Shards of hope

by +CrystalThieringer    @cdthieringer

She’d been up late the night before. I’d smiled in the wee hours when I realized she hadn’t yet been to sleep, but no matter. We have no morning plans. Sleep till noon if she wants, what do I care?IMG_0043

And noon it is, almost. I tease her.

“It wasn’t like that,” she says. “His dad died last night. He shot himself.”

As though someone drops water on our scene, her face changes to my nephew’s for a moment, and I have to focus on her words. This is not about him. It’s about her friend. Focus on her, focusfocusfocus. The water clears away. “How horrible for him,” I say, minimizing drama, maximizing space. “What happened?” She sits and shares as he did.

DSC00728Hours pass. She walks into the room, stands by my chair, and holds out her phone.

“He wants to talk to you.” She unclips the headset from her lifeline, and hands me the real-time, anguished face of her friend.

“It’s all my fault,” he says, pouring out the many reasons that make him an imperfect son. “I didn’t even tell him I loved him.” His face twists as he realizes his dad will never hear those words now.

In the tripod of my elbows on my knees, I fight to hold the phone steady. “That moment when your dad’s brain lied to him? It had nothing to do with you,” I tell him. “I’m pretty sure he loved you back. This choice he made wasn’t about that.”

Did his dad know he would leave this trail of destruction behind? If he could have foreseen the transference of his pain to dozens of left-behinds, would it have been different? If he’d realized that each and every phony gunshot heard on movie and television, every backfiring engine, every loud noise would remind them of the moment that newly defined their before and after, would he have made a different choice?

Maybe. And maybe not. His dad was trying to find a way through his own pain, blinded to everything beyond that. It’s the thing we don’t talk about, because of how we’ve labeled this thing we don’t understand–in part, because sometimes it’s just too hard to try. And I wonder if it will ever change?

But then I realize what she’s done. She is being the safe place where her friend can talk. I am being hers. She is seeking help when it’s too hard for her. This is what has to happen, and they are going to make it that way. There’s is the generation that can make it better.

“I made so many mistakes,” he says again.Lake Geneva boats

“Yeah, I get that. It’s what life is, but now you have to make a decision. What’s happened with your dad has already changed you, but you can decide how. You can let this make you a bitter man, or a better man.”

“But I made so many mistakes.”

We all do–but talking about it isn’t one of them.


15 thoughts on “Shards of hope

  1. Tears. Sad ones and hopeful ones, both. Thank you for making a safe place in this chaotic online world to read and talk and work through this with one another.

    1. It will never be easy. But maybe it can be easier, one day. Tears on this end too, my friend!

  2. I have lived with the results of one man’s decision to exit the world. At first, it was just a memory in my husband’s life, then he took it as an option. Not one time but three. And then, our son followed suit. In our cases, no one was successful, but the healing is still so hard. So many people who have never walked in their shoes simply point out how selfish it was. The truth is, they are enveloped in pain, as you brought out. And they really believe down deep, that everyone will be better off without them. I’m so glad in my life that God showed my men otherwise. But oh, how I wish they had not struggled with this.

    In a world that simply does not understand, thank you for trying to bring some clarity.

    1. I won’t ever truly understand myself, Anne. But I can’t quit trying to. I’m sorry for your loss, and for the struggle with the other three. It’s so hard.

  3. You are such a gifted writer, and are not afraid of the hard topics. I nearly lost a family member who had the presence of mind to seek help before it was too late. I’m so grateful for that because nothing I said ever seemed to make a difference.

    I’m sorry suicide’s ripples have affected your family. It is such a tragedy.

    1. I’m grateful with you, Denise. I don’t know if anything we say ever makes a difference–but asking questions and listening can. This I know for sure. Tell, ask questions, listen, and keep yourself safe (principles from an organization called SafeTalk which gives sensitive half-day presentations in North America for suicide prevention. They are an excellent resource, and have been a tremendous source of help for me).

  4. It is so difficult for those of us who don’t understand this decision to contemplate suicide as an option some seriously consider. We struggle and blame ourselves, as you so perfectly describe. I can imagine the tears you must have shed, for I have tears reading this. To quote my writing teacher Marion, this is a perfect piece of memoir and you have certainly managed to capture and convey so much emotion and truth here.

    1. It is difficult to comprehend, isn’t it? But if we don’t even try to understand, then we succeed in only minimizing the enormity of someone else’s feelings–and the ugliness continues. Thank you for your kind words.

  5. We’re coming upon the one year date of my sister’s death. I rarely ever come on Facebook but was on this afternoon and the title of your post caught my eye.

    I find myself at a lose for words. Well almost. I hope that one day I will be able to be a voice to others. But first I must get well myself. Still trying.

    Much love.

    1. Oh Melinda! What a gift it is to hear from you. I hope you’re improving, my friend. You are often on my heart. The first year was the hardest for us–though there are moments in every year that continue to be difficult. It’s just that moments of joy find ways to burst through as well–and I hope they soon find a path to you.

  6. I had to come back to this post. “That moment where your dad’s brain lied to him?” This is one of the best ways I’ve heard someone describe what happens when pain distorts our options. How lucky these young people are to have each other and to have you!

    1. My friend Steve died many years ago. He was such an intelligent and kind man, logical and he lived by checks and balances and then another check and balance. Yet for some reason, what made sense to him was that his wife would be better off without him. It was absolutely untrue and in the many conversations I’d had with him, I know he knew that. I have no doubt he loved her, none at all.

      I have no doubt my nephew loved his two wee kids. He was so very proud of both of them. For both men, the cause of death was suicide–and the cause of suicide was the depression and mental illness that proceeded it. One of the symptoms (in my opinion)? Their brains lied.

  7. This brought tears. You’re such a gifted writer and it’s so important to talk about mental illness and suicide. And brain lies. My mother’s twin brother committed suicide and she suffered silently, because in her mind people were either normal or “crazy”. She called it an accident, because normal people have accidents. So sad. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. I am saddened by your mother’s suffering. You’re right though–people respond to suicide in different ways, and often according to their generational norms. Tragedy is tragedy, grief is grief. Sometimes though, it seems more catastrophic, and difficult to come to terms with. We need each other to help us with that. Thank you for sharing your story, too.

  8. I found it hard to read this on many different levels. She is lucky you were there to listen to her and to provide a gentle role model and kind support. I hope the boy gets help and has someone to keep reminding him that what his father chose to do had nothing to do with how good a son his was. It is such an enormous burden to leave on a young person.

    As a formerly suicidal person I can vouch for the fact that I never thought about the impact my death would have on anyone. In fact, if I had to revisit that way of thinking, I would probably still not be much good at measuring the possible impact. What I remember about being suicidal was of being in so much pain and yet being so limited in my notions of what I could do to feel better. In hindsight, I had few coping skills and while I was definitely loved, I had one really corrosive/abusive parent and it didn’t take too much of that black hole to absorb all the light which came my way from others. I really wish we could heighten the sense that early intervention matters because the longer someone thinks those thoughts, the more ingrained they become. I know for me when I had my son, I promised I would never consider suicide again and I haven’t. That has pushed me to find a host of other ways to deal with life and made me much stronger too. Beautiful post as always my friend.

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