What it's like when one of your best friends takes her own life

Or, a very longwinded way of answering the question, “How are you doing?”

I’ve been working on this post for months, slowly plugging away at it over time. It isn’t easy to write. I’m finally posting it now because I resolved to get this done before the end of the year.

Most of you reading this are probably friends and members of my extended family, and so you already know much of what I’m about to tell you. I posted about it on Facebook; I haven’t gone out of my way to keep it a secret. But you’ve been asking me, “How are you doing?” Much of this is an attempt at explaining why that question is so hard to answer.

For those of you reading this whom I don’t know personally, I’ll begin by filling you in.

On September 14th, 2016, one of my best friends, Ni, took her own life. She was 28 years, 2 months, and 1 day old. I would know, because we have the exact same birthday.

I first met Ni in May 2011. I had just finished my first year of a 2-year Masters program at NYU, and she had just moved to New York from Seattle for a web design & development fellowship. We were introduced to each other by our mutual friend Yin, who has always served as “the great connector” in our extended friend circle, bringing people together.

A photograph I took of Ni for a grad school assignment in July 2011.

It didn’t take long for us to figure out that we had the same birthday. It was a strange revelation — and I felt vaguely threatened by it. The truth is that I’ve always instinctively disliked people who seem to similar to me; my “artist” type personality means I have an innate desire to be unique. And not only did she have the exact same birthday, but she had the same favorite animal/patronus, the penguin. (Side note: This seemed to surprise a few of her SF friends at the memorial service, who had known only her love of cats, but the truth is that when Ni and I first met, she actually intensely disliked cats. For some reason, she was convinced that cats were dirty, and that dogs, or at least her family’s dog Pixie, were clean. She had a change of heart about a year later, inspired in part by Yin’s cat Yuzu, as well as the rise in popularity of Pusheen.) On top of all that, she was looking to transition into a career in web development or UX design after having majored in biochemistry in college — and design & technology was my field. So, for someone with my personality type, she was the ultimate threat.

But the thing about Ni is that she never even really gave me a chance to feel threatened by her, much less dislike her. She disarmed me almost instantly, just by being who she was. Her presence was always bright, sparkling, magnetic. Everyone was always immediately drawn to her. She had this magical quality that put you at ease and made you feel special. You were left wanting only to spend more time with her.

We celebrated our birthdays together that summer because, well, when you make a new friend who has the same birthday, that’s the only logical thing to do. Because of our shared birthday and love of penguins, our friends started calling us “the penguintwins.”

A photograph Yin took of the two of us in August 2011.

It didn’t take long for us to become almost inseparable. Her office was walking distance from the Tisch building at NYU, where I spent all my time, and our hours were compatible — as a fellow learning on the job, she was working 10, 12-hour days — so we would often meet up for dinner or a drink after I was done with classes. She accompanied me to my grad program’s weekly Thursday Night Out (TNO) at least once a month and probably met nearly everyone in my graduating class. She also met all of my undergrad friends who were living in New York. When the condolences started pouring in after her passing, I was struck by just how many of “my people” she had met within a relatively short time.

Meanwhile, I learned a lot from Ni. She’s the reason why I learned to eat — and love — spicy food. Nowadays, I’ll go to a restaurant and chances are high that I’ll order something with a pepper or fireball icon; that’s all her doing. Hell, she’s part of the reason why I became a foodie at all; prior to 2011, eating was just something I had to do to survive, and not something I particularly enjoyed.

She’s also the reason why I finally learned the tricks of controlling my oil-prone skin using the right skincare choices, and why I learned to love wearing make-up. Despite societal pressures, it was never something I had developed an interest in — if anything, I’d always actively resisted it — but Ni taught me that it’s a choice you can make if you want to, not just caving to the patriarchy and the advertising-industrial complex. Thanks to her, I learned that I enjoy wearing bold eyeshadow colors, or a nice neutral eye with a bold red lip.

A photograph Yin took of Ni attaching ridiculous fake lashes to my eyelids for Halloween 2011.

One of my fondest memories of our time together was Thanksgiving 2011. Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s always made me feel conflicted; after my family moved to the U.S., we tried celebrating it the “normal” American way for the first 2 years or so, but then we acknowledged that we all thought turkey is bland and disgusting and gave up on it. In college, money was tight, so it wasn’t worth it to spend $400–600 on a plane ticket from Pittsburgh to Houston for 4–5 days and a holiday we didn’t even celebrate. I was one of the few students who’d be left on campus, and it never felt good.

