Death Folder: On Life, Living, Suicide and Dying

©2013 Trudy | Drift Sojourn

©2013 Trudy | Drift Sojourn

I have a death folder on my computer. I need it there. For safety. It is not filled with bookmarks of celebrities, such as Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston, and the impact their deaths had on me. Their art and their passing did impact me and in a very specific way because of their Blackness and their specific homegoing services. Those services reminded me of my mother’s and countless other Black funerals of unnamed and unknown people to me, where if I see one of them, I feel a knowing sting and connection. It is one of the moments where fictive kinship is not a weight but instead wings. It does not matter if I am an atheist and their services are theist. We share Black mourning.

My death folder on my computer is not about my mother who died almost 15 years ago either. I think about her everyday. She is the closest person to me to ever pass away. I even recently re-read the medical examiner’s report. Whoever I was going to be before she died? That person died too. I mourned that future on the day that she died as well. I recently looked through the funeral program that I designed when she died. I recently re-read the newspaper death notice that I wrote. I looked through all of my artistic and organizational contributions during that unparalleled painful time in my life and realized that I did not do those things solely because of the unspoken yet specific familial demands on me; every family member had them/gave them based on skills and/or finances. I did them because that was how I coped with the anger and denial that I experienced during that time. When I say art saves me, I mean that. Quite literally. I felt my pulse calm as I worked on those two projects, even as the organizational part of the funeral was painful and thankfully other family members participated and took over when I could not continue. But working on those two specific things felt as if I was less likely to, I dunno, drive my car off the highway to crash on purpose as I thought about many times on my drive back to college (I stayed in my college town for a year and half after I graduated) after the funeral.

My death folder on my computer is about my own death that has not happened yet. The one that I think about wistfully as an escape from pain; the one that I think about dreadfully in terms of health issues, gender violence or State violence. There is information about DNRs there; living wills; traditional wills. Luckily I do not own much; I did not even have to take out that much in terms of property-related insurance. I have better insurance on the things that I own than my own body. The former is affordable; the latter is mostly unreachable. There is information about life insurance that I need to acquire, since being outside of corporate America means that insurance is no longer subsidized to cost a measly $3.00 a month as it did at one job that I had before, one of the few perks of being in such horrid workplaces.

There is also something else in my death folder. This actually covers most of the content. Suicide. I discuss death and suicide sometimes; I have in past writing and tweets. I cannot continue living without knowing there is an alternate option that I can choose versus having the only choices be to continue to suffer or wait for my own life to be stolen away from me by someone/something else. I have to know that there is a way out. For safety. I do not feel safe being alive without knowing that at any time I can choose not to be. I have not been able to completely close this door as an option. I finally realized—or decided to be completely honest with myself, rather—that I do not want to. I want that available, whether completely closed at times or ajar at others. I do not want to live knowing that I have also decided that I have no right or reason to die. At my choice. At the time that I want to. Thus, sometimes while I am experiencing the spiral downward—whether from depression, anxiety, PTSD or an acute reaction to experiencing consistent unrelating abuse and dehumanization online, in public and up until recently (thank goodness I was finally able to move) private space—I have to at least entertain suicide before I know that I do not want that to be the option at the moment. At least not at that particular time. I have to entertain the idea that what I am experiencing is not absolute to the point that there is no escape. Only then am I able to walk myself back into the place where I may still want to live. 

Isolation. That is what happens when I realize that not even love itself can fix the isolation created by the fact that I have acute awareness that I will never be engaged as fully human by anyone beyond a small finite circle of people who love me. And even they fail at times. So do I. Fail. To engage them as unquestionably human is to push back on the daily legal, media, psychological, sociological, sociopolitical and cultural assaults that we all experience as Black people, and some particularly experience as Black women. But there are moments where even people who have known me for years online, friends who have known me for over a decade offline, family who have known me for a lifetime fail and I sit there thinking, “not even they 'see' me. Oh okay. I hope that I 'see' them. I hope that I have not failed them as badly as they have failed me. Perhaps I have though." Perhaps we are all failures pushing back against something inevitable—while trying to pretend that this lifetime, which at times feels like an arduous forever that does not happen in a blink of an eye, as people say it does, life, that is—which is the admission that to want to die can be a reasonable desire, all considering. Suicides have been acts of resistance by Black people before; during enslavement, for example. This does not mean that such resistance is without personal pain. What act of resistance is without pain? Even when choosing to live? 

Sometimes the spiral downward is not even a spiral "downward." It is not always pain. Sometimes even when I am “happy” per se, I still would prefer a painless death over anything that I experience in life, good or bad. Yes it is true that art saves me and quite literally. But sometimes, I do not want to be saved. And I feel perfectly comfortable in that moment. Relaxed even. Obviously because I am still here, I continue to choose to be alive. There was a time where it was not a choice. It was willing myself to stay alive because of familial expectations, racial expectations as a Black person, cultural expectations as a person raised in Jamaican, Black American and Southern culture, specific expectations because of the specific demands placed on Black women to give up actual humanity to perform robotic stoicism instead, because of societal expectations that unless you will yourself to live for others, ignoring your own pain, you are "selfish" and deserve to die anyway. I am mostly free from all of these now. It took a lot of work. And sometimes all of this still lingers because of socialization. Freedom—as experienced internally—is all journey and no destination. There is no absolute moment of decolonization where it is “finished” work. 

The funny thing is that all of those expectations are marketed—yes, “marketed” is the opportune word here—as how to express love. I should will myself to live, against my own desire, because suffering until a homicide (which is, well, very likely for a Black woman my age) or naturally caused death is how to "prove" I "love" others. I "love" my family, Blackness, Jamaica, America, the South, Black womanhood and humanity through existing, even if I do not want to. Well, no. I cannot be tricked by this anymore. I never realized how free I could be until I realized that this is simply not true. I know that I express my love for others by accepting if they themselves feel exactly the way I do about life and death. My love allows them the space. And my love means that I will accept the pain of their loss, even if it destroys me, because I owe them that if I love them. I take the hit. Not them. I will never ask anyone to live for me, against their own pain. I do not think that I really love them if I do.

I have to proverbially walk down this particular mental road, open and close that death folder, literally and proverbially, because only then I actually know why I continue to live. I find the value in my existence, as is, and I am able to do so without owing anyone my breath, especially since for most, I do not exist as an actual person to them anyway. Their desires for “mules” and “villains” and “resources” and Fact Portals and problem solvers and someone to try to control and someone to be better than and someone to harm for pleasure or because the real target is not accessible. None of these are love. But most people would insist that I should continue to exist, specifically to live, solely to be any number of these things. They even have the audacity to suggest that such a stance is “pro-life.” 

I admit the personal impact of such violence is quite real while still wanting to live or I admit the personal impact of such violence is quite real while considering death at various times in my life. Both admissions feel equally valuable to me. It is only because I walk through the process of doing the latter that thus far I can continue to choose the former. I do not want to delete my death folder. I need it there. For safety. Every time I open and then close that folder, I know that I engaged in a deliberate act.  In those moments when I am closest to death, I am actually deliberately alive. Now all that is left is to feel alive outside of those moments...and never forget that I actually have. I did actually live. I am actually living. I have a life folder too. It just is not an actual folder filled with links. It is felt and it is carried with me all of the time. The good memories; the kind thoughts written down; the exchanges of empathy and care between a few people and I; the photographs; the places; the people; the moments; myself.