This is going to be difficult to write. It is going to be painful to dredge up feelings I have drastically sought to resolve. The only thing I can tell you is that I am not going to write about suicide, although it does need to be written about, and how one should seek help if he or she is caught in that trap, that devil’s snare.
I think that almost everyone at some point in life will be affected by an encounter with someone who has chosen to end his or her life. It is a tragic affair to say the least, and the pain that resonates after loss continues and does not ever quite heal. The scars are still there, they are just not visible.
I am no stranger to this kind of loss; my first experience with suicide happened when my cousin decided to shoot himself in the head. I was thirteen. Sometimes, I wonder how I made it through high school and college because I certainly did not know how to handle grief then. I am still not sure I am handling grief now.
Then in high school, a friend of mine hung himself. In 2009, I lost another childhood friend to an overdose of a prescription painkiller, and in 2012, another cousin of mine succumbed to the same fate. That same year, a childhood friend decided to throw himself in front of a diesel truck from a freeway overpass. Each loss has been a tear in the fabric of my heart, and I have wondered how to keep moving forward. Sometimes moving forward is all you can do when you suffer personal loss.
More recently, there has been an epidemic of suicides. Some more noticeable than others. Recent examples are celebrities Anthony Bourdain, American chef and television culinary celebrity, and Kate Spade, an American fashion designer. Actor Robin Williams, in 2014, ended his life. In 2017, Chris Cornell, American musician, singer and songwriter of Soundgarden and Audioslave, ended his life after his final performance. Additionally, since the start of fall 2018, there have been suicides of three local high school students, each from different schools, as well as a 10 year old girl. A week ago, a local church pastor also ended his life, leaving behind a beautiful wife and three young boys under the age of ten years old. These suicides bother me because I am dealing with the repercussions of my step-brother’s suicide in 2015. The wound in my own life as well as my family and extended family’s life feels like a gash that just will not close. There is the anger and the heartache, the lack of communication, the loneliness, the sleepless nights, the nausea caused by stress and grief.
Since my own step-brother’s exit from this world, his death has left me feeling vulnerable, angry, hurt, sad, and a long list of other words. My 99 year old grandmother tells me I let his death affect me too much, but she does not realize the pain of having to still live in the same apartment where the death occurred because I don’t have a job or enough money to move out and get a place of my own so, I can start over and finally begin to heal. This is one of those center pieces of the puzzle that I cannot connect until I figure out how to put all of the outer pieces together and fill in the puzzle. I cannot move on, yet I am trying to move on. My family does not understand what I am dealing with because, they rarely talk to me, and have little knowledge of what I am experiencing. My friends, similarly, do not understand what I am experiencing, either. Believe me, I want to move on. Part of moving on means letting go of things. I am trying to do just that, and progress seems so slow and minute.
Moving on and moving forward is not something that you do by yourself. In some cases, yes, only you can do what you have to do, and in all other likelihoods, you need to seek help when you are left picking up pieces after the loss of a friend or a loved one. In my case, I see a therapist once a week. Does it help me? I don’t know. But, it does help me to talk about it, and have it kept in confidence.
What does it mean to pick up the pieces after a suicide? I think the first part of picking up the pieces means becoming aware of the pain that continues to resonate when you are left with the absence of that now missing person in your life. We all deal with grief in different ways, so you have to define what this means to you. I realized that I did not want to be alone, and isolating myself in a darkened bedroom and saturating myself in television everyday left me feeling empty inside, and forced me to get outside and do something. Regardless of your circumstances, whatever path you are on, you are not defined by what the other person has done, you have hope and a future, life is short and there are things to see and do.
I mark myself with a Sharpie daily. I wish that I could afford a tattoo, otherwise I would get one, and I mark my left hand with a semi-colon, surrounded by a lightning bolt–kind of like Shazam’s aka Captain Marvel. I am a big superhero nerd, so this is okay for me. The semi-colon represents hope, it is to remember those we have lost, and that it represents pause in one’s story, and that one’s story is not over. I borrowed this idea from Project Semi-Colon. The lightning bolt has many meanings. Specifically, it means God’s power in my life, and that I am empowered, that I can overcome any obstacle. This how I became aware that I could not handle my step-brother’s death. The one who thinks he or she does not need help, that using God is a crutch is just fooling his or herself. I think that was my step-brother’s problem. We talked a lot about God. There will always be those who think they don’t need God. If God is a crutch, then let me lean on him because from him I have the strength to stand, and not alone.
I also needed fellowship. When you have fellowship, you do not have to pick up the pieces alone. Even though my circumstances have not improved, my life has improved. My attitude has improved. The way I think about things has improved because, I have a support structure, people I trust and love, and a surrogate family where mine is absent. I love my own family, we all just live far apart.
A third thing that has helped me has been to volunteer. Volunteering is valuable because it takes the focus off of you and keeps you from focusing too much on your grief or yourself. I found that by isolating myself, I was becoming easily angered, embittered, depressed, lethargic, and unmotivated. It was at a friend’s suggestion that I get out of my apartment and volunteer. I volunteer once a week at my local library. To say the least, it is good therapy. I enjoy re-shelving books and organizing books. It is a safe and secure environment, and I do not spend much time thinking about things other than where the books need to be returned. I know there are other things I want to do, some require money I do not have right now.
On the less expensive side of things, I try to get out and walk to places where I feel comfortable. I try to mingle with people, and I try to develop positive attitudes and help others, and that makes me feel good. There are days when I am blindsided by grief, and I try to journal those feelings so I can later reflect on how I handled things.
I think the whole point of this is that you do not have to be alone. I might get some flack for this, but when I feel down and do not know how to handle the world, and the thoughts are barreling in the perpetual drama of my mind, I give myself permission to watch movies. I binge watch series. I make music playlists. I let myself cry, and I feel better because, it heals my soul.
Recently, like in the last two weeks it has been emotionally rough for me. I have been stressed out, and I have been overwhelmed, not just by my circumstances, but the thoughts about my step-brother’s death, my own mother’s death from cancer, and recently the deaths that happened in the last month. I have felt like I was going bonkers–or a little wonky as my sister might jokingly jab. In the last two weeks I watched all of the Harry Potter movies at least twice, and a slew of other films. Additionally, I have started painting again. Painting has always been something I have done, but its significance has been more pressing and cathartic lately.
I have to say that I do not have all of the answers. When you are affected by loss, in order to move forward, you have to let go. The weight can become unbearable and unhinging. Some people never recover. If you want to move forward just know that there is hope, and you do not have to do it alone.
All photography and art by Kirk McConnell. See more at http://paintandpixels.simdif.com/