life’s rich pageant

Remember that time the temperature plunged to -1,000,000 and my pipes froze and sprang a leak and I swore and swore and swore? I remember that, too. It happened — ooooh, let’s see, now — less than two weeks ago. The leak’s been fixed. Yay Hurray! Happy ending!

BUT GUESS WHAT.  Today I’ve been dealing with a flooded toilet AND a flooded basement, and when I say “flooded basement” I mean up to my floppy soppy ankles. As I type this, The Mighty Sump Dump is doing its job while bowls and buckets and laundry baskets and other plasticky vessels and shit are floating around my cellar like abandoned dreams in a sad Scandinavian arthouse movie. plunger

But I’m not complaining. No way! I’ve only sworn once so far! I know how lucky I am to own this house o’ mine, just as I know how lucky I am to traverse a life that’s been chock full of oh-so-interesting triumphs and disasters. This is all part of the daily thrill of being alive. Just the other day I was thinking, “Wow, I’m only 52, and already I’ve done a lot of living!” It hit me: If I died tomorrow, and I so hope I don’t, I’ll have led a rich and interesting life.

And I have. I’ve loved like crazy, given birth three times, watched my children grow, traveled bunches, read books, written three, played soccer, played Dvorak, sung Bach, worked as a journalist for 34 years (holy old farts!), MET SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS, been assaulted by turkeys and assorted South American creaturesfallen hard, gotten up, felt the sublime, laughed like hell AND undergone minimally invasive cardiac surgery for a wacky heart condition that I’ll write about some other time, but don’t worry, I’m fine. Plus! I got to have a colonoscopy when I turned 50, which is something my dear late sister Lucy never got to experience. That was quite a trip. Everything was.

Even the painful stuff has been a blessing, in its way. Even the failures, the flooded basements, the floating receptacles of crap. Even the broken bits inside me, the wild furies of fear and human weakness. Even the losses — everything that cracks me open and lets in the light and warmth. I feel. I live. Can’t do one without the other.

A coworker reminded me, today, of that bit in “A Shot in the Dark” where Clouseau falls into the fountain and emerges sopping wet. The sexpot maid played by Elke Sommer tells him he should change his clothes or catch his death of pneumonia. He replies: “Yes, I probably will. But it’s all part of life’s rich pageant, you know?”

As I drove home to deal with the basement, I thought about this. And I realized: My life is a “Pink Panther” movie! AND I AM JACQUES CLOUSEAU! Minus the accent and the mustache. He was the embodiment of slapstick catastrophe, whether smashing a priceless Steinway (“not anymore”) or vacuuming a woman’s boobs. And he coped. He fumbled forward and figured shit out.

So here I am. My basement is flooded. My bathroom’s a mess, or it was until I mopped it with bleach. My whole damn house is a mess. My whole damn self is a mess.

But I’ll live, I guess. I have already.

i shred, therefore I am

My first great achievement this past weekend: moving the piano. YES, PEOPLE. I MOVED THE PIANO. ALL BY MYSELF. I figured that shit out, friends! True, it wasn’t a concert grand or anything, just a snappy Japanese upright. But it was A PIANO. And I MOVED IT. All the way from the back room of the house into the dining room — through three whole doors! That sound you hear is me patting myself on the back while yelping sadly in pain. My muscles aren’t what they used to be. But still. They managed.shreds

My second great achievement this weekend: shredding the old bills and crap larding up my file cabinets in the aforementioned back room of the house. This I had been avoiding assiduously and, dare I say, passionately in the four years since my husband died.

At first, my logic in avoiding it was: Well, I’ll need those old bills and crap at some point, because Chris just died, and you never know. A year later the logic had morphed to: Well, those old bills and crap can wait, and anyway, Chris just died, and you still never know. Two years later the logic had morphed to: Well, Chris just died, and the old bills and crap are taking up all the room in the file cabinet, but they can wait, and I’ll just put the new bills and crap in crazy stacks and drawers all over the house. Three years later the logic had morphed to: I have no time for this shit, but I’d better buy a shredder, anyway. Finally, four years into it, with the shredder waiting patiently in a box beside the file cabinet, the logic had morphed to: BLOODY HELL! I HAVE NO ROOM LEFT ANYWHERE FOR ALL THE NEW BILLS AND CRAP COMING INTO THE HOUSE! PASS THE SHREDDER!

