An Open Letter On Suicide by Ethan Roubenoff

Throughout National Suicide Prevention Week, Brothers will share personal stories of how suicide has affected their lives in an effort to show the impact that suicide can have. The hope is that by creating awareness and shedding light on a hard truth, Brothers may be able to intervene and save a life.

Brothers who want to share their story can send an open letter and a headshot of themselves to editor@sinfonia.org.

Ethan Roubenoff, a 2015 initiate of the Iota Chapter at Northwestern University shares the story of the Chapter Brother he lost to suicide and the struggle he faces.

Ethan Roubenoff
Iota – 2015
&
Ananya Agrawal
Iota – 2015

A Collection of Memories: An Open Letter on Suicide

Ananya first approached me with his mental health issues during our sophomore year.  We had talked about my issues in the past, but this was the first time he opened up to me.  He was starting a new medication and asked me to keep an eye on him, as is usual with psychiatric medication.  We talked about anxiety, depression, sexuality, family.  Eventually, I didn’t have anything else to say, so we just sat there in silence until he awkwardly stood up and left.

He was always a hard worker.  He loved chemistry and would spend hours on his problem sets even when he didn’t have to.  It’s unclear how much time he spent in the lab out of necessity and how much was voluntary, but he wanted to dedicate his life to his research.  But over time, I saw him less and less, even though we lived together for three years.  Slowly he became more distant and slipped away from me, from his roommates and Brothers, from the people who loved him.  He became quieter and more of an enigmatic presence.

We were a month from graduating. I remember faces more than anything. I’ll never forget the pain on Tushar’s face as we paced around the 3rd-floor bathroom nervously, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on out the window. I asked him, “Is he still alive?”  “I don’t think so,” Tushar trembled, stuttering between words. I’ll never forget everyone’s face of shock and tears, the vulnerability striking. I’ll never forget Dean Adams’ tone of voice as he stood in our basement, nervous but comforting, fragile, as he told us the news. I remember the anxiety, my stomach hurting, forced to confront death tête-à-tête once again. I’ll never forget singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” full volume, harder than I’d ever sung.

The next few weeks were a blur. I would grieve by doing things, knowing that I’m having an impact, keeping myself occupied, and making sure that Ananya had an appropriate goodbye. The community really came out of the woodworks. Our living room became a healing space for everyone; no one was alone. I felt more love and more pain than I’d felt since my own mother died. People from all across the university, all across the world reached out to us. Ananya was more alive then than ever before, and that I will never forget.

Loved ones of victims tend to go down a rabbit hole—maybe we should have seen the signs, paid more attention, connected the dots before he could.  I struggle with this every day, but it’s an impossible and unreasonable task.  Instead, Brothers, we must recognize who we love that is close to us.  Ananya was loved more than he realized, just as you are loved more than you can ever know.  Brother, you touch people in so many ways, tangible and invisible, and your presence in our lives makes our lives all the better.

The following is adapted from my speech at the memorial service for Ananya Agrawal:

When we mourn the loss of a loved one, we mourn the inability to create future memories with them.  We cry for the comfort we can never receive.  We weep now for we believe that Ananya is in the past instead of in the future.  

But life and death are not exclusive.  Ananya’s life is more than just a biological state; it is a collection of memories and feelings, of love and happiness, of his intangible, indescribable presence.  I find it more of a “here and not here.”  As much as Ananya has been here in the room with us over the years, now he is just not here anymore.  I mourn, because Ananya is not here eternally, just as he has left the room a thousand times before.

It is now on us to make sure that Ananya’s being ‘not here’ does not mean his death.  His life has never been stronger than in the last few days.  We have all come together in celebration of Ananya, spending hours poring over photos, surrounding ourselves in his belongings, reciting memories, good and bad.  While Ananya is gone, never has he been more alive.

I think of Ananya’s thick, burly hands that always needed moisturizer.  Hands that engulfed mine and would massage my shoulders back to comfort.  Dry, cracked hands that led to a warm body and an open soul.  Hands that hugged me when I didn’t want to be hugged, that would tickle and grab and playfully pet.  Hands that were his way of reaching out, literally, spiritually, to show affection the way he could best.  I think of Ananya as the person who taught me compassion and patience, who pushed us to our limits to know where we really stood.  Who cared, who cried, who laughed, and while he couldn’t always express it how he wanted, who loved. 

I think of my first memory of Ananya, in Organic Chemistry, September 2014, when he sat in the front row with Jessica arguing full volume over the price of a textbook.  I think of my last memory of Ananya, where he had just bought a half-dozen near identical shirts and insisted on trying them all on in front of us.  I managed to grab a few to hang on to.

Such in death, as in life, Ananya’s eternal memory and joviality fuel our will to continue.  While many of us grapple with never seeing Ananya walk through that door again, it is our responsibility to make sure that he never stops laughing, loving, living.

Much Fraternal Love,

Ethan Roubenoff

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September 14th, 2018|
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