2 out of those 4 Thanksgivings, I was blessed enough to attend a yearly celebration hosted by my friend Chris, who gathered together friends and acquaintances from various walks of life. I usually felt a little out-of-place because I didn’t know many people there, but one thing Chris always said (paraphrased slightly) every year during his customary toast as the host has stuck with me: “This is a holiday that people spend with their family. Well, you guys are my chosen family.”

A photo I took of Ni chopping onions for one of our Asian Thanksgiving dishes.

So for Thanksgiving 2011, I had an idea. What if I hosted a Thanksgiving for my friends — my chosen family? That included Yin, my now-boyfriend Louis, my classmate and artistic collaborator Koo and his best friend Leo, my grad school classmate and fellow Indonesian Antonius, and, of course, Ni. The idea was met with enthusiasm in large part because my chosen family happened to all be Asian-Americans whose families weren’t big on celebrating Thanksgiving either. We decided to call the event “A Very Asian Thanksgiving.” As host, I was able to lay down the one and only ground rule — no turkey — which nobody objected to; instead, we decided we would just spend the entire day cooking and eating whatever we felt like that sounded delicious. Food would come out and was fair game to be eaten whenever it was ready; there was no set sit-down time. In between, we chatted and drank a lot of wine. It was a huge success.

Yin, Ni, and Louis all slept over at my apartment, and Friday was basically just an extension of the main Thanksgiving event, in part because we had enough food left over for days. Our friend Maddy joined us, and we decided to do a movie marathon, watching such films as Mulan, The Social Network, and the original Power Rangers.

A cell phone photo Louis took of us watching movies. If I had to guess, I’d say this is during “Power Rangers.

It’s still the best Thanksgiving celebration I have ever been a part of.

In the spring semester of 2012, I was working on my thesis project — the final milestone required to graduate from my Masters program at NYU. Me being who I am, I’d chosen a rather ambitious project that required a ton of programming and working with technologies I had no experience with, which meant a lot of late nights and weekends spent on campus, often at the library because it was the most quiet place I could find to work. Ni was incredibly supportive of me during this time, often visiting me on campus before heading home, sometimes bringing me dinner or coffee, or encouraging me to come to a restaurant with her and take a break for a bit.

In July 2012, we celebrated our 24th birthdays together, in a 3-day extravaganza from Thursday afternoon to Sunday afternoon that we dubbed “the Birthdaypocalypse”. It involved seeing Magic Mike at the movie theater, dinner at Pocha 32 in Koreatown, a dance party at Mehanata Bulgarian Bar, a board game social at West 3rd Common, a tapas dinner at Nai Tapas, and drunk brunch at Paradou. We couldn’t decide on just one thing to do, so… we just did it all. We knew how to celebrate.

One of my other fondest memories took place in November 2012, when Ni came to stay with me during Hurricane Sandy. Ni was living alone at the time, and her apartment in Brooklyn was right across the street from a power sub-station, which seemed somewhat dangerous in case a transformer exploded or something like that, so I encouraged her to stay with me at my place in East Harlem as a precaution. Plus, to be honest, it was basically just an excuse to have a sleepover, like we were 12-year-old girls again.

If you know anything about New York City, you’ll know that East Harlem is one of the best places to go for tacos. And Ni loved tacos (and food in general). So, naturally… on the afternoon before the night during which Sandy was supposed to make landfall, and the rain and the winds were already starting to pick up (though not to truly dangerous levels), Ni ventured out to the taco place across the street — which apparently had decided to stay open as long as possible — and got herself a meal right then, as well as a couple extra for a snack later. That was Ni, in a nutshell.

That December, she spent another week with me at my apartment. She broke her lease effective December 1st and moved to San Francisco on December 8th. I was devastated, even though I understood — she was just finding her footing in the tech world, and there was no better place to go if she wanted to expand her skill set and her network. She was drawn to startup life, and as someone who had lived the longest stretch of her life in Seattle, West Coast living suited her.

By virtue of modern technology, of course, moving across the country doesn’t mean losing touch. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook Messenger, and Google Hangouts, we still talked nearly every day — sometimes just to say hey, sometimes hour-long conversations.