And so, dear friends, I found myself shredding ALL sorts of nifty-keen utility bills and telephone bills and bank statements and health-insurance receipts and ancient orthodontic reports and flimsy yellow repair records — for cars I no longer own — and similar such ephemera, some of it dating back to the mid-2000s. I shredded and shredded and shredded. I felt like I was cleaning out not just the files but my own psychic space.

And as I did, I found myself in the grip of all sorts of competing emotions: relief that I’d finally gotten around to this onerous, long-delayed task; amazement at the fettuccine-like ribbons of paper amassing in box after box; exhaustion, and a touch of fear, at the thought of ever letting the files get this bad again; sadness at the realization that I was shredding little pieces of my years with Chris, no matter how mundane; hope for the future; and happiness at the room I was making in the files, my house, my life.

With all of these emotions whirring and grinding around (really, they made more noise than the shredder), I began to cry. Just a bit. Not mucus and saline everywhere, just a few easily expunged dribbles. But grief is weird. Even when you know full well that you aren’t over it, that you’ll never be over it, that the whole IDEA of being over it is a total crock, that all you can ever manage is to keep living, keep loving, stay grateful and shred as necessary — even then, it’ll catch you by surprise.

I didn’t know I had it in me to weep over office equipment. But I did know enough to know that pain and hope can co-exist in the same heart at the same time, and that the holy mess of our little human undertakings can lead to a kind of awe. What a shredded tangle I am half the time! And yet I’m still here. That’s not nothing. That, AND I MOVED THE PIANO. ALL BY MYSELF.

my sister’s voice

lucy coma typeface

You never really lose the people you love. When my sister Lucy killed herself in a psych-med overdose at the age of 31 in 1992, I feared forgetting her. I needn’t have worried. She was unforgettable, the most complete human being I’ve ever known: her kindness matched her brilliance matched her humor. She was my big sister. I was the “twerp,” her kid sister Aiminolde, the less-gifted one, the klutzier one, the one always struggling to find her place in that family of geniuses. She understood my many foibles, and she never treated me with anything but enveloping compassion and hilarious wit. Despite her intellect, which whizzed her through tests and off to Harvard, I never felt stupid around her. I only felt loved.

I knew I would never stop missing Lucy or sensing her near me. I knew I would always know her and call her my sister. But I also knew I had limits, that I couldn’t bring myself to pore over all the sheafs of notes she’d left behind detailing years and years of depression, hallucinations, suicidality, hospitalizations (13 or 14), medications (dozens) and misdiagnoses (countless) that led, finally, to the correct one: Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, a complex neurological disorder compounded by severe psychological fallout.

Lucy was always writing — hypergraphia often goes hand-in-hand with TLE — and churned out poetry, timelines, essays and meticulous accounts of her life and illness. I was aware she’d been working on an autobiography when she died, but I had no urge to track it down and read that or anything else she’d written. The thought of diving headfirst into her pain terrified me as much as the reality of living without her. Someday, maybe, I’d be strong enough and removed enough to go there. Just not yet. Not when my own pain was fresh.

Twenty-three years later, I felt ready. Why did it take me so long? Grief is strange. My own became stranger when I lost my father two months after losing Lucy, when I lost my mother two years after that. Then life took over; there were babies to raise, jobs to do, my own books to write. Near the end of that stretch I lost my husband, my second mother and my best friend, and each loss dredged up the pain of old ones.

