The two things I know for sure

JessiFive years ago today, on a Tuesday (why do I always remember it was a Tuesday?), I saw a frantic post from my niece on Facebook, and at nearly the same moment, I received a phone call from my dad.

“Are you sitting down?”

“I can’t. It’s a stand-up desk.”

“Well, you need to sit down.”

“Dad, just tell me.”

“Find a place to sit down.”

“Is it Joyce?”

Joyce is my sister in law. I’d been expecting that call, for she had been struggling against cancer, a struggle that ended five weeks later. But this was not that call.

“No,” Dad said. “It’s Jessi.”

“What happened?” I asked. “Was there an accident?”

And this is the moment where things got a little shaky. I found a chair. I sat down.

Jessi is my nephew. At 23, his life ended. There was no accident. He died by suicide. His death was deliberate, and he died by his own hand at a moment in his life when he could not see the possibility of another way to end his pain.

It’s difficult, this kind of news. To absorb it. To not be angry with him for putting his mother through this grief. To be putting his sister, and his brother through this pain. To leave his kids–a young son and a daughter who couldn’t yet walk–without the chance to know him as daddy.

“I’ll fly home tonight,” I said.

IMG_0045Over the course of the next days, my emotions were naturally all over the place, but there were two that stood out most.

Shock. Anger. Shock. Anger. Shock. Shock, Shock. Anger. Shock.

Suicide creates, as Kay Warren aptly worded it, a catastrophic grief. It isn’t one that neatly walks through the stages as though one is preparing for a college graduation. Guilt is constant, questions remain unanswered, memories are sweet and stabbing, treasured and tumultuous. I’ve researched much about this topic, partly in preparation for a book I’m working on, and partly because I’m still trying to understand it all.

The one thing I know for sure is this. I’ll never completely understand.

I’m a left-behind. My sister is too, and my niece, and my nephew. The rest of my family. We’re all left-behinds. I know Jessi’s decision was to end his pain– not his life. My logical side gets that in that moment, for him, it was the only thing making sense because at that moment, his brain lied to him. His brain told him it was a good idea, the right thing to do.

Mental health care is poorly funded and treated differently than other illnesses. The wait for help is too long, especially in crisis situations.

I’ll never completely understand. But I’ll never stop trying to.

Because the only other thing I know for sure, is that if I–if we–don’t try to understand before it’s too late, there will always be too many left-behinds.


15 thoughts on “The two things I know for sure

  1. It is awful to be left behind. Like you, I have struggled to understand, and I keep coming up short. The lack of resources for prompt, appropriate and adequate mental health care frustrates me.

    I am sorry for your loss, and for all of your family who continue to miss Jessi.

    1. Thanks, Denise. It is harder some days than others, for sure. At the same time, some memories are sweeter.

      We struggle to understand, and as we do that, perhaps we gain compassion and empathy. Surely, there can never be enough of that. Just maybe, those two things will help us get to the prompt and adequate resources for care we need.

  2. Oh my friend. I wept as I read this. You already know why.
    I’m praying for ALL of you today. All you say I agree with. I hope that in time, as my mind clears, I can make a positive impact as a result of being a “left-behind.”
    Much love and gentle hugs.

    1. Melinda, I do know why. I think we all hope to make a positive impact, but as you are well aware, nothing can be rushed when it comes to this. Love and gentle hugs back to you, dear one.

  3. Haven’t cried today until now. I love you and thank you. Just know today is tough BUT I’m okay

    1. Thanks for letting me know that, Bobbi-Lee. I love you too. And yeah, today is tough, and I’m okay too.

  4. Your right in saying that we will never fully understand, and there will always be left-behinders, but we try.

    Im sorry for your loss and am thankfull for you sharing this.

    Loads of love to you and your family from a fellow #1000speaker

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Tammy. Yes, we can only do the best that we can do. Someone has always been to that place first, and unfortunately, others will follow. But we can help, right?

  5. Crystal,

    What a powerful post. Thank you for sharing what I hope will speak to many. There is suicide in our family as well as my husband’s family. And attempts were made in my house. My son even made an attempt and while you are so relieved that God interceded, there is still that sadness about their sadness and utter despair. My husband shared later that when he was in that place it was extremely dark and he felt he could never get out. The other thing is the person who makes that decision has a filter on which convinces them that their choice to end their life is one that will stop the pain for others. When we have those filters on us, we cannot see clearly. Let me know if you’d like to see a video my son made about his attempt.

    1. It’s hard, isn’t it Anne? The realization these thoughts actually make sense to the suicidal person is the frightening thing, and something I didn’t really understand until I was in a similar place. It’s the part where our brain lies. I am convinced that my nephew would never have made this choice if he’d realized what a slow-healing scar of grief it would carve. I believe he really did think it would be better for him, and for everyone else.

      Of course, I can’t speak for him and what he was thinking for sure. I only know that if he thought we would be better off, he couldn’t have been more wrong.

  6. Oh no 🙁 I’m so so sorry for your loss. I think this is one of the things that’s quite difficult to accept and understand, huh? How one can sink so deep in the shadows that the only way out is to end their lives. I wish there were ways to prevent this from happening. Hugs from Rotterdam 🙂

    1. Thank you, TJ. There are no easy answers, but I think if we keep talking in an effort to remove the stigma around mental health, maybe there will be more funding for care and maybe people will reach out for what’s available. I don’t know what the solution is.

  7. I had not read this when you posted originally. Are you still writing this book? I have friends who would benefit from your words. Bless you all, the left-behinds. So heart-breaking.

    1. I finished the manuscript, Denise, but it’s a poor first draft. I need to go back and rework it with all I’ve learned since. That’s a daunting task, to be sure, and emotionally I wasn’t sure I could do it. So I went on with my second manuscript after that and it’s a stronger book. I’ve been thinking though that maybe the time is right to look at it again. We’ll see.

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