I saw her again in person in May 2013, when my employer at the time was generous enough to send me to FluentConf 2013. I actually spent the whole week at her apartment, and she managed to convince her company to let her attend the same conference. My memories of the tech presentations aren’t nearly as vivid as the dozens of amazing restaurants she took me to that week — I’m not even sure how we managed to cram so many meals into that short amount of time! The highlight — and perhaps the best memory — was that we’d purposely saved Friday night to go out together at a nearby wine bar, which she couldn’t go to with most of her friends because they’re not wine drinkers, but I happen to love red wine. We called it our “penguin date night.” We decided to share a bottle. She fell asleep before we finished it. But like with all things she did, she looked gentle and graceful, and I’m not sure if our waitress even noticed.

We didn’t see each other again for over a year after that. In early 2014, I moved from New York to DC, and changing jobs kept me occupied for a while. In August 2014, I was on a planned vacation in the motherland (The Netherlands) to attend my cousin’s wedding and to spend time with my mom, when Ni made an impromptu decision to take a trip to Europe. She flew into Amsterdam and was only there for about 2 days before taking the train to Paris, but she still found the time to come and see me in Utrecht. For the longest time, I didn’t recall there being any pictures of us, but when I was scouring social media following the news of her death, I suddenly remembered that she had taken this selfie of us:

The caption instantly brought me to tears.

I saw her one more time after that, on October 8th, 2015. Louis and I were leaving on a 2-week vacation to South Korea, and we had booked a flight with an overnight layover in San Francisco, partly because I couldn’t bear the thought of being on an airplane for 15 hours, and partly because it ended up being a great excuse to see all of our friends there (including Yin, who had also moved to SF in early 2014), however briefly. We had a fantastic tapas dinner at Lolinda and then went back to Yin’s apartment to drink and hang out. That one night flew by far too quickly, and before I knew it, we were on a plane to Seoul.

We tried making other plans. For most of the past year, Louis and I were talking about our big vacation of 2016 being a road trip up the West Coast. At one point, I remember Louis suggesting that we make the trip in July. I asked him why specifically July. He said, “So we can go to AX. And then maybe time it so we’re in the Bay Area on July 13th. So the penguintwins can celebrate their birthday together again.”

I don’t know why we didn’t go through with it. There wasn’t any particular reason why we didn’t. I guess I just thought there would be more birthdays.

There should’ve been more birthdays. 😞

It wasn’t a well-kept secret that she suffered from depression. It wasn’t something she talked about openly, but it was one of those things that you just kind of figured out about her over time. Most of the time, she seemed to be coping, and we didn’t actively worry about her. After all, she had so much energy and led such an active life — somehow, despite always working long hours, she still found the time to participate in Women Who Code and similar organizations, attend meetups, volunteer at food banks, go rock-climbing and hiking, travel to music festivals and Burning Man — you name it, she did it. She had so much life.

But she did have her dark days. We could usually tell because she would go incommunicado for days or, at its worst, weeks at a time. As her friends, we had formed a network, and if no one heard from her a couple of days, we would get in touch with her co-workers, her roommates, or her parents to make sure she was okay.

Yet 2016 marked the longest continuous period when she seemed to be doing fine. She kept in touch — actively reached out, even, which hadn’t always been the case. Our old Facebook Messenger chat groups were revived. Some of our most recent conversations were gleeful fangirling over 琅琊榜, a Chinese historical drama she had discovered and convinced Yin & I to watch with her. Despite being 2,500 miles apart, engaging in the same hobbies allowed us to feel closer than ever.

So the news on September 14th was a bombshell. Completely unexpected.

The evening of Wednesday, September 14th, 2016, I stayed at work late to prepare my presentation for the NationJS JavaScript conference in 2 days, and I arrived at home around 8:30pm. I turned on the TV to help me relax for a while, planning to do one or two more practice runs around 11pm before heading to bed.

Around 10pm, my phone rang. It was on the other side of the room, and almost all the phone calls I get these days are spam robo-callers, so I ignored it. A few minutes later, Louis’ phone buzzed, and he saw he had a missed call from Yin. Since Yin rarely calls either of us, and she would always call me before calling him, I went over and checked my phone, and sure enough, the missed call was from her. As cliché as it sounds, the hair on the back of my neck rose, and I felt a weird tingling sensation all over my body. Somehow, even before hearing from Yin, a part of me knew immediately what had happened.

Yin confirmed my worst fears. Ni had taken her own life earlier that day.

Thank goodness Louis was home. Thank goodness he knew Ni fairly well himself, so he had some semblance of understanding of what she meant to me, what this news meant to me.

