Life After – Anniversary

Poised on the ice, listening and watching for the tell tale sound or sight of the first spiderwebbing of fractures on the surface. I feel steady yet I anticipate hearing an epic crack before I lay my head on my pillow tonight. My current balance is eighty percent intellectual, twenty percent emotional. Had my beautiful nephew Coby not died by suicide a year ago, it would just be another Monday morning and simply significant in that it is around the time we celebrate another one of my beautiful family members.

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Always clowning – Soup Straw

 

In some ways it seems shocking that a year has passed since our lives fell apart.  The human spirit continues to amaze me. It is stunning that a human being can endure unimaginable pain and still return to the light of day, forever changed but back in the light. Contact with some family members still seems to hurt. Not hurt in that they do something painful, but in that seeing them brings elements of the tragedy back. Most people forget what today is in our lives so there is no reckoning, no shadowing of the eyes, no slumping of the shoulders or the urge to reach out to check on them – not knowing if it will cause more pain.

To be honest, this is the most frustrating part for me.  I am steady, but I wonder if I should be checking on someone or extending sympathies or acting as if it is just another day. I don’t think on it too much as I am a much more heart-led soul. I will reach out to my family today to let them know that I love them, that I am sorry Coby is no longer with us and that I will be thinking of them.

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He was a great big cuz!

On my end, I have to keep an eye on my small person. While I am steady, I sense the ice is not so steady under her young legs. True helplessness comes from feeling like you don’t know how to reach or help your child in times of need. I definitely don’t have the answers here, but I know that my work day will end the minute she gets home. Tonight will be a full court press, hands on, eyes up, heart open night together.

I will do my best to remember that this is new to both of us and to remember the wisdom of an aviation disaster survivor speaking about how she managed her grief after losing a child in a plane crash. When asked what she attributed the survival of her marriage to she responded, “He doesn’t mess with my grief and I don’t mess with his.” I need to learn how to be supportive to her while not messing with her grief.

My grief is what it is. I still haven’t listened to the voicemail messages that flooded into my phone the days following Coby’s death (as I am constantly reminded by notifications that my voicemail is always almost 90% full.)  I am still trying to figure out if I can bear hearing them or if I should just delete them all unheard. I am truly appreciative of the outpouring of love that came in those days and every day since. As I type this I remind myself that life is for the living. I will delete the messages unheard, but I appreciate each person who reached out to me in my darkest hour.  This is what my grief looks like. Even the simplest decisions related to the aftermath of Coby’s passing are so difficult to make.

I am in the light now, face up to the sun and I am going to do my best to stay there. I know the clouds will come and when they do I will reach into my tool chest to get the resources needed to survive the resulting darkness.  Some days that’s coffee with a girlfriend, others it will be a therapy session and some days it’s a good old-fashioned cry. Today I will look for a way to honor Coby’s memory in a way that celebrates his life and not his final moments. I will send him light and love.

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Light and love

Right after Coby’s death I questioned myself about what I could have done, what I could have said, did he know how much I loved him and more fruitless thoughts about how I could have stopped it all. In January of 2016 I was asked to write Coby a letter that would be given to him at a school retreat. I am eternally grateful that I did because it gave me some peace that he knew exactly how much I loved him.

In re-reading the letter now I realize that there was little more I could have said or done, not knowing what was going on in his head and heart. I wish we were celebrating Coby’s collegiate accomplishments today, but instead we are reminded that life is fragile, that our young people are at war with demons we may not see and that the most precious elements of our lives are not guaranteed to be here tomorrow.

Below is my letter to Coby.  It makes me sad to read it (as the tears finally come,) but it is also the most honest, authentic expression of who Coby was to me.

Love you forever, Cob.

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1/8/16

Dear Coby,

Love. Fascination. Pride. Joy. Those are the things that come to mind when I think of you ­ my handsome, loving, hilarious and incredible nephew! I am in awe of the things you have accomplished and the way you carry yourself through this turbulent world. I am so proud of the young man you have become. I trust you with my most precious gift in the world (and that’s saying everything!) and my heart is full when I see how you care for your little cousin. It speaks volumes about the man that you are when you take time to be with and care for Lani or grandma. Those are the moments that show the beauty of your character. No, it’s not cool to hang with them…or me, but you do it anyway. Yes, because we can be fun and feed you great stuff and because you love us, but often you’re being kind and supportive of the things that we need. You can’t teach that kind of compassion, support and love. It’s either a part of your character or it’s not. I am grateful to God that at the end of the day, after the jokes and the selfies, you are a solid young man of beautiful character.

