I first met Iris when I was five or six. Iris was originally from Romania and had a thick accent, which amused me. She was a dear friend of both of my parents and visited us frequently. Iris always celebrated birthdays and holidays with us. Her exaggerated way of doing anything and everything always made my little brother John, my parents and me laugh.

When I was around ten, the Mumsey told me that Iris had such a terrible case of Polio as a young child that she could barely walk. But a clever doctor advised her parents to give Iris ballet lessons to strengthen her damaged legs. Iris loved the dance lessons so much, she not only completely recovered, but she became famous as a ballerina and then as a modern dancer and choreographer, in Europe before World War II broke out.

During the war, Iris joined the underground to help Jews escape, and became famous for being particularly brave and willing to risk her life. My Mumsey learned about her daring escapades from an old newspaper article that Iris had saved.

Many years later, after I had moved away from Ithaca, and my first marriage at the age of eighteen to Leo had faltered and ended, I returned to Ithaca with my toddler son Storn. We had some amusing times with Iris at my Mumsey’s house. But, a few weeks after I last saw Iris, just as we were eating dinner, the Mumsey called me with horrendous news! A few hours earlier that day, a number of Cornell University students had seen our beloved Iris leap to her death. In my mind, I could see Iris sucking in her breath, posing dramatically on the edge of the rail, and leaping gracefully….

My teary Mumsey explained that Iris had been depressed because she was almost sixty and no longer felt strong enough to teach dance, and she had no other way to earn money. The Mumsey said that she had been so concerned about Iris’s mental state, that just the day before Iris killed herself, she had talked Iris into temporarily going to Willard – a mental hospital not far from Ithaca – to get some help. Iris had agreed to do it and asked the Mumsey to pick her up at 9:00 the next morning.

However, at 9:00 AM when the Mumsey arrived at Iris’s apartment, the police were already there. They told her they had found a suicide note on the door addressed to my Mumsey. I could tell that my Mumsey did not want to talk about what it said, so I didn’t press her, and I never did find out exactly what it said.  When the Mumsey told me about Iris’s suicide, I was so shocked it had taken some time for the news to really sink in and make me incredibly sad.

Story and Art by Annie Campbell

Read more Remembering: Stories of Suicide Loss