On the evening of Monday this week yet another bright light was abruptly extinguished. Dead is 27-year-old Isaiah Epiphane Lewis of L’Anse Road, Castries. A post-mortem revealed the cause of death as asphyxia secondary to hanging from the neck. Isaiah’s death marked the tenth confirmed suicide this year – the one that struck me hardest, for he was my friend and workout buddy.
Three weeks ago I wrote an article for this newspaper entitled, With Some Small Changes This Story Is About You. It centred on suicide: its causes and effects. In the article I indicated that a number of questions lingered after the suicides of friends and family. Today I am haunted by these very questions. Why? Why did I not notice something that might have warned me of the impending disaster? What could I have done to avert the disaster?
I knew Isaiah for a number of years. We shared an addiction for the sweet pain of weightlifting. Isaiah, Gabby, Wiggles, Big Chris, me and a number of other dedicated gymheads shared the workout time facetiously called “the graveyard shift” by gym members of the Sidonie Bros Gym, from 8 p.m/ to 10:30 p.m., sometimes later. While most were watching TV, enjoying a late dinner, or preparing for bed, our fraternity of iron was busy working up a sweat, slapping iron plates onto iron bars, and cheering each other on as we grunted and pushed for that “one more rep”; sharing the occasional anecdote and a good laugh.
Isaiah recently changed his workout time to the mid-morning due to employment responsibilities. But he maintained his dedication to health and strength. He took his final late workout last week and had assured all he’d be back Monday morning. Instead he kept another final appointment. The guys with whom he was scheduled to workout were surprised when he didn’t show up as expected. Isaiah was never one to take his training lightly. The tragic news of his death hit us all . . . hard!
The mood in the gym on Tuesday might best be described as sombre. Those who first heard about Isaiah’s death early Monday morning and dismissed it as more fake news by sicko dispensers could only wish on Tuesday that what they first imagined was correct: that news of Isaiah’s death had indeed been greatly exaggerated. Struggling to understand how someone so young and full of vitality would choose suddenly to end it all. “De mun was always cracking jokes gason,” said one of our workout colleagues. “He was such a calm fella, always irie.”
Another speculated: “Dat must have someting to do with his woman. Whenever mun would run ole talk he would always say ‘I have my woman.’ Dah mun had love dat woman too much.” Every gym member added his own personal tidbit to the conversation: some story Isaiah had once told; some funny workout moment. Almost everyone said: “Whah gason, I cya believe dat.” Someone referred to the recently departed as “the scientist,” referencing his nutrition. Another recalled the poundages he lifted during workouts. On Tuesday we stayed back in the gym long after we’d completed our respective workouts. Some of us leaned back on the gym equipment, others sat around on workout benches, and a few simply laid down their bodies on workout mats, in deep contemplation.
We came up with no answers to what had suddenly hit us. The best we could do was honour a fallen member of our fraternity in ways that many might consider childish. Anything to ease the pain, if only while we grunted under barbells heavier than we’d ever lifted before.
I debated long and hard whether I should write this article. Whether it would in some way be an affront to the memory of my friend. In addition, whether I wished to be part of the story; even peripherally. I decided that not writing this piece as I have would be the affront.
Hopefully, in the process of reading this, those among you whose perception of the late Isaiah Lewis was informed solely by the way he died, would gain insight by learning a little about the way he lived. I never heard him utter a negative word about anyone. He epitomized selflessness. He could not have been more dedicated to health and fitness.
Another reason why this article is necessary is to shed light on the state of facilities intended to help those who are contemplating suicide in this country. Not enough is being done to counteract the ongoing desensitization and misinformation in the society to suicide and its causes. Research has shown that most cases of suicide stem from some form of mental illness; mostly depression. The mentally ill in our society are not thought of and treated as human beings with a curable disease (which they are) but rather as mad men and crazy women; dangerous only to others. The resultant stigma discourages those afflicted from seeking much-needed help, or even acknowledging their affliction.
Tempted as I may be to engage in an all-out diatribe on the ineptitude, inefficiencies and institutionalized callousness which are complicit in the loss of so many of our sons and daughters, including my friend Isaiah, I will not at this time. That is not my purpose on this day. My intention is to commemorate my friend and, with my words, hopefully give a face to someone who, prior to this article, you might only have considered another grisly statistic: the 10th person to commit suicide. Isaiah was just 27 years old!