Life is going to offer up a world of challenges. It just does. No one gets to the end without having their back side handed to them once in awhile. Some get it more than others. Whichever side of the fence you land on please remember that we are all praying for you. You are covered by the prayers and blessings of some of the most ardent prayer warriors I know. So remember to breathe, seek help when you need it and know that most storms will pass in time. Keep your eye on your passion and your purpose, not everyone else’s. Find out what feeds your soul and gives you a reason to get out of bed swinging each morning. Tilt at windmills, slay dragons and most of all work on being a good person. Money will come and go, but you can’t take it with you. Cherish relationships above all else, especially your relationship with God.

I will leave you with a few of my favorite quotes that have sustained me through the tough times and have been my compass in life:

●  Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true. Think only of the best, work only for the best and expect only the best. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others. Live in the faith that the whole world is on your side as long as you are true to the best that is in you. (Christian D. Larson)

●  Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. (unknown)

You’ll always be my Cob. I will always be here if you need me ­ no matter what, and if I know one thing, it is that the world is ready for you to step up in all of your magnificence and make a huge impact.

Love you forever,

­ Aunt Tanya

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For more information on Coby and the Fly High Coby Fund:

https://www.gofundme.com/flyhighCoby

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2016/04/parents_of_teen_suicide_victim_starting_nonprofit.html

If you are in need of help please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1 (800) 273-8255

Life After – Hangover

This morning I got up determined to hit my desk the minute I got my kid off to school. I was showered, dressed, computer on, coffee warmed up and nearly four hours later I have done virtually nothing of substance. That’s the truth of dealing with the consequences of mental illness and losing a loved one to suicide.

The conversations that happen in the recesses of the light aren’t shared publicly, get pushed aside and forgotten in the attempt to re-enter the hustle and bustle of daily life, yet leave a lingering filthy residue on your soul. The pain uncovered, the searing confusion about which way to turn, fear and uncertainty about making the next right decision and putting one foot in front of the other zap the clarity, energy and drive that is otherwise present on a Monday morning.

The process of caring for our grieving children can suction the life and soul from you if you’re not careful. I initial started to write that I compartmentalize my needs so I can support my daughter in her grieving, but that wouldn’t be true. The truth is that I keep my rawness in check in case I can’t put it away in time to support her every need. It’s as if I’m afraid that connecting to the pain will leave me in a formless puddle of anguish and either she’d either come across me like that or need me and I won’t be able to shape myself back into ready to go mom.

Last night we celebrated what would have been my nephew’s 19th birthday. A friend asked how it was. I told her the truth, it was beautiful, sad and ugly. That’s the truth.

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Lighting the paper lantern to release with love in memory of Coby

No, I’m not going to tell you how hard it was to hold my sobbing child’s hand while in the other room a somber Happy Birthday chorus was being sung in Coby’s honor. No, I can’t articulately express the lengths of my emotional fatigue and desire to get to a day when thinking of Coby or my Aunt, who took her own life just four month’s after Coby’s suicide, results in happy memories. No, I have no recipe for dealing with the complexities of the ravages of mental illness and suicide.

 

Today I do my best not to beat myself up for my lack of focus. Maybe my brain is pacing itself until my soul is ready to digest the latest round of conversations, observations and realizations. I am not living through a normal situation and I am reminding myself that my responses are normal. I think one of the greatest tragedies that comes from these acts are the pain coming together unleashes. Yes, it is part of the healing process but it is awful.

One of my saddest memories will be my daughter telling me that she didn’t want Thanksgiving this year. She didn’t want to have any holidays without Coby. It took my breath away. I could have never been prepared for her to articulate that. In hindsight it made sense, but I was so unprepared. Thankfully we made it through Thanksgiving and had a beautiful holiday in spite of the pain. Hopefully one that she’ll put in her happy memory chest.

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Young and innocent

I don’t expect December 10th will come again anytime soon without some version of a sledgehammer of pain, but I do look forward to the day when it’s more of a tug. Each day moving forward is another step out onto the broken sheet of ice – some steps land solidly and bear the weight while others leave you plunging into the freezing water. Today I am sending strength to my family, and all of the families, who can’t see the light of day, can’t see the next step and struggle to even take the next breath. I can’t imagine what you are feeling. I am so sorry and I love you.

Today I will be gentle with myself. I will prepare to receive my young person home and do my best to be present, loving and open to sitting in her grief with her if need be. And once I put her to bed, I’ll do my best to sit in my grief, assemble my broken pieces, put them back into some semblance of new normalcy and do it all over again. Maybe, just maybe, if I keep walking through it with my eyes and heart open I will eventually get to the  other side.

More than anything in the world, I wish Coby knew he could have talked to me -that I would have been here and that suicide wasn’t his only answer, but in matters of life and death like this there are rarely second chances. If you are reading these words and are struggling, please seek help. Life gets a little bit dimmer each time we lose a soul.

If you are in need of help please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1 (800) 273-8255

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For more information on Coby and the Fly High Coby Fund:

https://www.gofundme.com/flyhighCoby

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2016/04/parents_of_teen_suicide_victim_starting_nonprofit.html