task was, she could stick to it. Those are the qualities it takes to get a PhD in Anthropology or any other subject, for that matter.  They were also the qualities it took to put on our conferences for the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness. To keep up our mailing lists. To remind us when it was time to vote (or run for office). Remind us to submit abstracts to present at conferences. Remind us to register.  She was good at herding cats.

Being meticulous is how Amy handled her own demise, too.  She was thorough. She made sure that these obligations were taken care of—without letting on that that’s what she was doing.  This time, procrastination might have served her better. But Amy, when she set her mind to it, she got things done.

She asked me to help put on next year’s spring conference—and I agreed—not to do it myself, but rather to help her with it. To do it together. But now I see, that wasn’t what she had in mind.

Last week she asked me to get together. We live, after all, not that far from each other. But each date didn’t seem to work for her. She was going away on vacation, she said. She wanted to see me before she left. I wanted to see her after. Only looking back can I see the urgency in her words. I missed it at the time. I wonder if she would have talked or listened if we had had that time together.

I would have told her about L who felt himself beyond hope, redemption, or any rehabilitation. He’d go to the Bridge, and the waters below the Golden Gate would open and invite him in. We kept a watch on him. Took turns bringing him food.  As long as that frig was full he wouldn’t be so wasteful as to jump into the icy water.  We kept him alive with a frig full of groceries. Perishables kept him from perishing.  One day at the bridge, when he looked down—the waters below had shut their gate. He was no longer invited in. No longer welcome. And that was it—after so many months, his suicidal episode was over.  He’d call us each year on the anniversary of that day. He was downright unrecognizable from the agony he had carried. He’d worked it out. Worked it through. Worked with it. Worked around it. I think the point may be that whatever it was, it worked.

I wish I could have told Amy about L, his pain, and his ultimate survival. For if L could find his way out of the wilderness, even Palestine has a chance of finding peace.

“I love you, honey!” Amy signed her penultimate message to me. However she may have meant that lovely salutation (formulaic or heartfelt), I’ll treasure it. I’ll keep it with me always. Thank you, Amy, for all your gifts. What can I say, but that you’re sorely missed.

For Amy, with the beautiful smile—a kaddish.

About mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.
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