My sister was present in these cyclical bouts of grieving, just as she was present in every moment of joy after her death: the births of my children were attended by their Aunt Lucy, whose love resides in my heart and warms theirs, too. They know her through me. They know my parents through me, the ad hoc preserver and channeler of memory. That’s what the Albany Med chaplain promised me, that day when Mama lay dying and I sat in the chapel weeping.

I wrote my first memoir for just that reason.  Still, even as I wrote it, I could not bring myself to dig deep into Lucy’s papers. I got as far as a list of her medications and a description of her seizure-induced hallucinations, and that was it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I started reorganizing the attic storage space, and I found a big cardboard box of Lucy-centric materials. Since then I’ve been poking through it, gingerly at first, more boldly as I dipped in and read and found myself crying, yes, but also grateful to reconnect with this beautiful, tortured, impossibly good creature that I was blessed to call my sister.

The first major piece of writing that startled and moved me was a handwritten autobiography that she produced during one of her numerous, unsuccessful stays at McLean, the leafy and collegiate-looking psych hospital outside Boston. The second discovery, which I happened across just yesterday, is the first few typewritten chapters of her book. She opens with a poem (“. . . this twisted life / why has it been given to me”) and then moves on to describe, with breathtaking honesty and insight, her emergence from a coma after her first suicide attempt in 1990:

I don’t remember going into it; the last thing I remember is Mama screaming to the woman, “No, she’s blacking out already; don’t you see it’s too late for her to vomit?”

I had never read this before. On delving further into Chapter 1, I learned other things that Lucy and Mama had never told me: that she exhibited little neural activity; that the doctors predicted she’d be brain-dead; that she announced mid-coma, “I have asthma” and “I have to pee”; that she’d forgotten she’d tried to kill herself but felt, drifting in and out of nightmares, that she had made a wrong choice.

I cried and read and cried and read and cried and cried and cried. Of course I wondered, as I read, whether Lucy felt this same, floating regret in her last moments in a fetal position two years later. Of course I wondered, as I always do, whether my husband had split-second flashes of remorse on his descent from a roof in 2011. I know my father regretted his suicide attempt in 1974; I found evidence of that in another attic find, though I haven’t found a firsthand account of his own coma.

But mainly, I read Lucy’s narrative with relief, rejoicing to hear again the quirky, radiant soprano that always spoke so gracefully of wanting to live while wanting to die. No one tried harder to make it through this mortal life. She documented that struggle with a transparency, a crystalline brightness, that makes me love and miss her even more.lucy

It’s all so Lucy. She’s all so there. She’s doing what she always did, saying truths that I need to hear, however belatedly, with uncompromising candor and love. And patience: She waited all this time to tell me. For more than two decades, her voice sat mute in a box in my attic, biding time while that fumbling twerp of a sister finally got around to listening.

I’m going to do something with this. I have no idea what. I have no idea where the other chapters are, or if there even are others; probably there were, at one point, but they’re long gone now thanks to my own negligence and fear.

But I’ll keep looking. I’ll keep reading. Lucy’s voice has a story to tell, and I plan to listen, preserve and channel.

dana perry, graham moore, and what mattered at the oscars

You know which two moments really mattered at the Oscars this year. You know because they jumped off the screen with their audacity, authenticity, humanity and courageous, revelatory love.

The first occurred when Dana Perry, hefting her award for best documentary short, dedicated it to her late son, Evan. “We lost him to suicide. We should talk about suicide out loud. This is for him.” The second came when Graham Moore, hefting his own hunk of Oscar for adapted screenplay, revealed that he had tried to kill himself at age 16. “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do.”

The suicidal urge and action are a mystery. What form and depth this darkness takes, no one can imagine. Answers will always escape us, just as answers always elude the living in the weeks and months and years following such a death. The whys, the what-ifs, the how-could-this-bes. The what-could-we-have-dones. All were asked after Robin Williams took his own life. All are asked after every suicide. My husband’s, my sisters, everyone’s. We ask the questions. We cup our hands to our ears. There is no reply to be heard. There isn’t anything we can say — to each other, to the dead — to satisfy the urge to know why it happened, the need to nail down its cause and meaning.

