Today has been a good day – a tough day, but a good day. Since March 2016 there have been floods of bad days. More bad days than I would care to remember. Suicide stormed into our lives, made it personal and never left. It was oppressive, blinding and made me question whether or not I would be able to survive each day.
Today I am grateful to the bereavement and primary mental health professionals who have worked with my family to get us back on mostly solid ground. I understand that there will be flare ups and that we will never be “back to normal.” That’s ok. It’s understood and we are learning to live with it.
Today on World Mental Health Day it is important to me that I share that mental health issues have impacted my family in devastating ways. My wish is that we would have done things differently from the start. The challenge is that you don’t know what you don’t know. If we had known, we might have made some changes, but each and every one of us was out here living life to the best of our ability, including my nephew Coby and my aunt Elsie.
It’s important to me that I say their names and that I send them love because I miss them, every single day. There is no shame, stigma or stereotype so important that it takes priority over getting mental health support. The support is for you, not for the world and how they see you. In the big scheme of things, when your mental health is compromised, nothing else matters except your well being.
Today I wish that you feel comfortable with wherever you are in your process and that you are willing to reach out for help if you need it. My hope is that we get better at making mental health treatment available to those who need it and that we stop judging and punishing those people living with mental illnesses.
Today on World Mental Health Day, I am thankful for therapy, medication and all other forms of treatment that help human beings live productive lives and manage the stress and demons of their worlds.
Today I am sending love to those who struggle in public and even more to those who are struggling in private. You are not alone. Please come into the light.
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.
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.
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
Passion, hustle, relentless, inspired, driven, tireless – those were words that could have been used to describe the pursuit of my creative dreams before 8:45 am on March 7, 2016. Listless, unfocused, lost, self-preservative, conciliatory, slow – these words feel closer to where I am today, 10 am on May 9, 2016.
On Sunday, March 6th my 18 year-old nephew Coby ended his life by stepping in front of a train. I pause at the writing of that sentence because of the tightening in my throat, the tears that threaten to blur my vision and the current that runs up and down my arms. This moment, the moment I wish I could freeze like a superhero in a film, is the moment that will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life.
I graduated with a degree in Psychology, have a bunch of friends who are clinicians and have been down the terrifying path of suicide with others in the past. I have worked in Emergency Response and with children in crisis in the past but nothing could have prepared me for the donkey kick to the solar plexus that was the notification call from my brother that Monday morning.
There was no doubt in what I was hearing, “Coby took his life” but I still heard myself scream, “NO! WHAT??” I’m not sure how the human mind processes trauma. I’m not a clinician. I decided to go another route into the creative world, but I doubt whether clinician or not, that I would have an understanding of what my body and mind was doing in those moments to protect me. My mind is still protecting me and it is the very act of protection that has altered who I am right now.
Coby’s journey is over and I am left behind trying to make sense out of the senseless. There are certain truths I have been able to accept. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want help. Some people talk about committing suicide but never do and others don’t talk about it but execute the act.
When I became a parent I learned that I wasn’t in control. It was one of the scariest realizations of my lifetime. To love this little being more than my own life and to know that I could not control how long she would remain on this Earth was the most painful and terrifying discovery. It gave way to my faith. It found me praying that we would be allowed to have a long life together and that I would be around to see her triumphs and tribulations. It gave me the freedom to “offer up” my worries and fears.
I have never, nor would I ever be prepared for my recent internal dialogue about suicide. The questions about what I did, what I could have done and how I missed the breadcrumbs Coby floated out into the social media universe about the pain he was living with. I live online. So much of the work I do is online but all I could think was that I missed it. What could I have been doing that was more important than being there for the man-child I had watched grow from an adorable, precocious, sweet, mischievous and goofy kid?
I sat with those thoughts for a short while before I let myself off the hook. I know, and I knew in other situations, that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want help. He was 18 and in my world that means he had his own life. A life full of sports, friends, pop culture and his own dreams. I was the Aunt who was there when he forgot to bring candy to school one day and who showed up for family gatherings, but I was also the Aunt that was caught up trying to figure out how to navigate life as a divorced, single-parent solo mompreneur.