The next few hours are a blur. There was a lot of crying, of course. Also, there was a sense of panic, as I tried to mentally run through my schedule for the next week and figure out if I could fly out for the funeral. All we’d heard was that it would most likely be in Seattle, but there was no date set yet, so I couldn’t even look for plane tickets. Plus, there was the matter of the conference talk I was supposed to be giving in less than 36 hours.

The thing about finding out that a friend killed themselves is that while you have the normal reaction — this can’t possibly be true — part of you also has a very different reaction: this absolutely can be true. Sometime later, I was doing some research and I read somewhere — I don’t remember where — that if you think of the person in your life who is most likely to commit suicide, odds are, they have recently thought about taking their own life. Despite not being trained mental health professionals, most of us can instinctively recognize the most vulnerable among us. Somehow, at the back of my mind, I had always known that this could happen.

The first 48 hours are the worst. That also probably sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. By 2am, I was exhausted from crying and the overall whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I think I was up until 5 and woke up at 8.

Thursday was a regular workday. Even before everything that had happened, I’d already planned to work from home that day, so that was an unexpected godsend. I told the co-workers I work most closely with what happened because I didn’t want to lie or pretend everything was okay. As for NationJS, I e-mailed the organizer asking if it was okay if I dropped my planned 25-minute talk about Angular and spent 10 minutes talking about mental health in tech instead, and spent most of the rest of the day preparing my revised presentation. I plan to write about the talk I gave as a result some other time.

During this time, I adopted a coping strategy I decided to call “10 minutes at a time.” The idea is that I could only be accountable for my mental and emotional state for the next 10 minutes, and after that, all bets were off. If I got through 10 minutes but wasn’t sure I could make it through another 10, I’d take a quick time-out, whether that meant getting up to make coffee, or having a good cry, or talking to Louis, or taking a walk, or whatever else felt at the time like it might help.

I also used my lunch break to walk to Nordstrom Rack to buy a black dress for the funeral. It was bizarre to realize I had nothing to wear, but then, I hadn’t been to a funeral since my grandfather passed away in 2001. And you don’t exactly expect to bury your friends when you’re 28 years old.

Around 5pm, we finally got word that the memorial service would be on Sunday in San Francisco — not Seattle — so Louis and I were finally able to book our plane tickets and solidify our plans. Since I was still attending the conference on Friday, we decided to fly out on Saturday afternoon and take a red-eye back the following Wednesday evening. That way, I could spend a little more time with our mutual friends in the Bay Area, so that we could all grieve together.

This is where I should mention that I am enormously privileged for this to have even been an option. While you can normally fly from DC to SF for $400 or less — and usually direct, too — it turns out that booking this kind of trip just 2 days in advance will cost you $1100 for a direct flight, or over $700 with a stopover. I don’t want to make this post about money, but all the while as I was booking the tickets, I was keenly aware that just 2 years ago, this would never have been an option for me, and it hurt me to think of how many people in this country are potentially shut out of attending their loved ones’ funerals (or have to forego a vacation, credit card payments, or making rent on time in order to do so) because of the high cost of making these kinds of trips. It’s just devastating to think about.

It also ended up being fortuitous that Louis was still unemployed at the time and therefore able to take the trip with me. He didn’t feel like he knew Ni well enough to have attended the memorial service on his own, but he came with me to lend me strength, and for that I’m tremendously grateful.

Memorial services are strange events. In movies, they’re always depicted as the perfect tribute. It’s raining. Everyone’s wearing funeral-appropriate outfits. Everyone cries. Those who speak know the perfect things to say.

When my grandfather passed away in 2001, he’d been battling cancer for months, and everyone knew the end was coming, so they had time to prepare. The memorial service was meticulously planned and well-executed. But a sudden, unexpected death is different.

In a fit of perfect irony, it was 90 degrees and sunny.

It was also apparent that several others had had a similar crisis of wardrobe that I had had. A few were wearing dresses that seemed more appropriate for a night out than a funeral. One guy showed up in motorcycle gear.

The speeches were understandably disorganized. When you have about 72 hours to process someone’s unexpected passing, what do you say? I did not prepare any remarks because I thought the event would be led by her family, and I wanted to be respectful of that; also, they did not ask for participation ahead of time. But during the memorial service, they suddenly opened up the podium to the audience. I debated whether or not to go up there and speak. I was very conflicted. In the end, out of respect for her family, and because I had no time to carefully think through what I might say, I decided not to. I’m still not sure whether or not I regret it.

