Lifestyle Journalist Suzanne Baum reflects on the pain of losing a best friend in tragic and shocking circumstances.
As the daughter in law of a United Synagogue rabbi, I have had some insight into grieving. Fortunately not my own, but for the 25 years in which I have been married, I am only too aware of the rabbi’s role in burying the dead, helping the mourners with their pain and going through the process of a funeral, shiva and life after death. And it is the latter part where his words of wisdom have really stuck with me. Once the Jewish week of mourning is over and the visitors stop coming as much, when the warmth of the initial bubble of comfort subsides, the pain goes on.
Life after death. Always try to be present, look out for the person who is suffering the loss of a loved one and check in with them regularly. Life goes on yes but – for anyone who has suffered from a loved one dying – it goes without saying this is not life or even reality, but, for many, a nightmare I have followed his advice. And it is the ‘life after’ right now that I am entering; a period where I – and so many of us – have given our word to our beautiful, strong, loving best friend Judianne that we will be by her side forever more.
A week on from our friend Dean Jayson’s death, the reality of never seeing him again has not sunk in. As a tight friendship group we are holding on to him via a WhatsApp group where we continue to share photos, memories, videos of Dean and even an emoji he set up with a party balloon coming out his head. For that was Dean – the life and soul of the party. He was so very loud, we would often tell him to shut up. What we wouldn’t give to hear his strong Essex voice again – for the silence is deafening. The silence is so deafening that the time we have all spent sitting in the family house, has been to fill the silence.
'The prevalence of suicide in our society has been gradually rising and the devastation, which I have seen first-hand, leaves behind a tornado of despair'
As a woman of words, this should be easy but my voice seems to have become disconnected from my brain. Perhaps the shock of Dean’s sudden and totally unexpected death – that came like a sledgehammer to my head – has put me into a state of muteness. But silence gives my friend Judianne time to get lost in her thoughts, so I use all my strength – as do our friends – to fill the gaps with tales of Dean, stories of our friendship group, days at university and his ability to fall asleep anywhere – in the back of a cab, on our sofa, standing up or horizontal somewhere. In the last moments we saw Dean someone reached out and shut his eyes and told us he looked peaceful, just like he does when he was sleeping. Could we take comfort in that? Not really, because we want him, we need him, to wake up.
Facing the loss of a loved one is always difficult, but losing someone to suicide can add another level of pain to your grief. The shock and anguish following a suicide can seem overwhelming and I know now I don’t talk for myself when I posted my initial thoughts on my Instagram post hours before his funeral on Sunday.
As someone who can’t cook I watched the crowd of amazing friends continually delivering meals to our friend and her kids and thought I can’t help on this front.
Yet, I can write. Writing is my creative and emotional outlet and I felt the need – for the first time in a week – to post how I was feeling. The response to my words was overwhelming. I touched upon my grief, shock, despair. I spoke of my 48-year-old lawyer husband and his friends – the most beautiful group of men reduced to tears. I wanted people to know it is okay not to be okay. I am not okay – my friends are not okay.
The Samaritans – from whom I have been seeking support via their website – encouraged me to share my words in a bid to let others know that when you lose a loved one to suicide, it can be all-consuming.
And it is. For Dean was the ultimate mensch. A best friend, father, husband and son. Loyal, fair, intelligent, loud, kind, hospitable, outspoken, funny and passionate. On a personal note, he was a mentor to my eldest son, who is joining Dean’s place of work Accenture, where he rose through the ranks to get to the top.
'On Sunday, at exactly the time Dean was lowered into the ground at 3.48pm, the rain came down so strongly, the thunder roared. The heavens really did open for our friend'.
On LinkedIn, pages and pages of messages from former colleagues reiterate the same thing. He was an outstanding boss, a hard worker, a man of his word, a kind soul who only wanted the best out of everyone. He also had a brilliant sense of humour. We would laugh until we cried. And now, we are just crying. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as waking up crying, yet my husband and I have both experienced it this week. Crying in the very little sleep we have had.
I have married into a rabbinical family, but I am not religious. Yet – the sense of community, the love of our rabbi, the endless chicken soup and the prayers have been comforting. I’ve read so much about Jewish funerals – I have watched my husband teach our friends’ three kids how to say kaddish for their father – and I felt my body shiver to the core bearing witness to them shovelling soil onto their fathers casket.
So, why I am writing this? Yes, I was asked to, yes it is an outlet for me to express my emotions but most importantly it is to highlight the importance of the fragility of our mental health. The prevalence of suicide in our society has been gradually rising and the devastation – which I have seen first-hand – leaves behind a tornado of despair. The ripple effect I call it.
Family and friends of loved ones, work colleagues, a community and even people who didn’t know Dean have been left in shock.
As someone who writes on mental health all the time, I would often say look out for the symptoms and the signs but – with Dean – there were none. Nothing. And this was a man who never, ever stopped talking, until now. Dean was loved beyond words. Our hearts are broken. Not only for Judianne, but for the hundreds of us who loved him. Dean was THE BEST.
And in his memory, Judianne wants to make something positive come from this most harrowing of experiences. To raise money for a charity very close to their hearts. A charity where every year his best friends would join together in a poker tournament in the house that was everyone’s home – to raise money for myisrael.
I know I speak on behalf of all the friends when I say our world has been shattered. We will rebuild, yet with a huge hole in our circle. Heaven has certainly gained a diamond.
Suzanne Baum is a lifestyle editor & celebrity interviewer.
This article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle