“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.
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.