It was an open casket, and at the end of the memorial service, they invited all of us to come up and view the body and pay our respects. There aren’t any words to describe what it’s like to see your friend’s dead body on display, so I won’t attempt it.

It was so hot that by a certain point, I was so dehydrated that I couldn’t cry anymore, even if I wanted to. That was a weird sensation.

There were a lot of tears. There was a lot of hugging. But it didn’t really feel like closure.

The following night helped. Her roommates and friends had organized a reception in The Mission. Her family was in attendance, but contrary to the formal memorial service, which I had recognized as being primarily for her family, this event felt like it was more for her friends. The turnout was impressive; she had touched many lives, and the number of friends she had made since moving to SF was amazing. I’d known her for over 5 years, yet there were so many people I’d never seen before.

They again opened up the podium for anyone to come up and speak, to share thoughts and anecdotes about Ni. It felt easier to find the courage this time. I spoke about our birthdays, and love of penguins, and how many of “my people” in New York Ni had met, and Sandy and the tacos.

Me speaking at the memorial reception. Photograph by Chloe Fan.

Having another 2 full days in San Francisco afterwards was a blessing. I ended up working remotely for almost-full days, mainly to help keep my mind off things. It wouldn’t have felt appropriate to go out and about in SF and do touristy things, anyway — it just didn’t feel like the right time for that. But I still got to have dinner and drinks with friends, catch up with a few people I hadn’t seen in a while, and that felt good.

Since we took a red-eye flight back to DC, we arrived Thursday morning, and from that point on I had only about 56 hours before leaving on a previously-planned trip to London, for yet another conference as well as a few days of vacation. The good news is that it kept me busy — kept me from just sitting around and drowning in grief. But I also worried about the temptation to drown myself in work instead, and that I wasn’t giving myself time and space to process my emotions. Writing has always been a therapeutic exercise for me — I’m doing this as much for myself as for anybody else — so, shortly after returning from London, I started on this blog post. And I’ve been working on it ever since.

So, three months later, how am I doing?

It’s still really hard to say. After the initial shock wore off, it was surprising how quickly my life resumed a sense of normalcy — even though, at the same time, it feels like nothing will ever be the same again.

What really astonished me was how little time I’ve spent crying since those first few days. I’m a rather tear-prone person by nature, so I had expected to be a lot more watery-eyed. In particular, I was struck by how easily I cry at the movie theater, yet despite my grief, the tears flow less easily than at the end of certain films.

When I tried to unpack that, to explain why to myself, the conclusion I came to is that what usually gets me at the end of a movie is someone’s untimely death or departure, and the knowledge that the protagonists will never be together again, to have the happy life that they deserve after all of their struggles. And it’s weird because in many ways, that’s exactly happened in the movie called my life this year. But there’s something different about real life. When it comes to films, my sadness is the result of an inherent recognition of what it means that these characters will never again be together for all eternity. Yet in real life, somehow, it’s impossible to fully comprehend what it means to spend the rest of a lifetime without someone.

Some days, it still feels incredibly unreal. Some days, I still feel like I’ll wake up and find that this was all a bad dream, and she’s back, and everything is okay again.

Some days, I don’t doubt that any of it is real, because I know how ugly a thing depression is, and how much uglier our society’s reaction to it is.

There are little triggers everywhere that bring about an unexpected pang of sadness each time I encounter them. A few examples:

  • Going to a restaurant and seeing a menu item with some of her “buzzwords”, like a cocktail with yuzu, or fried chicken with Thai basil, or chili lime sorbet
  • Reaching for a book to read or a game to play, and realizing that the one I came up with is something she got me for a past birthday or Christmas

Some are specifically the result of the Internet being what it is in 2016:

  • When you look at someone’s Twitter profile in TweetDeck, it’ll tell you which of the people you follow also follow them; every now and then I’ll see “Followed by Ni” and it’s still weird every time.
  • When I e-mail a certain group of friends, Gmail does its “Did you mean to include Ni?” auto-recommendation.
  • When I got a new phone in October, and I used Google’s tools to transfer everything from my 2nd Gen Moto X to my new Pixel, I suddenly found that she was still in my speed-dial list, and I had to decide whether to keep her there or remove her. (So far, I’ve kept her.)
  • When I logged into Amazon to order Christmas presents for a few people and found that I still had a saved Gift Ideas List for her, and I had to debate whether to keep it or delete it. (Again, so far, I’ve kept it.)

None of these are as overtly distasteful as the Facebook “Year in Review” episode chronicled by Eric Meyer, but they still cause you to stop in your tracks for a moment and realize that death in 2016 isn’t the same as in the previous century. Nobody really dies on the Internet.