But we can still say something. Maybe there’s no answer to hear, but we can still fill the void with our love and electric impulse to connect. We can still speak of the unspeakably hard, because only by talking can we ease our pain and the pain of others.

Perry was right: This needs to be discussed. Moore was right: We need to make room for eccentricity, difference, all that makes us singularly and miraculously who we are.

Let’s talk to each other. And then let’s listen.

on gratitude, the memoir, ‘the moth’

sample 2B
It’s an odd thing, this gratitude I feel for so many gifts that have come my way since Chris’s suicide. How can I be grateful for a book I wouldn’t have written had he not jumped? How can I be grateful for a story I couldn’t have told? How can I give thanks for the new people who’ve entered my life in the aftermath, the new surges of love I’ve felt, the new places I’ve been with my kids, the new adventures I’ve had since his death?

But I am indeed thankful. And yet this bizarre and blessed I-am-thankfulness doesn’t diminish the horror of what came before or the pain that still throbs because of it. This is the yin-yang of our messy, mashed-up, miraculous human lives — the push of living that sends us forward, the pull of death that makes us grieve.

What a job we have ahead of us when we’re born! “Hey kid,” says Whoever’s in charge at the gate. “Squeeze through this tube, pop out and scream, then shit all over your parents. Then scream some more. After that, laugh. Be sure to howl in agony at life’s exquisite torments. But don’t stop laughing. And keep shitting. Do this until you die. Now, off you go! Have fun! Don’t forget to write!”

If anyone explained all this to me at the outset, I honestly don’t remember. Took me a while to figure that out. It’ll take me a while longer to figure out the rest. Maybe we can help each other do that; I certainly can’t do it alone.

In the meantime, because I know I have to plug myself no matter how badly I suck at self-promotion, here’s the link to my story for “The Moth.”

And here’s the obligatory Amazon link to my memoir of life after my husband’s death, “Figuring Shit Out: Love, Laughter, Suicide, and Survival.” 

Even better, here’s a link to the book on, where you can find a local independent bookstore. And if you click here, you can order it via indiebound from The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Or, if you feel like a drive in the snow, I’ll be appearing at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, NH, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19: click here for that.)

That’s about it from me for now. If my memoir or my story helps a few people struggling with grief to feel a little less alone, then it’s served its purpose. I’m grateful for that, too.


I’ve long regarded grief as a monster — as something ghoulish and hungry and shaggy and self-centered, crashing suddenly through my walls and splintering my furniture and my equilibrium with its giant paws and drooling, bloody fangs. It is a nasty thing. It gets in my face, it never showers, and its stinky B.O. alone is enough to bring me to tears.

Lately, though, I’ve switched metaphors. I’ve moved on to something a little smaller and fluffier, with better hygiene. Though, I must stress, it is a being no less annoying. And no less insistent. And possessed of no less spectacularly awful timing. Why, just last week it appeared — uninvited! how rude! — for no apparent reason except I guess I still miss my mom as much as I did 20 years ago, though the grief hadn’t visited in quite some time.

It’s an odd duck, and a pushy one. You’re familiar with its M.O., I’m sure. There you are, in the middle of life or work or vacuuming, when it waddles through the front door without knocking (not sure how it finds the key) and quacks obnoxiously for your attention. You have no choice but to drop your aforementioned life or work or vaccuuming and sit with this unwanted, awkward, splay-footed creature. You must tolerate its presence, entertain its eccentricities, listen to its painful, pissy business and cry as you pour it a cup of Earl Grey tea. You do this for as long as it decides to stay, then send it on its way until it barges in again uninvited at the next worst possible time.

At first, in the early days of loss, these visits occur several times a day. Then a few times a day. Then daily, weekly, a few times a month. And over time, as the visits become rarer and rarer and briefer and briefer and less and less sloppy with crying, you begin to hope that the damn duck is done with you forever — that finally, after all those unanticipated, difficult visits with all that tea, it will somehow lose interest in you and move on.

