The Death of a Young Man…

The Silent Suicides… The Secret Suicides…

I am really grateful to The AIDS Memorial, because it shows that it is not too late to write.

I mean now, often after many years, people write about the death of their loved ones; partners, children, parents, friends – it is like the NAMES Project, not with Panels, but with photos and words.

I recently realised that I have written about the sudden death of my mother many times on Facebook – as if my relatives and friends have never heard about it before. It was quite embarrassing, but I know I did it because her death affected me so much.

But I don´t think I have written about a friend´s suicide, quite as often, although that was something that also affected me strongly.

When someone very happy and positive suddenly commits suicide, it is very upsetting, because there is no warning. If people are depressed a lot, at least one can understand, but…

At the time of my friend´s death I connected his suicide with grief. He had suddenly lost his mother a few years before he died.

She went upstairs to have a rest after Christmas dinner, while the other family members took a walk with the dog, and they found her dead when they returned home. I don´t think my friend ever recovered from that shock. He was very close to his mother.

He was a young man from the countryside, and in 1984 he had just graduated from a Theater school in Stockholm, he had been hired at a Theater, and had landed a role on Swedish television. Everything was wonderful, and when I met him the last time he was almost glowing. We hugged and said goodbye.

I think one can postpone disaster.

If I understand it right, he kept him self very busy after the death of his mother. He rented a room in the home of an older actress, he studied, he kept him self very busy in the evenings, and was never really alone.

He went home that summer, and came out as gay to his father. According to one of his sisters it was met with silence. Coming out as gay during the first years of HIV/AIDS, can not have been easy.

The family eventually helped him move to the new city, and for a short while he shared the apartment with another actor, until that actor found his own place – and then my friend was alone for the first time in several years – and that is when he died.

He had hung him self in a closet. His former flatmate found him, after he had failed to come to rehearsals.

He had left some small messages on a table, but no suicide letter.

 

After my friend´s funeral, I happened to meet a man that was working in the church, in the parking lot, and we started talking.

He told me that my friend was the fourth or fifth young man, from that area, that had committed suicide around the same time.

And that was really … Was it a suicide pact? One can assume that they knew each other, as they were from this little city, so did they trigger each other for some reason?

At that time I did not connect any of this to HIV/AIDS.

 

Many years went by, and after my retirement I moved to a city not far away from where my friend was raised.

I had hoped to finally meet my friend´s father, but he was very sick, and passed away not long after I had tried to get in touch with him.

And I started to think about the other young men, it left me no peace.

I started to ask around. Did people know about these young men? Was my friend the last one, or did others follow him?

I eventually found out that several of the young men were homosexual, maybe all of them. And it made me wonder if they killed them self to spare their families, protect them against shame in that little city – if they were all homosexual, maybe they were also affected by this new disease that struck homosexuals? Or the suspicion about it. Maybe it had nothing at all to do with that. But nevertheless several young men had died in that city.

I was thinking about their parents, their siblings. Had they known about the other suicides, or was it kept secret.

I interviewed a nurse in Sweden, Leif Larsson, who worked with HIV/AIDS-patients for many years, and he talked about ”the Silent Suicides”, where people just killed them selves, they didn´t say anything, they did not leave a letter, they just removed them self from this Earth. I think one can add my friends suicide to that group, even if he just feared he was infected

I went to the church in that city and suggested that it should be addressed. Maybe it would help the surviving family members, if there was a church service about suicide – then it could come up naturally.

There was a service, but it did not take place in the big church as I had hoped, but in a very small church, outside the city. And not much was advertised about it.

I was supposed to speak, but just before the service began the priest asked me to speak after the service when coffee was served, but I refused – my friend´s family members had arrived, and I wanted to acknowledge him, and the other young men, in the service, in the church.

I talked about them, while the priest stood very very near me – she seemed to be worried that I would say something inappropriate.

At the coffee there was a woman who talked on behalf of Suicide Zero about the death of her son – and all that was well – but it had little to do with what had happened in and around 1984, in that area.