(That might sound comforting, but it isn’t.)

But there are also random moments of grief that aren’t preceded by any particular trigger. Sometimes I’ll be doing something as simple as walking to work when a wave of sadness and loss washes over me out of nowhere. Those moments are the hardest because they tend to catch you when you’re the least prepared for them.

I think the best word to describe how I’ve felt these past three months is anguished. Aside from the obvious sense of grief, there’s a sense of loss of faith in justice in the universe, when someone like Ni feels like she has no recourse but to take her own life.

A few people have asked me whether I feel angry, or plagued with guilt. The answer is no, not really.

Anger, to me, implies a sense of righteous indignation — a sense of having been wronged. So, I am certainly not angry at her, because I know enough about suicide and suicidal ideation to know that by the time she was driven to this action, it was no longer really her choice. Despite how wrong it feels to the rest of us, it was the only thing she felt she could do to move forward. If I’m angry at all, it’s at this world we created, that made a beautiful person feel like she couldn’t be here anymore. But I’m not angry at her.

Guilt is… harder. It was certainly the immediate, knee-jerk reaction among those of us in her group of close friends — “Why didn’t we see this coming?” “What signs did we miss?” “I should have called her the last time I thought about her.” But we have enough emotional intelligence to realize that this cannot be laid at any one individual’s feet. While there’s probably a few things that all of us could have done to be better friends, depression and suicidal ideation are messy and complicated and personal and exceptionally stigmatized. The cause is rarely one individual’s action or inaction; it’s almost always precipitated by a long history of triggers and episodes.

One interesting tidbit is that to this day, I still don’t know how she did it. I realized almost immediately that I don’t want — or even need — to know. I have my hypotheses, of course, but I have no desire to confirm them. If I knew, I’d start to picture her performing that gruesome final act in my head, and I don’t want to think of her that way. I’d rather just picture her as I knew her — dancing, laughing, deep in thought, or intently absorbing someone else’s story.

Because we were both born on July 13th, 1988, I happen to know a lot of random facts about our birthday — like, for example, our celebrity birthday twins include both Harrison Ford and Patrick Stewart (so we have both the Star Wars and Star Trek fandoms covered). One of these many factoids is that we were born on a Wednesday.

When I remembered that — making the connection that she also died on a Wednesday — I remembered the old nursery rhyme, “Monday's Child”:

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

When I remembered that, I did feel a pang of guilt. We’re both Wednesday’s children — so why did she have all of the woe, and I none of it?

Next July 13th is really going to suck.

In 2017, it’ll be on a Thursday. An ordinary workday. But I already know I can’t just go to work that day and pretend that everything is normal. Thankfully, a few friends and I had already been talking about making a trip to Europe, and now we’re thinking that we may as well do it in July. Hopefully, on July 13th, we’ll be somewhere gorgeous, like the Norwegian fjords or the Finnish countryside. We’ll light a candle for her under the midnight sun and honor her memory in the best way, together.

On that note, a few people have asked me what they can do, how they can help to honor Ni’s memory.

If you’d like to make a donation to charity, by far Ni’s favorite organization was always Doctors Without Borders. You can make a donation here, and there is an option to do so in memory of someone. If you do make a gift in her memory, you can opt to send an e-card to someone to let them know; you can send it to me (my name at gmail dot com), or the rest of us have been sending them to her father. Rather than post his contact details on such a public forum, please message me privately if you’d like his info for the e-card.

If you’d prefer to support a cause that’s more local and that Ni herself was actively involved in, she was a key member of Double Union, a hacker/maker space for women in San Francisco. The program is supported entirely by donations, membership dues, and volunteers, so making a donation would be a great way to honor Ni’s memory and her desire for more safe, empowering spaces for women interested in technology.

Finally, if you’re interested in the topic of mental health, particularly in the context of the tech industry, I would encourage you to check out and consider a donation to Open Sourcing Mental Illness, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that fights the harmful stigma around mental health disorders by speaking openly about our experiences, educates the tech community on both the economic impact of mental disorders and how they affect worker productivity, and helps workplaces identify the best resources to support their employees. Full disclaimer: I’m a volunteer with OSMI.

If you or someone you know has been struggling and/or has had recent thoughts of suicide, please seek immediate help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7. If you prefer SMS, text “GO” to 741741. You’re not alone.

Dedicated to my 🐧👭