So it does. Until it doesn’t. When it does again. And one day, years after its first, knockless, arrival at your door, you’re picking your nose at a traffic light on the way to work when that same fool fowl whips open the passenger-side door and hops right in. It sits there, dangling its floppy little feet six inches above the floor mat, quacking away about the familiar painful business, the what-ifs, the what-nexts, the you-should’ves and why-didn’t-yous. All you can do is listen quietly and wipe the salty discharge off your face. And you don’t even have any Early Grey tea.

But if you give it its due, it’ll leave. It’ll scramble its feathery butt up the door and bail beak-first through the window, and it’ll do this speedy-quick if you flip on the radio and start blasting insipid upbeat pop. Colbie Caillat: that’ll do it. That usually sends the grief bird packing. And if it doesn’t, you can always lean over and give that odd duck the boot at the next traffic light, hoping that it waddles away for good, knowing that it probably never will. Bye bye, birdie. You’ll be back.

weirder than this guy

way weirder than this public domain little fellow

my permanent gift

photo (43)
Today marks a year since I lost my best friend, Pam. I can’t believe it’s been so long. I can’t believe it’s gone so fast. I can’t believe I’ve made it 12 months without blabbing on the phone with her and laughing until my diaphragm rips in two. She held and helped me after my husband’s suicide. She talked me through moments of profound loneliness and aching doubt and crashing, crushing guilt. She told me that good things would happen, they would. That I’d find love again, I would.

After she died, I did. And I couldn’t call her up and tell her. I still can’t. Her absence felt like a rupture in the cosmic order of things. It still does. Several times a week, my brain howls at me to JUST PHONE PAM, and I explain to my brain that sorry, she’s unreachable, but the damn thing doesn’t ever listen. Instead it howls again, DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME? I SAID JUST PHONE PAM! And I can’t it shut it up. So I talk to her anyway, telling her about all the crazy joys and heady milestones that have come my way since her death.

I wonder what’s been happening at her end, these days. I wonder if she’s looking down at us, tracking everyone’s movements, whispering little directives to help us all along. Could be. Could also be she’s reading a book or singing a hymn or kicking a soccer ball around Somewhere Up There. Or doling out a few words of counsel to someone in her gentle, calm, comprehending way, which always felt less like advice than some humbly revealed wisdom of the ages. Or unleashing that high-pitched madhouse giggle of hers. Or smiling that beautiful, face-consuming smile, which spread the width of her cheeks and squinched up her eyes to slivered crescent moons. I used to wonder how she saw out of them. I used to wonder how she managed to see so deeply into me. How she saw so deeply into everyone.

I know she’s not far away; I believe that. I know she’s still Pam, only more so, and that we’re still friends; I believe that, too. To borrow a phrase from another dear friend, Toni, who lost too many sons: Pam is my permanent gift, just as everyone I love, in this life and in that one, is a permanent gift. And so she’ll remain, no matter the years that slip past in her absence, no matter the phone calls that fail between here and there. I’ll never stop talking to her. That’s part of the gift. For that, and for her, I’ll always be grateful.

dead letter office

The weirdest goddamn thing happened to me last week. I mean, weird goddamn things are always happening to me (such as: getting latex-gloved by the TSA), but this was the goddamn weirdest in a while.

An envelope arrived addressed to Chris. That was only a little odd; on a 1-10 scale of goddamn weirdness, it registered somewhere around a 5. I’m used to getting mail addressed to my late husband, but most of it belongs in one of three categories: 1) fundraising queries of the sort that involve adorably personalized labels; 2) letters from old friends who hadn’t yet heard he died, which often bring me to tears; and 3) promotions from car dealerships, which always annoy me (about a 7 on the 1-10 scale of goddamn annoyance) but don’t technically piss me off, except for that one time some smart-ass salesperson hand-wrote and addressed a promotional faux missive to my dead spouse that I mistook for Dead Letter Category No. 2 and, as such, brought me to tears before I realized I’d been had. And so I got pissed off, a 10+ on the relevant scale, and then I tore someone’s voicemail a new one.

