This is a post about something from my past that I do not talk about often, so if some of the things don’t make much sense and it seems like I haven’t really taken the time to gather my thoughts: I probably haven’t. But I feel as if this is an appropriate time to share this. You will truthfully never know how this feels unless you have experienced it personally, but I do hope that you may gain some insight into what it is like to experience such an event. You are about to read one of the realest things I have yet to post.
December 26, 2011
It was the day after Christmas. Traditionally, we have Christmas dinner with my mom’s family on Christmas Day and usually get together with my dad’s family on the day after, the day before, or whenever everyone’s differing work schedules allow. This particular year, we were gathered at my parent’s house. Knowing that my aunt (my mom’s eldest sister–who lived directly next door with my uncle) would most likely appreciate the opportunity to get out of the house, my mom called her and invited her to join us.
I will not go into any details into the circumstances why, however. I do not wish to point fingers or stray too far from the main subject of this post so I will keep this brief: she had been having some difficulties in her marriage in the recent days to the point where her and my uncle each drove separate vehicles to the family Christmas dinner and for the most part, stayed in separate rooms and did not speak to each other very much.
My son was 1 and a half at the time and was having a grand time playing with his then 4 year old cousin. As we usually do, we were spending a good deal of time chatting (and eating, of course) and my aunt seemed to be carrying on conversation with everyone quite well. Though she was obviously slightly less cheerful than usual due to current circumstances, nothing really seemed out of the ordinary. My husband even took the time to ask her how she was and if she needed anything and she said that she was fine. He took her word for it. Heck, we all did.
I will never forget that moment as everyone was packing their cars to leave, we told her goodbye and to take care before she backed out of the driveway and drove back home. That is the very last time I saw her.
That night, back at home, we were eating supper with my husband’s grandparents–whom we were living with at the time. My phone rang, so naturally I got up and walked over to the kitchen counter where it was sitting to see who it was. It was my dad.
“Hello?” I answered the phone as I walked out of the kitchen into the living room. The room was dark and I did not bother to turn on the light. There was just enough shining in through the open blinds from the street light across the road for me to see.
“There’s been an accident,” he said. An accident? Immediately my mind began racing with all of the possibilities. All of them…except for what actually happened.
“An accident?” I inquired, obviously getting quite anxious.
Then he broke the news to me. The most devastating and unexpected news I had ever heard in my entire life. My aunt had shot herself.
My heart sank. My jaw dropped. A sense of total shock ran throughout my entire body. I was in completely disbelief. This wasn’t really happening. This was all a terrible nightmare. My aunt would never do such a thing. I don’t know quite how to explain it; she just wasn’t that kind of person.
“Wh…wh…what?!” I nearly dropped the phone.
This is how my dad told it to me. My mom and dad had heard the gunshot, but thought nothing of it. They live where we would call “in the boonies” and hearing a gunshot was nothing unusual. We were close enough to several trees and surrounded by deer and other wildlife so hearing the sounds of hunters or a neighbor shooting at a racoon trying to rob the bird feeder was heard often. The sound even came from next door quite often as my uncle would target practice with his shotgun pretty frequently. We would hear a gun go off next door and just shrug it off or roll our eyes; he was just target practicing again. Or shootin’ at a ‘coon. Nothing new.
A while later, my mom was in the bathroom and heard sirens through the open window. Now that was an unusual sound. There weren’t very many people living in the area. Then the sirens kept getting louder. My dad ran to the end of their driveway to see the ambulance pull into the driveway at my aunt and uncle’s house. I don’t know much of what happened next, but I do know my dad saw her as they loaded her into the ambulance. Him and my mom jumped in the car and immediately headed towards the hospital, where they called me on the way.
As I was telling my husband what had just happened, I had a difficult time believing the words that were coming out of my own mouth. It still didn’t feel real. I was too shocked to even cry. I stowed myself in our bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed. I was having a panic attack and I know it. My husband could only hug me. I was still in shock. I resisted any other comfort. I unintentionally offended my husband’s grandmother, who was only trying to help me.
A while later, my dad called me back. The news was not good. Basically, the doctors had said there was nothing they could do and their only task was to make her as comfortable as possible.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to call those doctors. I wanted to scream at them: “What do you mean there’s nothing you can do? You’re doctors. You have to do something! Anything!”
