Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Collective Sorrow of Suicide

It started out as a normal Tuesday morning with the usual madness - getting kiddos dressed, fed and out the door to buses, schools and daycare.  Everything moved along according to plan - except the bus - it was late.  And not 5 minutes late but a good 10 - and I was starting to get frustrated.  I needed to get the littlest to daycare and my work day into full swing - but we were stuck waiting for the bus.  Finally - a small white car drove up, spoke quickly to the parents on the corner - and everyone starting moving towards the other end of the street.  One of the Dad's came up to me and said there was a crime scene at the park (just a block or so away from our house) and the buses couldn't get through that way.

"Suicide" he said, shaking his head and walking away.

Suicide.  What a weighted word.  At first, I was sad.  Then, curious.  Where was the body?  Where did it happen?  I quickly backed out of the driveway and headed off for daycare - taking our normal route.  When I got to the park there was yellow tape everywhere, and police cars, and all sorts of people milling about looking sad, frustrated, defeated.

"Can I get through this way?" I asked the officer closest to my car.  He directed me around a bend and towards another exit from our little neighborhood.  While I was driving I turned to look at the park - and in that moment I saw them moving the body - most certainly that of a grown man based on the size of his shoulders in the bright blue t-shirt.  I shook my head, sad for that family - what if he had kids - and wondered - again - what takes a person so low in life that their only solution is to end it?

My heart was heavy for the rest of the day.  As time went on, more and more information was released. Suddenly, it wasn't a man - as I had suspected - but a child.  A boy.  A brand new gut wrenching grief hit me - a boy - a baby?  I was struck dumb and silent - unable to really process what I was hearing.  A 14 year old boy who thought the only answer to his pain was death?  My heart hurt and my head was spinning but I knew, in the bigger scheme of things, that this was not my concern.  It wasn't my child.  It wasn't my family. That wasn't my baby.

But I was wrong.  All day and all night I kept coming back to that scene - where I watched the paramedics move the dead, lifeless body - and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't escape that moment.  The next day, it was back to normal and I headed about my routine - doing the same things I do every day.  Except, when I drove by the park and the crime scene - I couldn't look away.  I felt an almost uncontrollable urge to stop.  See what this young man had seen just moments before he ended his life.  But I drove on - as there were schedules to keep, appointments to attend, and work to fill my day.

Coming back - I saw a women.  I had never seen her before, but I KNEW she was the Mom.  She was walking down the sidewalk - wrapped in a blanket - looking completely lost with tears streaming down her face.  I had to stop.  I knew - in that moment - this was why I had felt so connected - so unable to look away from this experience. I NEEDED to stop and talk to this women.  I NEEDED, above all else, to hug her and dry her tears and maybe - for a moment - let her know that I felt her pain, her sorrow, her tragedy.

I pulled my car over and got out.  She stood on the sidewalk - looking confused, broken and utterly exhausted.

"Are you okay?  Can I help you?" I asked, and she looked at me, and wearily smiled.

"Can I give you a hug?" I asked - and I know it sounds so weird - but at that moment it felt so right.  I hugged her and she cried, and cried - and then we stood and talked.  She told me about her son, and the night he disappeared, and how they had searched and searched the neighborhood looking for him - but just couldn't find him.  And how she still had to go home - and get her other kids ready for school - while he was missing. Then she got quiet, and looked away, and said,

"They wouldn't let me see his body.  They found him, but they wouldn't let me see him.  How could he have been there, that whole time, and we missed him?"

The pain in her voice cut through me.  I cried with her - and we stood there a bit longer and I just listened while she talked, alternating between happy memories, and sad times, and the unending grief of wondering what she missed, or did wrong, that would drive her beautiful child to this.  After about 40 minutes, I drove her home.  She invited me in to meet her family - but I knew it was time for me to go.

I'm not a particularly religious person - and I don't necessarily believe in a God that directs and sees all - but in that moment - I knew this was part of something bigger than myself.  It was about humanity, empathy, the connection that runs between all of us - and a sad, confused, heart broken Mom that will forever wonder until the end of her days what she could have done differently.   I hope - that for those few moments - I helped her.  I hope - in that time - that she was able to talk and say what was on her heart - knowing that I was there to listen and hear her - not just her words but her thoughts, fears, regrets and loss - the hard part of life that rips you apart and tears at your soul.

That evening, when I got home, I sat down with Hayden.  I looked into his perfect face, his beautiful eyes - and had to turn my head away.

"Do you know what suicide is?" I asked him.