I wasn’t around for the soccer games, the birthdays (unless they were specifically for the family) and the ins and outs of his life. I misguidedly figured I’d be there for the important days – his high school graduation, his first college soccer game, his wedding and the birth of his kids.) I was here waiting in the wings if he needed anything, but I was in the wings. That was the relationship we had and if his life ended differently I wouldn’t even be here writing about it.
This post isn’t about Coby or his life. I couldn’t do him justice in a blog post. How do you sum up the moments, giggles, guffaws, bursts of pride, stern looks and gusts of love into words? How can you encapsulate what 18 years of loving an ever-changing human being means? I can’t. I won’t even try.
This post is about life after Coby. It’s easy to get distracted from the morass of feelings that sneak up from time to time because I didn’t see him all that often. It’s easy for my brain to default to an alternate reality where he will be there the next time I visit my brother, sister-in-law and niece at their house…but he won’t be there…and every now and then it comes screaming back.
In between the alternate reality and the screaming back there lies the space and time where I need to be mom, business owner and human being. The problem is I feel like I’ve forgotten who I was and how to get back there. Gone is my playful, social justice-themed and inspired social media chatter. Gone is my frequent “third shift” role call when I check in on Facebook to see who else is burning the midnight oil working on projects, grant applications or grad school work. Gone is my ability to stay up late and work all night. Gone is my willingness to want to listen to the voicemail messages that have been filling up my phone. Gone is the spark that fueled my creative engine.
Intellectually I know that my creative engine is in neutral and that life is the spark. I’m treading water until my heart receives that message and decides to return to my creative sandbox. The million dollar question is how do I navigate my work, parenting and creative demands in the meantime? My daughter wants her “happy mom” back. I thought I was being happy mom, but I appears that I am only the happy mom stand-in.
Coby’s death leaves me wondering what really matters? How much of what I do results in a positive impact on this world we share? I am grateful that the work I have chosen to do at this point in my life is meaningful and that I can see a reason to keep moving forward. I don’t have to ask myself how important it is to show up as a mom, which is another reason to feel gratitude. On the tough days since Coby has passed I remind myself that the sun will rise and the birds will sing…and so will I.
Thankfully I have some outstanding client obligations that drag me back to my computer but the biggest challenge I am facing is how I move forward with the stuff that filled my head and heart before Coby’s death left a gash behind. I know that it will take time to heal and transcend this trauma but my head and heart are at war because I was raised in a society where you work! You grind, hustle and then grind some more until you fall out…and then you start all over again.
There was never a chapter on what to do when the world stops, your heart contracts and you can’t see straight anymore. I miss Coby. The absolute hardest part is parenting my little one through the big questions about where he is and all of her memories of Coby. Just when I get myself in check she lobs me a question or a memory or just sits down with a sad, tear-filled face.
There are no answers. There is no normal. There is only life after. In our life after I hold her close, I rest when I’m tired, I ignore the calls I can’t handle and I do my best to be kind to my heart as it finds the resources it needs to heal. On my best days I’m a poor imitation of happy mom and on my worst I am the best that I can be. Life moves on and as I had to remind myself, life is for the living.
I wish with every fiber of my being that I could have been there in the moment Coby decided to go ahead with his plan, but it was not meant to be. My heart goes out to my brother, sister-in-law, niece and all of those who were close to Coby. I can’t imagine what it is like to have seen him every day and now to have to live with that loss…how you put your life back together when a entire piece of your heart is missing.
People have asked how I’m doing. Many have reached out with messages of love and support. I’m grateful. In time I believe I will be able to read and listen to them all, but right now my heart isn’t up to it. I have created a safe space filled with people who were there when it happened and who knew nothing about it. In some weird way it gives me freedom to fall apart or pretend nothing is wrong, depending on the situation.
My heart won’t allow me to do the “getting to know you” conversation about his passing anymore. I know people don’t mean anything by it, but I just know that I can’t relive or debate the details of his passing one more time – not right now. Right now I’m going to work out, cook things I never cooked before, love up on my prickly, hormonal pre-teen and spend time nurturing my spark so that it will come back to my creative sandbox.