The latest Dead Letter to plop on my porch was a bill for $15.16 — what’s left, after insurance, of the charge for an orthopedic office visit and knee X-ray performed in August. This August. On Chris. Who hadn’t visited a doctor of any kind, as far as I was aware, for a whole three years. But there it was, addressed to him, and no one else’s name was anywhere on it.

My first thought was, I kid you not: WTF? Chris is alive?

My second thought was: He had a knee X-ray?

My third thought was: WTF?

My fourth: He has a knee?

My fifth, and I am still kidding you not, was: SO WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME HE’S NOT DEAD?

Yes. I had these thoughts. No. They make no sense. But I had them. I’m really really serious. Of course, all of them zapped through the Clanging Campbell’s Mushroom Soup Can Known As Amy’s Head in roughly .0000017 seconds, and it wasn’t long after that, maybe another .0000026 seconds, that I collected myself, recognized the temporary breach in my sanity and accepted, again, that my husband leapt to his end in late September, 2011.

Then I sighed, and I thought: Yep. That really happened.

The mind is a piece of work, isn’t it? Mine is, anyway. Mine sometimes noodles along in its own reality, all la-de-dah like, following a path disconnected from the actual world with its actual rules outside my actual Mushroom Soup. It’s possible — and here, reaching wildly for an explanation, I slap right up against pseudo-Freudian psychobabble — that the horror of some traumas, including the suicide of a loved one, is so entirely Other and Wacky and Wrong that our brains never manage to adjust. It’s possible this is true of all loss. It’s possible, in every case, after every death, that some eensy sliver of the ever-rebellious mind simply refuses to go there.

Turned out the X-ray bill, while addressed to Chris, was actually for my daughter. I have no idea how her father got his name on it, as the insurance was mine; it’s possible he brought her there years ago for something else, and his name was etched into the system as the responsible party. I’d forgotten she’d visited the orthopedist for her knee before hoofing off to college this fall. I’d known about it. It just spilled out of the Soup Can somehow.

In any case, that’s one mystery solved. The other mystery, the bigger mystery, the neuro-psycho-spiritual-sci-fi-scenario that momentarily altered my reality and made me think, for just a split hair of a nanosecond, that my husband’s aching joints hadn’t been cremated with the rest of him: that remains a puzzle.

lucky me

me and luce

Last week, I got to have a colonoscopy. Not had to. Got to.

I am not going to describe the procedure itself in any great detail. First, because even I get tired of discussing That End of Things, no matter the name of this damned blog. And second, because the ins and outs of it don’t matter much, except for that part where I got clocked by narcotics and woke up in a hospital gown feeling like an escapee from the Summer of Love.

What matters: I got to have a colonoscopy.  It was a privilege. I turned 50 last year, and that was a privilege, too. Hitting that mark, and having that procedure, were two milestones my sister missed by 19 years.

I’ve written about Lucy before, and I will again. I can’t not write about her. She was one of the most brilliant, beautiful and caring people I’ve ever known, a diminutive spark plug of a woman with enormous violet-blue eyes and a giant frizz of black hair that bounced and boinged theatrically whenever she played the piano. And could she play. Her Chopin was peerless. Her Brahms was a thrumming romantic force. Her Bach, exquisite and clear. I have a few old cassette tapes of her at the piano, but among the things I miss most — even now, 22 years after she committed suicide — is hearing her crank away the afternoon at the Mason & Hamlin in our parents’ living room.

She’s with me, though. I believe that. Even if I didn’t believe it in a spiritual sense, I would still feel her presence beside me — because I knew, right from the beginning, that I needed to live for the both of us. For all of my childhood and most of my life, my older sister hit every milestone ahead of me; she graduated high school and college ahead of me, had a serious boyfriend ahead of me, had her heart broken ahead of me, turned 30 ahead of me. I expected to trail her forever.