I am quite sure I know the reasons why it all became so strange – it had to do with protecting the man that had once spoken to me in the parking lot. He had not mentioned any names, but he had talked about the young men, and I think it is called that he broke protocol.

But it must also have had to do with guarding the memory of the young men.  And their families. So it was impossible, it couldn´t really be addressed. But they were at least mentioned in that service, to a handful of people.

I know there were many suicides in connection with HIV/AIDS in the US, I have read articles about that, and I have become aware of several suicides there that can never be talked about. Silent, secret suicides.

However, I did write about a suicide last year, or actually a suicide-to-be, in a piece in this blog about Robert Locke, called:

What can I say, I´m BOB.

Please scroll down.

The death of my friend… He died before there was a real HIV- tests. I have found out that he was worried, because he had had a few relationships, but who knows… I just think it was too hard for him. He had said to a former partner that he thought it was hard to find love.

I want to finish this piece with a story that the former partner told me about him. The way he was.

He had decided to kill him self by jumping down from a high place in Stockholm, and he started climbing over, but a man that was passing by caught him and saved him from falling. But that man was so upset about what had just happened, that my friend comforted him, instead of dying.

He is now resting with his parents in a little graveyard, surrounded by fields.

Let me add that the man who found him dead, was an actor from Finland. He passed away in March 2020, but is still not buried.

He has a daughter in Germany, but she has not been able to take care of it all, because of the Covid travel restrictions.

I offered to help the family by bringing his urn to Finland, when I can travel, but it seems like it will be possible for his daughter to take care of it now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You either lose it completely…

In 1941 a book called ”Escape from Paris” was published in Sweden.

It was written by Lo Håkansson, a Swedish journalist.

For some time I have wanted to quote a piece in her book, about something she experienced during World War II, it was the bombing of a train station in Tours, France, with many casualties.

”When it was all over, I sat down at the same place where I had been standing all the time.

I was terrified over my self. How could one become so apathetic so one could calmly look at the shambles, calmly look at how the dead and wounded were carried away.

I did not understand my self any longer. I thought I knew my self rather well, and although I was sort of prepared for experiences, such as the ones I had just lived through, I had expected that some kind of reaction would appear.

That there didn´t seem to be any reaction at all, I assumed depended on a lack of feelings and compassion.

It wasn´t until much later that it dawned on me, that this was the way I reacted. You either lose it completely in sight of all these insane war experiences, or you become like a stone.”

I had a similar reaction, when it came to HIV/AIDS.

So many people died. It was funeral after funeral. And after a while I didn´t feel anything. It was time for me to go.

And still the experiences I had were limited in comparison to what the hospital staff and volunteers experienced in San Francisco, with so many people dying. I was allowed to be an observer at a Care for Caregivers workshop in San Francisco in 1987, and saw people there that were stuck in grief, overwhelmed by all the death, unable to cry.

In the end, after my son was born in 1990 – having interviewed and followed sick and dying people all through my pregnancy – I decided to not get to know any new people with HIV/AIDS, just keep on following the people I already knew.

Eventually I started to feel again, remembering certain things that moved me, like…

Ron making a final grand gesture, because it can´t be over, booking tickets to New York on the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth.

Torgny having decided to make it home by him self, hardly being able to lift his foot on to the pavement.

Carl asking me to read a poem at his partners funeral… ”If you have time”.

And Lars, whose self portrait covers my Swedish book, I can picture him sitting down, trying to dry him self after a shower, a little area at the time, having no strength.

Lars trying to strike up a conversation with an old neighbor over the fence, but the woman continues to walk…

Lars talking in the night, not understanding he is dying, not understanding his lungs are filling up, talking and talking, worried about someone else… until his partner realizes that he has died.

Memories, lines, reaching my heart.

I took these photos of Lars in Greece, 1980, about a year before his journey to New York, where he thought he got infected with the virus.