It Happened to Me: I Saw a Stranger Die

I learned that night, sometimes the difference you could make can be huge, and the regret from not doing anything can be massive.
Publish date:
September 26, 2011
death, therapy, suicide

You know that saying, "Everything happens for a reason?" Being a former pastor's daughter, that had kind of always been a mantra of mine. Yeah, shitty stuff happens, but there's always a lesson to be learned, or some good will come of any negative experience, right?

Well, in the summer between my first and second years at university, that belief was deeply shaken.

It was a hot summer night and I had planned to meet up with a friend who was visiting my city (Toronto) from Montreal. Her and her friends had just hung out with some pop-punk band or another, and I headed out around midnight to meet them at their hotel. My route included transferring subway lines at Spadina, where I waited for the car to take me southbound.

It was then I noticed a disheveled Native man walking along the platform looking despondent. My former-pastor's-daughter-senses a-tinglin', I felt that maybe I should talk to him. You know that feeling?

Like, this dude clearly needs someone to lend an ear, maybe a helping hand, but how many of us actually do it? There's always something that stops us, though, whether it be shyness, or just plain apathy. Sometimes we assume we won't make a difference, anyway, so why bother, but as I learned that night, sometimes the difference you could make can be huge, and the regret from not doing anything can be massive.

It was somewhat late on a weeknight so there weren't many people on the platform. When the train came speeding into the station there were few who saw what actually happened.

He jumped.

It happened so fast, there was nothing I could've done at that point. The scream of warning I wanted to let out hung limp in my throat. I pointed lamely to the track and tears started flowing, prompting an older woman to rush over and ask what happened. I caught the eye of the train's driver, eyes that I could tell would never unsee what I just had, and I just said quietly, "He jumped."

The station was evacuated while emergency crews filled the scene and an "Attention passengers, there has been a track-level emergency" announcement filled the air. I walked over to a streetcar stop nearby, feeling numb and like I had been punched in the stomach, all at the same time.

I don't know why I didn't just go home then; I guess I just wanted to be near friends, hoping they could cheer me up. Of course, placing the task of cheering up someone who just saw somebody die isn't exactly fair. So while everyone at the hotel room tried to be supportive, half of them didn't even know me, and they were still giddy from partying with rockstars. Not exactly the best environment for grieving.

I ended up quietly crying myself to sleep, emotionally exhausted from a day that would haunt me for years. To say what had happened affected me would be a bit if an understatement. My first year at the University of Toronto had been fairly successful, but things started to slide my second year. I missed class. A lot.

But to be fair, it's kind of hard to get to class when you view your mode of transportation as a life-ruining anxiety caboose.

Finally fed up with feeling like shit all the time I reached out to my school's counseling services. After talking with me for a few minutes they advised me to book an appointment with Psychiatric Services. They mostly dealt with things like time management and handling stress. My issues -- and I guess I should mention, this wasn't my first time dealing with other people's suicidal tendencies -- were a little too much for them.

So I booked an appointment and started seeing a doctor regularly. Through our meetings, I worked through the issues brought on by what had transpired that night. Before therapy, when I actually managed to get myself to a subway station, I would turn my face to the wall. I was too scared I'd see someone else jump.

The doctor brought up the fact that even if I turned away and someone jumped, I'd still be affected, but it was unlikely I'd go through that again; if I did, well, that's a bridge we could cross then. She also helped me realize that, while it's nice to believe that a kind word can save a life, some people are mentally unstable and unless you're a trained professional, it can be downright dangerous to try and help them. That made sense, and helped me to deal with the unnecessary guilt.

So do I still think that everything happens for a reason? Maybe. Sure, my life would probably be a lot different if I hadn't experienced certain things. I probably wouldn't have dropped out of school three years in, but what the hell would I have done with an Art History/Spanish degree anyway?! And I do think I'm a stronger person because of it.

The future could potentially be painful, but I think that with my track record, I'll be able to deal.