But then her life stopped at 31, and I found myself, at 28, venturing forward alone. But I wasn’t, really. Because every blast of sun and rain I’ve weathered in life, every joy and pain, has been weathered for Lucy, too.

She died without a gray hair on her head, so I’ve gone silver for the both of us. She died without getting pregnant and giving birth and raising children, so I raised my three for the both of us. She died without knowing how it felt to stare down fresh wrinkles in the mirror, so I’ve stared mine down for the both of us. She died without feeling the creep of osteoarthritis in her lower back, so I’ve wolfed back Tylenol for the both of us.

I got to bury our parents. I got to turn 40. I got to feel great love and the loss that followed. I got to watch my kids grow up and up and up, and away and away and away. Last month, I got to pay tuition to two private universities, moving the money around online, watching it whoosh silently from my account to theirs. Last week, I got to fight back tears as I hugged my younger daughter on her move-in day. Tomorrow I get to fight back tears and hug again when I send my older daughter to her semester abroad.

I get to cry. I get to feel. I get to laugh with my friends. I get to eat too much, sleep too little, crab about my knees and wonder about the future. I get to love again. I get to live some more.

And so, as I prepped for my colonoscopy last week, I kept checking myself every time I felt the urge to gripe about the awful food and dreadful laxatives and horrid sea of Gatorade on which I drifted like some sad and bloated whale, high on electrolytes. Lucy didn’t get that far; if she had, she would have made it there three years before me. Instead, I made it for the both of us.

I got to.

robin williams: only the love makes sense

Like a lot of people, I learned of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide on Facebook. And when I did, I dropped my phone onto the kitchen counter and wept. Really wept. The first words out of my mouth were directed at him: You didn’t just do that to your wife and kids. The second were prayers for them, because my kids and I know. We know how it feels to be on the receiving end — of the pain, and of the prayers. One was hell. The other was not quite heaven, but an earth where at least we felt ourselves carried by love. God has many hands, I often said in the months following my husband’s fatal leap.

No one knows what to say after a suicide. Some people, too afraid to say the wrong thing, say nothing. If we can’t find reason or meaning or some lenitive hope behind a death, how can we console in its aftermath? How can we say anything that soothes, relieves, explains?

We can’t. You can’t. There’s nothing that soothes or finds reason after a suicide. There is none. All there can be, all anyone can ever express to the grieving and each other, is love. All we can do is promise to love one another better in the brief time we have.

Here’s what you should say to suicide survivors: anything. Here’s what it means to them: everything. Here’s the best explanation for their loss: nothing. There is no explaining either the act of suicide or the anguish that leads someone to commit it. If we could understand one, we could understand the other; instead, all we can do is parse the turns and tragedies in a person’s life, the drugs or depression or dalliances with all the wrong psych meds or snake oils or habits of self-abasement, and even then, we don’t have an explanation. We only have a narrative.

All the baffled postings on Facebook reflect this horror in the face of cosmic unreason and embattled faith. And indeed we should be baffled. Indeed there should be horror: suicide should never be treated lightly. How could Robin Williams, a brilliant, explosively insightful, comic-genius man-child who brought joy to so many for so long, have done this to himself and his loved ones? Expect everyone everywhere, every online gossip site and supermarket rag, to dig deep into the causes. Maybe we’ll learn there was an obvious trigger. Maybe we won’t.

Either way, Williams’ death will never make sense — just as my husband’s death will never make sense, just as no suicide will ever make sense. Not in this world. For suicide is a violation of all that we know to be true: that life is precious; that love prevails; that parents will put their children first; that light and joy and hope are stronger, infinitely so, than darkness and despair.

No. It will never make sense. It shouldn’t.

What does make sense: the love that surrounds Williams’ family now and in the long months ahead of them. That’s the love that will prevail. That’s the light that conquers. And they’ll emerge from that darkness. They will. They will.