As I approached the entrance to Memorial Church, where Samantha Wopat’s memorial was being held, I couldn’t help but notice the two thick lines of people at each door. Athletes dressed in uniform, students from every corner of campus, best friends of Sam, roommates, family members, professors, and community members lined up to honor the life of the beautiful spirit whose passing had undoubtedly left them wanting answers and a form of closure for this sudden tragedy. In that moment, I was overwhelmed by the juxtaposition of the extreme loneliness that I witness in the suicidal callers that have called me during my weekly shifts at the Bridge Peer Counseling Center, and the crowd of people coming in to celebrate Sam’s life. I have worked as a peer counselor for the past three years and have dealt with two suicide calls in this time. Each time I have been simultaneously shocked at the incredible loneliness that students can feel at Stanford amidst a massive, often nameless student body and grateful that I have the training to recognize signs of suicide and the ability to get these callers the help that they need.
As I watched the crowd of mourners file into the church, I desperately wished Sam could have been standing next to me, could have watched these hundreds of community members parade in to honor her life. I only wish that Sam could have felt the support that I and all other members of the audience felt for her in the final hours of her life when there seemed to be no other options but to leave us.
I myself did not have the honor of meeting Sam or Cady Hine, the two students who recently passed away, and although Sam and I lived in the same dorm and Cady and I worked in some of the same mental health groups on campus, I was not lucky enough to cross paths with the beautiful, fun-loving, and caring souls whom I have heard speakers at Sam’s memorial and friends of Cady attest to in the weeks following their deaths.
At Sam’s memorial, we heard from representatives of different realms of Sam’s life and I, like many others in the audience, found myself asking why. As Reverend Joanne Sanders said in her opening words at Sam’s memorial, it is natural for our grief to form the question of why. Why would someone with such a bright future, academic talent, athletic ability, innate poet’s voice, adoring friends and family, have found herself in a situation where she felt she had no other option but to take her own life? In a grief group led by Donnovan Yisrael, I heard Cady’s mentors and friends describe her commitment to helping students with the types of mental health issues that had troubled her, often serving on panels with Stanford Peace of Mind to bring awareness to other students about the prevalence of mental health issues on campus. While the cause of Cady’s death has not been officially reported, I find myself wondering why someone who was so aware of the resources on campus and so involved in the mental health community might not have found sufficient support for her own battle with mental illness.
As we celebrate the lives of such beautiful, talented girls, I can’t help but yearn for another forum in which we can talk about the other side of Sam and Cady’s lives that we don’t get to hear about in memorials, articles and official statements. These are the smaller, quieter, parts of our souls that do not get as much attention, during or after life, but we owe it to Sam and Cady to bring awareness to the fact that many Stanford students struggle with mental illness while trying to maintain the appearance of being happy Stanford students. While this is not suitable content for memorials, in order to fully honor Sam’s life, we must commit ourselves to making sure no other community members find themselves without options or hope for the future.
As a teaching assistant and section leader for Education 193A, the class that trains students to work at the Bridge, I know how hard it can be to learn to discuss mental health issues, but we must learn to divorce ourselves from the stigma associated with asking for help. As friends, colleagues and community members, we must make sure that these unknown identities of the people who surround us, these hidden personal battles that do not headline resumes or player bios, are attended to with the love and support they deserve. These are the parts of souls that rarely surface in class, practice, at dinner, or even with best friends, but these are the parts of ourselves and others that we must devote ourselves to nurturing.
As we say goodbye to Samantha and Cady, let our vows to keep these women in our hearts include a commitment to taking care of each other and embracing mental illness as a disease that plagues us all, whether it be personally or by extension. Let us not only honor the ways that these women have touched us, brightened our days, and enriched our lives, but also honor what their short lives and struggles with mental illness can do to prevent future suffering in our community and promote awareness of depression on campus.
Emily Cohodes ’13