I was walking Cooper on Saturday afternoon when a little old lady crossing the street yelled, "Yoo hoo! Excuse me, Miss?" She wanted to know if there was a bakery nearby. I told her about one that specializes in cupcakes that was four or five blocks away, and that was the one she meant. After trying to give her directions for several minutes, I asked her if she wanted me to just drive her. She agreed.
I ran upstairs to drop off Coop and grab my car keys. The lady got in the car and immediately asked me if I knew the owner of the bakery. When I said that I did not, she told me that the woman had recently committed suicide. I expressed condolences and the lady told me she knew her "from Starbucks." She changed the subject immediately and started to ask me about my job and my neighborhood and my car, and I figured this would be a quick drop off and the lady would buy some cupcakes and I'd get on with my life.
We arrived at the bakery and the lady, who told me she was 86 years old and that her name was Mildred, asked me to go in with her. She walked up to the woman who was working behind the counter and said, very matter-of-factly, "Excuse me, I know one of the co-owners of this place. Could you tell me why she killed herself?" The woman paused, looked at me then said, "Hold on, ma'am, I'll get a manager." I wanted to sink into the floor. Suddenly I realized this wasn't a cupcake-buying excursion at all but rather a "Harold and Maude"-esque information-gathering mission by an octogenarian looky-loo. I pretended to be interested in the cupcakes and hoped people wouldn't think Mildred and I were together.
The manager told the woman she didn't know why her boss had committed suicide. Mildred told her that she had heard she jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. The manager nodded sadly. There wasn't much else to say so we expressed our condolences and headed back out to my car.
Mildred sat down in my passenger seat and immediately burst into tears. I had no idea what to do. "Mildred, I'm really sorry, but I think if she was in that much pain that she decided to do that, you have to concentrate on the fact that she isn't suffering anymore," I said, grasping at straws.
It turns out that Mildred lived all by herself, having lost her husband and daughter years before. Margot, the owner of the bakery, had struck up a friendship with her at Starbucks. When Mildred was in the hospital, Margot visited and brought her cupcakes. She had just seen her a few days before her death and Margot told her she was going to California. Mildred told me she had to stop thinking about it but she just couldn't. She replayed what Margot had said in their last conversation and couldn't figure out how someone that seemed happy and care-free would jump from a bridge a few days later.
It got me thinking about suicide. I would imagine that someone at the end of her rope starts to doubt that there are people out there who care about her. She starts thinking that no one would miss her if she died and that the world would be a better place without her. I am sure that when this poor woman went over the railing of the bridge, she felt alone in the world. That has to be a terrible feeling.
But really we don't know what impact we have had in the lives of people around us. Here this little old lady boarded a bus on an afternoon when the temperature outside reached ninety degrees and came to an unfamiliar neighborhood just to find out answers about the death of her friend. Mildred was just devastated about this loss; I can't even imagine the pain that the closer friends and relatives of the bakery owner must be experiencing.
No man is an island, and no woman is either. We all have lives that stretch further than we can even imagine, and when we're gone, people will mourn and remember us, even people that we would never expect would care. We're never alone, even when we think we're at our most friendless. To me, that's something to grasp onto if I feel like I'm at the end of my rope.