Trigger warning: I’m going to be talking about suicide in this essay. Proceed with as much caution as you need to.
I still miss Mikey.
It was 11th grade. The day we got the news we just drove around listing to “Brick” from Ben Folds Five. I remember that distinctly. I don’t remember much else of that day. It’s just kinda a blur. I remember wondering how I was supposed to go to school and function in the next few days. I wasn’t surprised when David wasn’t at school. He was a lot closer to Mikey than I was.
I worried about David though. He felt he should have gone with Mikey, that both of them should be gone together. I remember feeling a great sigh of relief when three days or so after I got the news, David said, “But I’m here. So Here I’ll stay.” I had been so worried about losing him too. I don’t think I could have handled losing two friends to suicide in one year.
He had been an elder at the church a year before. Funny guy. Ran a meat market that was very successful. He and his family had let me into their home to live a few years back. While I had moved out by this time, I remained close to the family.
And they were devastated.
I don’t think they ever really recovered. I mean, how do you? How do you come back from your father, your husband, dying by suicide?
The church’s help was a mixed bag. There were prayer groups and some semblance of grief counseling. There was even a sermon on depression and suicide. But there were also rumors, whispers of stories that did nothing but speculate and hurt. Even if some of the things that came to light were true, talking about them did nothing for a hurting, broken, shattered family.
I guess people were trying to make sense of it thought, trying to understand, to wrap their heads around a tragedy. If things weren’t as ideal as some of us thought, then, somehow, blame could be placed, and reason could be made of it all.
But you don’t really make sense of suicide.
There were two that summer.
My step-brother and my high school best friend. I never found out the details of either incident, but that didn’t matter. Even the distance that time had put between me and each of them didn’t matter. I hurt. It was like Mikey all over again. I had to stumble through work, taking time off to grieve. Twice.
Don’t know how the other people in their lives were affected, but I know how I was rocked. Shaken again by this thing, this night stalker, this terminal state of depression.
That summer I learned that time and space mean nothing in the face of suicide. It still hurts like hell. It still devastates. It still makes one reel with sadness, pain, anger, and unfiltered, pure grief.
Suicide takes lives.
I don’t just mean the lives lost to suicide. I mean the lives of those who are touched by suicide. The fathers, mothers, siblings, friends whose lives are intertwined with the person lost to suicide. These lives are lost in a very real way; lost in grief and pain and confusion. Lost to the questions with no answers. Lost in the time it takes to heal, knowing the healing will never be complete and there will always be a seeping wound around the life of the person lost.
The lives touched by suicide are altered. You don’t ever really go back to “normal”, whatever that means. Life doesn’t somehow shift back over time to how things were before. You are changed, your life is changed, everything is changed.
No matter how far away from that day I get, I’ll never get Mikey back. I’ll never catch up with Nick or Geoff. There will never be a time when I’ll see Kevin’s Facebook posts. Life is forever altered, changed, lost because of the hell of suicide.
Give us space.
Space to process, space to feel, space to grieve. People who have been touched by death from suicide need space to figure out life again. Things don’t make sense in the wake of a suicide. We need time, space, and whatever else in order to reorder our world.
It’s been over 20 years and I still feel Mikey’s death. You can’t expect someone to heal and get back to the way things were in a timely fashion. Their relationship with you may be completely altered. You may feel like you don’t even know them anymore. They may not even know themselves.
Getting your bearings after a suicide is hard enough. Healing and making sure everything is the way things were is impossible. Everything is altered. Nothing is the same. So, give us the room to grieve that we need.
There’s nothing you can do to make it better. There’s no magical words or companionship or action that is going to take the sting, the shattering, the hurt away.
You can be with us though. You may not understand the extent of our hurt, or maybe you do. Either way, you can remain with us through the stages of grief we wander through. Don’t put expectations on us and know that it’s going to be raw and unnerving. We may be numb, angry, distracting ourselves, or any other emotions. It’s not for you to police what is acceptable and what isn’t. If it’s too much, too weird, too intense for you, leave. Draw whatever boundaries you need to draw, but don’t tell us how to feel, what to do, how to react. Suicide doesn’t play fair, so don’t expect us to.
But if you can, stay. Let us lean on you. Let us yell at you. Let us cry on you. If you can be there, if you can remain, you can be part of the support we will need to stand back up, to prop ourselves up, to not lose our grip and give up. Who knows if you can help us rebuild; who knows if we can rebuild. But you can show us you love us.
Maybe love is a little bit, a small part, of what we need.
I remember Mikey, Kevin, Nick, and Geoff. I can’t forget them. I’m not angry at them, but I hate that suicide took them away. I’m still sad about it, and it still hurts. It always will.