"Yes" he said, eyes downcast, "it's when you kill yourself."

I turned then and looked at him - only 10 years old and full of life - and told him all the reasons why suicide is never the answer.  I made him promise me - many times over - that if he ever was in a place where he felt that was the only solution - he would come to me.  That we would do our best to make it better.

In that moment he looked at me and said - as clear as crystal and so full of heart - "Mom - I would never kill myself.  I have dreams."

OMG.  My baby, my love - my first born, open hearted, sweet child - captured it all in that moment. Dreams keep us alive - keep us moving forward - and feed our hearts and souls.  A life without a dream is not a life worth living.

I didn't know the other boy's story - I had never met him before - but this whole experience made me realize that life is so fragile, so fleeting, and so full of heartache yet, within all that,  filled with promise and possibility. I'm confident that boy had dreams...and I am so very saddened to think that something or someone crushed him so deeply that his life no longer held promise and his dreams stopped mattering.

Everyday is a gift.  Every moment we have with our loved ones is an opportunity to do good - bring joy - share love and happiness.  With the collective sorrow of suicide hanging heavy over my neighborhood, our schools and our children - I can only hope that something positive can come out of this terrible moment.

17 comments:

  1. I give you so much credit..so many people would have just drove by. I give you a round of applause for taking the time to care. It is so scary what these poor kids think today with bullying and everything else...Props to you my sister..

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    1. Thank you Stacey - so much - for reading my story and taking a minute to comment. I hope I did some good today. :-(

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  2. Kim, you did an amazing thing by stopping to talk to that mother, who clearly needed support at that moment. I work in the field of suicide and deal with it daily.It never gets easier.. Suicide is so complicated and leaves so many unanswered questions for the surviving love ones. It is horrifying that this child felt so alone and hopeless. Your article is a great reminder of how important it is for parents to let their children know that they are there to talk.. about ANYTHING.. even that evil word.. "suicide". Thank you for sharing this!

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    1. Thank you Katie. I so appreciate those kind words and I cannot imagine how it is to face such grief and heartache everyday - you are doing great work and I admire you. :-)

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  3. Kim you are so wonderful to have stopped and listened. Nothing can ever cured that woman's pain, but that very hug will help her start to heal, even if it is only half a percent. I cried reading this, for myself who considered it many times, and for the students I had that made that sad decision and not knowing they could have come to me or any other teacher. It hurts and it is one reason I'm not cut out for the field. If there were more people like you, the world would be a better place. Xo

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  4. Kim,
    My brother in law committed suicide three years ago in our home. It was one of the worst things I have ever experienced. In addition, providing support to my husband, his mother and our children while experiencing my own grief was so tough. I'm so glad that you stopped for that mother. Watching my mother in law go through those same feelings of grief, loss, sadness, guilt has been one of the scariest and most helpless things I have ever dealt with. It's not easy to provide support to the family of a loved one who has chosen to end their own life; you did so beautifully. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words and I'm sorry for your pain. It's very hard to know what to do, say, and how to act in the face of tragedy. I hope that I helped at least a teeny tiny bit to ease her pain.

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  5. Beautifully written. I too have experienced suicide of a close family member. My brother, and only sibling, felt this was the only way out. At the time, the person doesn't realize how many others are affected by their decision. Now, as the only member left in my family, sometimes I feel very alone, and I think of him often, wishing there was more I could have done.

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    1. Thank you. I think it's so true that the person who commits suicide has no idea how much it will hurt those left behind. I hope you can find some solace and know that this was beyond you and not your fault.

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  6. that was beautifully written, made me cry.

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    1. Thank you - I'm grateful for the opportunity to be a small part of this families healing process and to be able to share my story with you.

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    2. And this is why I think you are a beautiful person inside and out and one of the best writers I know. Goosebumps

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    3. Thanks Lisa you are too kind. xoxo

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    4. This boy was my nephew. Thank you for your story and for stopping to comfort his mom in her most difficult of days.

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    5. I'm so sorry about your nephew and I am hopeful i was able to help his Mom even if it was only for a few minutes. Thank you for reading and commenting. :-)

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  7. Thank you for sharing this story. Our tiny town of about 800 in Colorado has been rocked by the loss of an amazing young lady, a freshman at our high school. She took her own life suddenly just a couple of days ago. Today will be a very hard day as the children go back to school without their classmate and friend.

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear this. :-( I can only imagine the pain your little town feels - I know there is still a lot of fresh heartache here in our neighborhood. My thoughts are with you. :-(

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