I waited. I tried to do something to get my mind off of what was going on. I helped my son put together one of his new toys. I wanted to look like I was strong. I didn’t want to be seen grieving. I have and did have an issue with that. I try to be stronger than I really am and it rarely ever works. I went to bed. I hardly slept. Tears flowed from my cheeks to my pillow until I finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.
I woke up that morning wondering what had happened during the night. Still hoping that I had just woken from a terrible nightmare. My dad called again later that morning to let me know that she had passed away around 1:00AM–on December 27th.
My uncle was still terribly distraught. He blamed himself. At the time, I didn’t know who to blame. I was angry with him for making her upset. I was angry at her for choosing this. I was angry at God for allowing it.
Grief can make you think terrible things. I did not know until still many weeks later how terrible some of those things could be…
The next couple of days are still a blur. I was unable to make it to spend time with my family, for reasons. Truth be told, I again did not want to be seen grieving. I wanted to grieve privately. I didn’t want people coming to see me who I either did not know or barely remembered to bring me food and hug me and tell me how sorry they were. I was thinking very, very selfishly and I still regret thinking in such a way. I had had a difficult time with my mamaw’s passing just a few years before and anxiety had caused me to expect the worst from myself (and from past experiences, for good reason).
Finally the day came for the viewing and the funeral. My husband drove me up to my hometown. I walked into the funeral home and found my family in the chapel. I walked straight over to my papaw, who was the only one sitting, and hugged him. And I lost it. I started crying. We were all crying. We were all still in shock.
The next few hours were spent shaking hands and hearing brief mumbled apologies and “God bless you”‘s. There was one “How did you know the deceased” directed towards me that I did not take too kindly to. I have a hard time with viewings as is. At my mamaw’s viewing five years prior, I ended up having to escape from the influx of visitors and found myself in the bathroom taking deep breaths and watching myself in the mirror. (So as you see, the panic attacks really have been going on for quite a while.)
Afterwards we gathered at my papaw’s house. I was talked into having a bite to eat and soon found myself devouring a rich, chocolately dessert. Emotional eating. The men from the funeral home arrived to deliver the flowers and their final condolences.
For some reason, this seemed different. I wondered how many deceased they had seen who had taken their own life. This wasn’t like a funeral for a elder who had passed away of old age or of bad health. My aunt was barely in her fifties.
And so…weeks passed. I kept grieving. Another semester of college started back and I found myself pretending that everything was fine. Sure, my Christmas break was great.
I still grieve, sometimes. Thoughts have crossed my mind. Emotions have come and gone. Though years have passed, I do still miss her. Each holiday, I longingly wish to have her back. I wish for one more of her homemade yeast rolls. I wish I could go back to the days in high school where she would be teaching me how to drive by letting me drive with her to school each morning. I wish I could go back to the times I spent in her kitchen with her as she tried to teach me how to cook. I was terrible and she always had to go behind me and correct something, but I will never forget the experience. I still miss her and I still find myself trying so desperately trying to scream at the Heavens asking her why she would have done this.
You see, losing a loved one to suicide is incredibly difficult. Those left on this earth will eventually move on, but we still can’t help but stop and wonder what could have been going on in the person’s mind. Sometimes we toy with the what-if’s and wishing we had said or done something. Anything. We feel guilt. We feel anger. We (of course) feel sadness. We want so desperately to turn back the clock and find them at that very moment at the end of their life…to reach out…to stop them.
I have to say, I don’t think any of us expected her to take her own life. Some victims are more obvious–suffering from depression, addiction, or other hardships. Yet, still, some victims seem like they have it together. Even in the face of difficult times, you still cannot tell that on the inside, they are twisting and turning in emotional turmoil.
God, I wish I had known at that moment when I looked her in the eyes before she left. I wish I could have hugged her tight and told her everything would be okay. I wish…
Since then, I have had numerous dreams involving her and other people involved in the situation. One in particular still sticks in my mind two years after I experienced it. It’s haunting me. It’s a good thing I have an appointment with my therapist on Tuesday. I believe it’s past time that this particular topic is addressed. I may be able to put a band-aid over the hurt, but I will always remember my aunt and may never forget the last day I saw her or the thoughts of immense shock that were running through my mind that very night…four years ago.
Please pray this week for myself and for my family. We do not do very much open discussion (of anything, really), but I know this is going through all of their minds at this time as it is mine. Pray for those who are also experiencing loss of a loved one by suicide. Be kind. Remember you can offer condolences and sympathy, but unless you too have walked in those shoes, you cannot empathize.
And most important, remember that suicide is NEVER the answer. Please seek help if you are considering it…