13 Reasons Why: What It Gets Right About Grieving Suicide as a Teen
As soon as 13 Reasons Why hit Netflix on March 31, I binge-watched the entire thing in less than 24 hours. Then I watched it all over again the next day. As a fan of the book, I couldn't wait to see it brought to life on the small screen, but I actually had to stop myself from watching it a third time. The entire show is devastating, and I knew I shouldn't live in that world longer than a regular viewer. But you see, I know suicide well. More specifically, I know about dealing with suicide in high school. One of my friends took her own life when we were 16, and the pain I feel from all those years ago is still very much a part of my current life.
I have always turned away or left the room when suicide has been shown (or slightly shown) on TV and in movies. It's always seemed very inauthentic and I was never able to bring myself to watch it. But for some reason I knew I would actively watch all of 13 Reasons Why. From the moment the official trailer was released, everything felt familiar to me: certain students pretending to know the girl who killed herself better than they actually did, parents having no idea what to say or how to act, and the helpless feeling of walking the halls knowing one less person would be there between each bell.
Thankfully, I have not dealt with suicide in my adult life, but what I can tell you about going through it as a teen — the time in your life when your friends are more like your family — is that it feels incredibly empty. During 13 Reasons Why, one scene in particular hit me right in the gut. When Clay (Dylan Minnette) and Tony (Christian Navarro) are sitting next to Hannah's grave, Clay says, "I want to see her in school tomorrow. I want to eat Mike and Ikes out of the box with her at The Crestmont. I want to dance with her again and kiss her when I should have kissed her, but I can't."
This feeling of complete helplessness and anger is the most frustrating thing I have ever experienced. I couldn't believe she was just gone, I couldn't believe the world didn't stop when she left, and I couldn't believe there wasn't any way to reverse it all. The sinking feeling of it being permanent came when I watched a group of very strong and big high school guys pull her boyfriend away from her casket because he refused to move.
Much like Clay, I couldn't understand why love wasn't enough.
It all felt like a sick joke. There just had to be a way around this, right? We were 16; we were invincible. The last time I saw her we made plans to hang out. I had that same familiar thought while watching 13 Reasons Why, because there's this small and stupid hope throughout the episodes that she might just be alive at the end, that there will be a loophole where she reveals she faked her own death. And I think that's why I've already become so attached to this show. Ever since I watched it, it hasn't left me, and I'm actually grateful for that. I'm OK with the fact that they showed Hannah's suicide in detail, the devastating moment her parents found her, and the crippling aftermath.
Suicide is hard to swallow, much like those scenes were hard to watch, but it happens. It happens all the time. And it makes you so angry that you actually want to crawl out of your own skin. I wasn't dealing with the same things she was, and I wasn't suffering from depression or mental illness. I couldn't understand the hopelessness I know she must have felt in her final days. Much like Clay, I couldn't understand why love wasn't enough. As I got older, I was able to understand more, and after watching 13 Reasons Why, one of my first thoughts was that they should show it in schools. Angry parents aside, I would have given anything for just one sliver of something or someone from outside of my little suburban bubble that could have helped — and this show helped. It doesn't glorify anything, but instead delivers important messages to teens about how their actions affect other people. It makes you want to be better sons, daughters, students, and friends. It makes you want to reach out to anyone who needs help so they know they're not alone.