I got a phone call on Saturday morning that unnerved me. I have been fighting a cold for about 10 days now, and took advantage of Saturday morning to sleep in later than usual. During the course of my slumber, my last blog post made the rounds and eventually reached my parents. They read it, and were understandably sad and concerned. They tried to call me several times between 8 and 10 in the morning, calls that I missed because I was sound asleep.
When they finally reached me around 10:30, there was palpable relief in my Dad's voice. Without thinking, he said something like "boy, am I glad to hear your voice. We were getting ready to come down there." To which my response was "why?". A question which I answered in my head before I even completed speaking it.
The holidays, and the loss of Matthew's expected due date, are working in concert to create a very specific melancholia. But that does not mean that irrevocable actions are imminent. I can understand the concern, and would probably have them myself if I were an outsider looking in. I have experienced the pain and questioning of unexpected loss; I have seen and heard the bewilderment, confusion, anger, and lack of closure that suicide brings. I am aware of all these things, and can state with confidence that I would never intentionally subject anyone to them. There is already enough hurt in this world, we do not need more.
There are moments during all this intense period where I do find myself wishing it would all end. I think about cancer, or some other no fault accident. I think that is a natural emotion. I also can understand how someone would act on it. But, and this is incredibly important, I am too damn stubborn to give in to it.
I am also big enough to be able to talk about it, here, and within the more structured confines of the two grief counseling groups and individual counseling sessions I attend. There are times where I feel alone, but there are always outlets. As I said before, getting it out there, actively acknowledging and dealing with these harsh emotions is a necessary part of healing. This is emotional therapy, like physical therapy. Using these emotional muscles strengthens them, keeps the darkness from overtaking the light.
Finally, I have seen first hand the hurt that a self-inflicted death brings. I will attempt to tell this story as best I can, but do not want to push it too hard because it is not my story directly. I was only a bystander, and a young one at that.
When I was 11 years old, one of our neighbors shot and killed himself. He left behind a wife and three kids. My Dad was one of the first people on the scene and the one to call the ambulance. It was a morning in April. I had ridden my bike to school that day. Our school was across the street from the firehouse that served our neighborhood. I was in the playground, just arriving at school, when I saw the firetrucks leave, racing up the hill towards our street. A few hours later the principle called my sister and I to the office and delivered the news. We were told to head home so we could spend time with our neighbor's kids. As I sat in that office and listened I put it all together, where that firetruck was headed.
His family moved in with us for about a week, until they felt comfortable to move back in their own home. I remember the colossal sadness and disbelief they all felt. How displaced everything felt. I remember how many strangers entered our lives, how their was a never-ending crush of people all wanting to express themselves, all bearing food and flowers and cards. I remember thinking how it was just like TV.
In the days and weeks that followed I saw firsthand the strange things that grief will cause a person to do. I remember that his brothers came to town. They built his coffin in the driveway. It was natural pine, wider at one end than the other, just like you see in old Westerns. They supposedly buried him privately in an Aspen grove up on the Peaks.
He was a Vietnam vet. As we sat through the memorial service, the first I ever attended, his family and friends relayed stories about what that time had meant to him. How his time at war never really ended. How returning home to a changed world had shaped his outlook on life. How seeing that much life in such a short time had affected him.
I had been friends with his son before the loss. We weren't on great terms, I had in fact gotten in to a fistfight with the son earlier that spring because he was throwing rocks at my sister. After losing his dad, the son's behavior became erratic. He desperately wanted friends, but was quick to throw a punch or tackle you a little too hard during a touch football game. As an 11-year-old kid I thought he was crazy. As an adult I want to somehow go back in time to try to help him.
They stayed on the street for a time, eventually moving away that next summer. I would run in to the son every now and again when I was in college. They had moved several times, eventually ending up in Tempe. He wasn't going to college, but hung out at some of the local bars around campus. We would grab a beer together and talk about football and cars. We never talked about his family. It was clear that there was still too much hurt there. Too much unresolved. Too many unanswered questions.
I have lost track the son in the years since, but think about him and his family often. Especially now. I think about the hurt that his dad's possibly preventable death brought. How it separated his family, not only from their father, but from the community that they were a part of. In a sense casting them to the wind, away from the home and friends they knew, forcing them instead to wander the desert in search of meaning.
I think about all of these things when my thoughts start to get too dark. I think about how my life is an example, if only an example for myself, about how to keep going. How to persevere. How to focus on the good in this world, how to look forward to the life ahead with each new day.
Each day doesn't have to be better than the last, only that tomorrow is another day and the trajectory is upward.